“Be decisive, do something when you say you will and don’t be afraid to chase up – that would be my advice on how to make the initial contact stage run as smoothly as possible.”
Arran Rees reflects on an incredible Researcher Employability Project with ACMI in Australia and how the collaboration has led to other exciting projects.
School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies
University of Leeds
The REP is definitely one of the most exciting opportunities as part of the WRoCAH funding – something that other PhD students have expressed great envy over! I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to spend a month working in Melbourne, Australia as part of it.
I am one of those strange anomalies of a WRoCAH student – I have a two year scholarship. I got funding in my second year, so had to hit the ground running with regards to my REP prep. I still wanted to get it done by the end of my second year(ish).
I came to PhD a little later than many others – I had already been working in the museum sector for the best part of a decade. I had a very clear idea of what the REP could offer me. I really wanted to use the opportunity to extend my professional network to Australia where a lot of innovative practice happens and combine some of my old work experiences with the research interests that have been developing throughout PhD. I was really lucky to know a person who knew a person at ACMI – a museum I had been looking to for a long time, as one of the world leaders in its digital offering.
I made contact in October 2018 and started speaking with the museum’s partnership manager. They didn’t offer an internship programme so were a little hesitant at first, but they did have visiting scholars and we agreed that was the mode way in which I could be hosted. We met via Skype (at 5am for me!) and I spoke to Nick Richardson who is the Head of the Collection at the museum. He wanted to know more about me and the way I work (he also had a Welsh family connection which I think worked in my favour!). I sent on a little bit of information on what I’d been doing and a proposal for how I could spend my month there. Nick was adamant that I shouldn’t be too ambitious and that I ensured there was enough time to see some of the wildlife too!
Kangaroos, me getting friendly with some cockatoos and a Koala
There was a flurry of emails and then silence… it is hard not to think that people have just lost interest, but it is important to remember that most of the people you will be in contact with have busy jobs and their own lives outside of that too. Be decisive, do something when you say you will and don’t be afraid to chase up – that would be my advice on how to make the initial contact stage run as smoothly as possible.
After conversations started back up again in April 2019 we set a date of November as it was technically my second year (calendar wise, if not quite academic year wise) and it also meant I’d be there for Australian spring! The main bulk of the discussions moved to be with Candice Carnmer who was my key contact and manager/mentor for my time there.
The application process with WRoCAH was pretty pain free! There were some good questions in the application that force you to plan effectively so that is great – I’d recommend looking at the application early on so you know what you need to be thinking about. I got caught out last minute on writing out and agreeing a statement on my intellectual property – a very important thing to consider!
November comes by in the blink of an eye and I’m suddenly at the airport ready for my mammoth flight. The whole thing runs very smoothly and before I know it I am in my apartment in Fitzroy, Melbourne with a few days to orientate myself and recover from jetlag before I start at ACMI. I did a free walking tour on my first day – I would thoroughly recommend that to anyone starting out a stint in a new city.
My time at ACMI was fantastic. I got on with the team so well, I loved the work and I really got a lot out of knowing that my previous work experience and my current research interests do come together beautifully! I spent the month working closely with Candice to understand the museum’s acquisition practices, put together a review on how those had been used to collect VR (virtual reality) artwork and even got to give a lunchtime presentation on my work at the museum and my PhD more generally.
Me using the VR as a form of documentation, the VR headsets in the museum and the VR version of me in the VR artwork ‘Did you ask the river?’ by Joan Ross (2018)
What I ended up producing differed from what I had planned, but that is ok. Sometimes when you get into the reality of a situation, you realise that something slightly different to what was originally intended might be more useful for everyone involved. Don’t be adverse to the outcome changing when once you’ve started your REP! You can read more about what I got up to in this blog I did for ACMI. I was really happy to hear that some of the work I had done mapping the museum’s acquisition processes is being given to new starters in the museum as part of their induction and the rest is ready to be used in future strategic discussions on collecting VR artwork.
Whilst I was there I also applied for a small award to fly down to Tasmania and meet some great people at MONA – The Museum of Old and New Art – a fantastic museum with a very different approach to most others. I learnt some interesting things about museum acquisition processes from them!
Finally – I had to make the most of the fact I was on the other side of the world and did an amazing two week holiday afterwards. Make the most of your time, your new local contacts and try to soak up as much as possible from the whole experience.
The contacts I made at ACMI have led to me writing an article for their website on my PhD research which in turn led to me filming a piece for BBC News on my research too! I am still in pretty regular contact with the people I met there and we are trying to work out ways to continue working together in the future.