What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Completing the course probably still is my biggest achievement to date. I never thought I would be capable of going back to studying. It was much harder than anything I had done before, certainly challenging, but also greatly rewarding in many ways.
Talk us through your career path since graduating
At the end of the course, I was promoted within my workplace. I am now preventive conservator and have a permanent contract. Without the course, I would not have been able to take on this role because I would not have had the skills nor the confidence.
What projects are you currently working on?
My job is incredibly varied and that is what I like about it. For example, I can be cleaning objects one day, undertaking an inventory the next, working with specialist conservators, or giving training sessions. Most of the time, I am based in the collections’ stores or the state rooms at Alnwick Castle, home to the Percy family in Northumberland. I also travel regularly to Syon House, the London home of the Dukes of Northumberland.
Currently I am planning the annual deep cleaning, working with contractors on a building site and preparing for the relocation of a large part of the collections.
Do you have any tips for recent graduates?
The West Dean community is a gift. Make sure you stay in touch with people you have met and don’t hesitate to contact them. Also, keep on signing up to short courses, conferences, and workshops to stay up to date with the latest research and continue learning.
How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?
The wide range of professional, personal and transferrable skills I learnt had a profound impact on what I do now and how I do it.
Before, my approach to collections care and conservation was task-based, whereas now I question what I do a lot more. I am able to critically analyse any situation, look for appropriate solutions and review the actions taken and their consequences.
All assignments and the final dissertation were based on our professional practice so we could apply our newly acquired skills and knowledge to real life situations whilst implementing positive changes in our workplace. This is the best way to learn.
The constant feedback we received, and the reflective practice exercises were another key formative aspect, because they helped me become more critical, learn to evaluate my own work and consider my role in a different light.
What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?
It is almost impossible to choose only one memory. I felt very excited and privileged to be part of such a prestigious place right from the start. The college, gardens and surroundings were so inspirational. The people I met including tutors, college staff and other students made it what it was, an incredibly rewarding experience with opportunities to meet passionate and inspiring people. It was particularly fascinating for me to compare private and public institutions.
I loved walking around the grounds, sometimes very early in the mornings, and spending hours chatting with like-minded people about our varied experiences. Now I am desperate to find an excuse to go back.
Did you have a different career before coming to West Dean? If so why did you change career paths?
I had been a collections care assistant and project manager for years, but I kept being offered temporary positions only, so I knew it was time for me to take the next step to further my career. One of the contractors I worked with recommended the course and put me in touch with a student at the time. I was almost instantly convinced that this was exactly what I needed to do.
However, my previous degrees were from France, so I doubted my abilities to study at high academic level in this country. But the subject tutor and everybody else I spoke to were very supportive and reassuring so I took the leap.
All images copyright of Northumberland Estates, Alnwick Castle.