Review: ‘Making the Transition from Student to Working Professional’, a talk by Mark Furness to students at Northumbria University

Sandra R. de Paula

There are many talks for students about conservation materials, procedures and the latest technologies, but sometimes the simplest questions are overlooked. For me, one of the most important issues faced by every conservation student, but rarely addressed directly, is that of how to make the transition from student life to working in the professional field.

In December 2013 Mark Furness (Manchester University Library), representing the Book & Paper Group Committee, gave a talk to students at Northumbria University discussing this question. Despite the fact Mark only had an hour to talk, he covered many different areas: future employment, research webpages and the work done by Icon to support emerging conservators.  Thanks to his amiable style, Mark created a stimulating but comfortable environment, enabling the students to relax and ask questions. He explained the variety of paths students can pursue after graduating, and gave some useful practical hints for job interviews. These included advice to take the time to consider interview questions before responding, and to think about what the interviewers might be trying to find out about you.

Mark also emphasised the importance of being able to convey what makes you stand out from other candidates. He pointed out that being in the right place at the right time is crucial in such a competitive field, as is networking, but also that creating opportunities can make an important contribution to getting that all-important first break. He reassured the students that all is not lost for those who do not immediately get that lucky break, encouraging them to consider the transferable skills to be picked up, or that may already have been gained from jobs outside the conservation field. For example, project management is essential in any conservation studio and this skill can be honed in many different job roles. Mark advised the students to consider their first degrees, and whether these had brought skills that would transfer well into conservation work.

The students were encouraged to take advantage of all available resources to find funding or employment opportunities. Mark mentioned a number of different foundations and internet resources, such as the Nicholas Hadgraft scholarship or the Conservation DistList, that can help to identify sources of funding for further training or internships, or finding short- or medium-term employment.

On the subject of continuing professional development after graduation, Mark talked about the progressive changes being made to the events Icon organises, such as an emphasis on the choice of regional venues for talks and training and the choice of targeted topics so that conservators country-wide can benefit from responsive training.

And finally, Mark emphasised the help and support Icon provides to emerging conservators, such as funded internships, investment in ongoing training and opportunities to publish in its newsletter and peer-reviewed journal. As the latter is known by professionals and students worldwide, it not only is an excellent knowledge resource, but also can provide a way for work undertaken by student researchers to have an impact on the profession at large.

These presentations by Icon Groups are immensely valuable to students, providing a better understanding of how they can take control of their future, which in itself is very motivating. More events of this kind would be of great interest to the student community as a whole, and we at Northumbria University wish to thank Mark Furness, Joanna Blackburn and Icon’s Book & Paper Group for organising this event.

Sandra R. de Paula (1990) was born in Errenteria, Spain. After studying at the University of the Basque Country Fine Arts (5-year Conservation speciality) and music in the conservatory, she moved to Newcastle to start the MA of Fine Arts Conservation at Northumbria University. During these years, she made internships with the professor Maria Teresa Escohotado, in the conservation department of the Diocese of Burgos, conservation department of the Fine Arts Museum of Bilbao and wall painting restoration in Bilbao’s Zabalburu school.

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