Career kickstart

Students enrolled in Victoria’s Museum and Heritage Studies programme gain a broad range of hands-on experience that is normally not encountered until they fly the academic nest.

Martha van Drunen at Pataka Art + Museum next to Peter Madden’s artwork <em>The Unbuilt Realm of Indeterminapolis</em>.
Martha van Drunen at Pataka Art + Museum next to Peter Madden’s artwork The Unbuilt Realm of Indeterminapolis.

Throughout the year, the programme offers its postgraduate students placements in organisations ranging from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand, to smaller regional museums, art galleries and archives. As a result, the students build up their CVs while also gaining an academic qualification.

“These aren’t internships or work experience as such, and that’s the key to their success—they are part of the course, with learning objectives,” says programme director Dr Conal McCarthy. “We tailor each placement to suit both the institution and the student.”

Current student Alice Meads enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies after completing a BA in History with a minor in Māori Studies, and is now doing a Master’s degree. She says that placements are a great way to learn.

“Last year I did a placement with the History Group at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. I researched Māori World War I memorials and wrote entries for the memorials register on New Zealand History ( As a history graduate, with a particular interest in New Zealand history, it was a really exciting opportunity.

“I’ve recently finished a placement with the Arrangement and Description Team at the National Library of New Zealand, which provided me with valuable hands-on experience working with heritage collections.”

Recent graduate Martha van Drunen began the course with a Master’s degree in Religious Studies. She says she arrived with a lot of theory in her head and the urge to do something practical.

Her final placement, which led to a permanent job as an exhibitions officer, was at Pataka Art + Museum. She started off by shadowing curators Mark Hutchins-Pond and Alice Masters in the lead-up to the Uku Rere exhibition that showcased contemporary Māori ceramic artists.

“One of the great things about working at a smaller institution is that you get to do a bit of everything, so I ended up chipping in with the installation of seven different exhibitions, and helped with condition reporting, lighting, painting—even helping to proofread and edit the exhibition catalogues. I discovered that I really liked the physical aspect of the work and working with power tools!

“I feel very lucky to be where I am now. Unwrapping art works at the start of a new exhibition feels a bit like Christmas, except it happens every couple of weeks.”

Placement manager Annie Mercer says each placement requires students to self-evaluate and give presentations on their experiences afterwards. At the end of the year, students receive feedback from a panel of professionals after submitting a mock job application and presenting their CV to the panel.

“Our message is clear from the beginning—your career starts now.”