Wednesday, 14 October 2020

October's OB of the Month is Alexandra Rose, Curator of Earth Sciences at the Science Museum in London. Alex - who was very nearly a vet - remembers back to great times with friends at the College and her hopes for a cycle-able desert island.

When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?

I knew from the age of about five, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was going to be a vet. I was motivated by that ambition for my whole school career, and did a lot of work experience in the holidays. I helped deliver lambs, drove quad bikes around farms, and yes, I did put my arm… there.

What are you now you've grown up?

I am Curator of Earth Sciences at the Science Museum in London. I am responsible for the museum’s historic collection of objects relating to meteorology, geophysics and surveying.

What is your best memory of school?

All my best memories involve the friends I made – several of whom I am lucky enough to still consider my closest friends. We used to hang out together in the Music School and make each other laugh until we cried. I also have very fond memories of my final year when I was a weekly boarder; the Fenwick community was wonderful, warm and supportive.

What was the best piece of advice you were given?

‘Be brave, make it happen, remember you are loved.’
When I was at school I lacked the confidence that many of my peers had – or at least appeared to have. Someone at Brighton who was looking out for me gave me a book with this inscribed in it; I’ve never forgotten it.

What do you do as a career?

When picking course modules at university, I chose one on the history and philosophy of science – out of curiosity – and that decision effectively changed my life. It became my speciality, and after doing a masters I did a placement at the Science Museum. I have been there for most of my career to date, with a few spells working for exhibition development and design companies. I’ve done a variety of different roles, from research to project management, and no two days are the same!
I’m currently studying part-time for a PhD in history of science alongside my day job. If you had told me this while I was at school I wouldn’t have believed you, since I really disliked history then (with my sincerest apologies to anyone who taught me – I now wish I’d paid more attention), and I didn’t even take history at GCSE…

What does your job involve?

The most visible work curators do is developing new exhibitions and galleries – researching content, writing narratives, selecting objects and creating exhibits. But only a small fraction of our collections are on display at any one time, and we do a lot behind the scenes. This includes acquiring new objects, and doing research. At the moment we are also moving 300,000 of our objects to a new storage facility, so that is keeping us all pretty busy…

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Making decisions about new objects to acquire into the collections is one of my favourite parts of the job, but it’s also the most challenging because those decisions will have implications beyond my lifetime. These objects become part of our shared heritage; they are things that future publics and researchers will look back upon to make sense of our present. When curators make judgements about what artefacts are granted historic significance, we play a role in shaping histories that are yet to be written. The events of this year have drawn many people’s attention to the importance of our material heritage, and to how contested decisions about it can be. I don’t think anyone would be a curator if they didn’t take those responsibilities very seriously.

What have you done that you are most proud of?

I’m always proud to have contributed to a new display or exhibition. Curators get a disproportionate amount of credit for these, which is rather unjust because they are thoroughly collaborative efforts. My most recent project was a gallery called Science City that we opened last year. To stand in the gallery on opening day, alongside such a brilliant and dedicated team, and watch the first visitors enjoying what you have created together – that feels really special.

What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?

A dog. Sadly we can’t fit one in our London flat!

What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?

This is the nightmare question for someone who collects things for a living.

I’ll take my road bike – I hope this island isn’t too sandy. I’ll also pack some French textbooks – that should keep me occupied if I’m on my own for a while. Finally, my telescope. This was a Christmas gift from a boyfriend (reader, I married him) but a desert island would be more suitable for astronomy than London.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone that said what she thought, did what she believed in, and cared deeply for her friends and family.

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