Joe Sullivan talks to Nick Dent, formerly of the Wellcome Collection and now studying at the Natural History Museum about his roles in London museums…
Describe your career path
I didn’t do as well as I should have at university and didn’t particularly want to be what my degree qualified me to be. Out of university I got a job in a dinosaur exhibition at the O2. This went bankrupt so I had to find another job. After a short sojourn as a toy demonstrator at popular large toy shop/one of the circles of hell, I can’t quite remember which one; I got a job in a temporary exhibition at the Science Museum about the internet. When this closed I managed to get a permanent job in their Explainer unit. This taught me most of what I know about live science communication. From there I got a job at Wellcome Collection as a Visitor Experience Assistant. This was much more up my street at I love biology, and as good as the science museum is, it’s very physicsy. This also gave me the opportunity to come up with my own tours and engagement sessions rather than just following a script. A crucial point for me as I felt this is much more what I saw myself doing. I had to start by taking a part time job, as is often the case in front of house jobs at museums. So at this point I had to take three jobs. Two days at the science museum, three days at Wellcome and a couple of evenings a week in a recording studio to stay afloat. Luckily after about 6 months I managed to go full time at Wellcome Collection as was able to focus entirely on one job.
What have the next 12 months got in store for you?
Well, I finished at the Wellcome Collection in August, and am now back studying ‘Biodiversity and taxonomy’, based at the Natural History Museum and Imperial College London.
What Museum (other than your own) would you like to be locked in overnight?
The Natural History Museum, it might be my favourite place on earth. Both the building and exhibits make me feel like a child again. I really do love the natural world and animals; I don’t think I would ever get bored learning about them.
What’s the most encouraging thing a visitor has ever said to you?
I’m not sure. I’m not very good at remembering praise, which I should be better at. I tend to focus on negative feedback and see this as how to learn. I used to treat positive feedback as me just doing my job. But it’s always really nice if you are talking to children and you can see your input has made them enjoy the museum more, and possibly ignited an interest they didn’t know they had.
If you could highlight one Museum Object, either in your own museum or elsewhere, what would it be?
I feel I should represent my previous museum. The Human Genome Project in the Medicine Now gallery in Wellcome Collection. The first set ever printed out, there wonderfully impractical, and are such an amazing piece to show what we’re made of. I often spend over 20 minutes talking about them with visitors.
What would you have been if you hadn’t been a Visitor Experience Assistant?
I don’t know. I’m not very good at plans, Perhaps a failed stand-up comedian.
Thank you Nick Dent!