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Reflections from our interns

Natasha Fyffe and Jessica Olliver, Centre for Cultural Value student interns

This summer we were delighted to welcome two University of Leeds students, Natasha Fyffe and Jessica Olliver, to undertake paid internship placements organised by the university’s Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures.

Here they reflect on what they learnt from their time at the Centre.

Natasha Fyffe

English and History of Art undergraduate

Coming to start the final year of my English and History of Art undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn more about research in the arts and culture sector as I have always been interested in working with museums and galleries. I saw the internship offered by the Centre for Cultural Value as an opportunity to learn about post-graduate research and communications so I could have a greater idea of what I wanted to do after graduation.

I completed my internship part-time over six weeks and I got stuck into a variety of tasks such as drafting social media posts, formatting articles on the website and learning how to use new software such as WordPress. I remember being nervous when I began, thinking that somehow, I would break the website! But I managed to pick everything up quickly with the help of the team. It was completely different to the internship stories that I had heard where interns are forced to make teas and coffees all day.

I also worked on the current literature review that the Centre has been working on which is looking at the barriers older people face when accessing arts and cultural activities. I was given the task of conducting a grey literature search (studies that sit outside of formally published research literature) which I initially found challenging. How was I supposed to help with research in a topic area that I knew nothing about? I had never even heard of grey literature before! However, it was exciting to be part of an ongoing project and learning about a topic area outside what I would typically learn about in my degree.

I think my favourite moments from the internship were the 5 minutes of fun (which was more like 30 minutes!), something the team had initially introduced during lockdown to keep everyone connected, where we would play a game at the beginning of each team meeting. The first week, I lost horribly to the quiz, but I managed to redeem myself in the following real-life team meeting when the team met up for the first time since the pandemic. I won the ‘sink or swim’ challenge, putting my GCSE physics knowledge into good use! It showed me that working life doesn’t have to be dull and serious all the time.

From completing my internship, I have become more confident in the decision about doing a master’s degree as I have learnt about the relevancy of research and how it can be used to support organisations in the arts sector. I believe I have a widened my scope of possible career options, as I would now consider a career in arts marketing and communications.

My work on the literature review has even influenced my personal life. I learnt about the influence that art engagement can have on wellbeing for older people and began giving my grandma, who is showing early signs of dementia, piano lessons. For me, it has reinforced the benefits of the work the Centre does by turning research into accessible formats for cultural practitioners and a public audience.

The Centre was great at tailoring my internship experience to suit what I wanted to learn. It has helped me to feel less nervous about life after university, but rather something to look forward to. The tasks that I was involved in were significant, such as writing an article that would be published on the website, which made the experience even more rewarding. This made me feel like a valued part of the team, even though I was doing my internship from my dining room table at home.

Jessica Olliver

International History and Politics of Art undergraduate

Working for the Centre for Cultural Value was extremely insightful, interesting, and enjoyable. The friendliness of the team all the way through meant that I felt very welcomed from day one. Their routine check in sessions, the ‘five mins of fun’ at the weekly team meeting, and the consistent reassurances that it was okay to ask questions were all brilliant benefits of working for the Centre, which I believe helped me to gain the very best experience out of the internship.

After university, I believe I want to join the Civil Service as a Social Policy Researcher and working for the Centre has helped to confirm this desire. Working alongside the research team on their various research projects surrounding cultural participation and its link to wellbeing, age, and mental health, has meant that I gained an invaluable insight into the kinds of work that happens within this career path. This included helping them search for secondary literature, extracting data from large pieces of text and sorting out the relevant information from the irrelevant; all of which helped to progress my research skills further to be more thorough, efficient, and detailed – something I am extremely glad to have had the opportunity to do.

Alongside this, I also learnt a great deal of new skills which I never had the opportunity to do before, including the art of communication. I was really surprised how relevant and important communication is within the research sector as before working for the Centre, I rather foolishly thought they were two separate career paths entirely. However, I very quickly realised how closely related they were when I worked alongside the communications team in determining the right people to disseminate our research projects too, as it became evident that there is no use in doing the research if it doesn’t go to the right people!

One of the things that I really liked about the work of (and working for) the Centre, was their self-awareness in presenting their work as the start of a discussion, rather than as ‘fixed’ findings. This certainly presents itself in their events they host, some of which I had the pleasure of attending. Listening first-hand to the views of experienced researchers or leaders of cultural organisations on a variety of topics in these events, was extremely eye-opening and I felt that I broadened and changed my perspectives on many crucial questions.

This idea of connecting and discussing ideas with people outside of the Centre was one of the many things that I really enjoyed about this internship, as I also had the opportunity to directly work with other institutions such as Connecting Through Culture and Culture Commons on various research projects. This meant I was able to work alongside a variety of people with different backgrounds and interests, helping to widen my network. I experienced the work of multiple sectors and how institutions worked differently – which has really helped me to understand how I want to work in my future career and what kind of path I want to follow.

A huge thank you to Natasha and Jessica for their hard work and enthusiasm.

Image: Natasha Fyffe (left) and Jessica Olliver (right)

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