Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Conversation to career starter - the German interview

Graduates Sarah Partington and Rosie Shackleton talk about a German classroom interview project that led to voluntary roles at the National Museum of Scotland.

One of the highlights of first year undergraduate programmes in German at Edinburgh, for students with some previous knowledge of the language, is a conversation project with a native German speaker.

Friederike Voigt, Principal Curator of Middle East and South Asia at National Museums Scotland, is one of the German-speaking community in Edinburgh and Glasgow that have taken part in the project over the years, giving students the chance to practise professional communication and gain insights into future careers.

For graduate Sarah Partington (German MA Hons, 2020), interviewing Friederike in her first year led to more than a chat about the future - it resulted in a Year 2 work placement in the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) that was then taken up by fellow student Rosie Shackleton (German and History MA Hons, 2021) when Sarah went on her Year Abroad.

With both Sarah and Rosie having now gone on to work in the cultural sector, we talked to them about what the NMS work experience involved and what skills they feel it has given them for the future.

Spotting an opportunity

Photo of Sarah Partington
Sarah Partington, German MA Hons, 2020

“When I was interviewing Friederike” Sarah explains, when asked how the opportunity first came about, “it became clear that the Department (of World Cultures) was very busy and that there was plenty to do so, afterwards, I dropped an email to see if she would consider the prospect of me helping out.”

“Gaining museum experience was something that I was looking into at the time. It took some months to organise the start of my volunteering, but by March 2018 I was heading into the National Museum of Scotland every week”.

When Sarah went on her Year Abroad later that year, Rosie moved into the same role, volunteering in World Cultures for around 3-4 hours per week on an afternoon when she didn’t have any lectures or tutorials. She mainly worked independently but was supported by Friederike, and by Assistant Curator Rosanna Nicolson.

For the most part, she collated and sorted old exhibition labels, ranging from recent object descriptions to labels from the 1930s and 40s, reflecting “it was really interesting to see the more subtle changes in curatorial practice, even down to the different fonts and spellings used. The best part of the position though, was definitely the visits to the NMS storage rooms in Granton. You’d go into one room and there’d be an elephant, in the next a tractor and the next some Samurai armour. Being able to handle objects really reinforced that the heritage sector is for me.”

Preparing for the Year Abroad

Photo of Rosie Shackleton
Rosie Shackleton, German and History MA Hons, 2021

Like Sarah before her, Rosie chose to interview a curator during her Year 1 German interview project - in her case, a German speaker working in the National Galleries of Scotland - because she wanted to work in the cultural sector.

Following her work experience at NMS in Year 2, she spent her Year Abroad in Germany working for the Fritz-Hüser-Institut in Dortmund, including on the Ein Wanderbuch für Europa project (which she co-created), and for the PILOTENKUECHE International art programme in Leipzig.

Asked about using German in her roles, Rosie says “The volunteering at NMS itself didn’t require any German use, but it was a good opportunity to learn more about how galleries and museums are run within Edinburgh. It reinforced that this is the sector I want to work in, especially for my Year Abroad.”

Subsequently, at the Fritz-Hüser-Institut, “The whole internship was in German, so for four months I was speaking German about 80% of my day, which was great. I became the German-to-English translator for the whole [Ein Wanderbuch für Europa] project, which was handy when I came back to Uni for fourth year”.

Improving confidence

Asked about skills for the future, Rosie says “I think pursuing the volunteer role at NMS definitely improved my confidence. I was determined to get my foot in the door and where better place than the National Museum of Scotland?  All in all, volunteering at NMS is a fantastic item on my CV and it was great to help out at one of my favourite museums!

“The role improved my general understanding of how a museum or archive is run, which I then built upon when I was in Germany. As I was made aware of the position through a friend, I also really got to see the importance of networking, which has thus far been a really important factor in my career.”

Sarah describes the experience as “invaluable… and I am so grateful to have had it. It affirmed to me that I wanted to work in the museum sector once I graduated. It also sparked a real interest in material culture for me, which I was able to explore further when I analysed the exhibitions of two museums in Berlin for my dissertation.”

“Throughout my time at the museum, Friederike was a brilliant mentor, and she only set me tasks that she knew would be useful for me pursuing work as a curator after university. I wouldn't be in the position I am today - able to apply for further study and jobs in heritage - without my time at NMS.” 

Sarah has been a Collections Care Assistant at the University’s Centre for Research Collections since October 2021. Rosie continues to work on the Ein Wanderbuch für Europa project, writes on culture for the Humankind zine, and is currently Community Engagement and Events Officer for the Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme with Industrial Museums Scotland.

Read our interview with Rosie about the Wanderbuchs project

Find out more about the Centre for Research Collections

Are you interested in studying German at Edinburgh?

Our four-year undergraduate programmes can be taken by students who have studied the language at school and also by complete beginners, with classes streamed in Year 1 according to how much prior experience you have. There’s lots going on in our subject area, from writing in German for our creative writing magazine, Babble, to our student-run German Society of which Sarah and Rosie were both members during their time with us.

Find out more about undergraduate study in German