Placement Spotlight: National Portrait Gallery

I recently completed a placement at the National Portrait Gallery, facilitated by the Open-Oxford-Cambridge DTP. This placement was not my first professional experience – I started my PhD having already spent a number of years working in the commercial art sector and so I already have an idea of the type of career path I would like. The opportunity therefore gave me valuable professional experience to build on my previous employment and learn more about the museum sector.


My placement primarily involved supporting the curatorial departments at the NPG for the reopening of the gallery in 2023. The NPG closed to the public in 2020 whilst it undertook a huge redevelopment project called Inspiring People supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Part of this, which I have assisted with the work for, is the re-display and re-interpretation of the entire collection. This gave me the unique opportunity to see first-hand what sort of work curators did to display a collection and the type of narratives they wanted to convey. The placement was part-time over the course of nine months, which allowed me to get involved with a range of activities during the re-display work. I primarily worked on digital interpretation projects for the galleries, which was a great experience, and I learnt a lot about writing and presenting material for different audiences, digital forms of engagement and researching a wide range of objects outside of the remit of my PhD work.


Particular highlights for me included working on films for the galleries. I love this type of display when I visit museums, and seeing the work that goes into them from the curatorial end was very enjoyable. I researched and collated material for a film on the making of portrait miniatures, and another telling the story of the execution of Charles I through a miniature with costume overlays.


My advice for those considering doing a placement is definitely to do it! Not only did the opportunity give me valuable curatorial experience, but I was also able to work on objects outside of my academic area of study. This was challenging at times – working part-time alongside a PhD can be stressful and requires careful time management skills, but overall taking a step back from my PhD research a few days a week gave me some much needed opportunities to focus on other things, learn more about the museum sector, and be able to return to my research feeling refreshed!