Reflection on the NHSF/Icon Heritage Science group student and ECR workshop of March 2021

James E. Churchill is a Funaro scholar of the M.S. Historic Preservation program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of  Columbia University and an architectural conservator for Kreilick Conservation, LLC. A founding member of the archaeometallurgical committee at ASM International, he is passionate about widening the body of knowledge for conservation treatments in historic metalwork with interests straddling design, history and materials science.

In this blog post, James reflects on the event we held in March to understand the needs of heritage science students and Early Career Researchers, and how the Forum and Icon HSG might meet those needs.

I am an architectural conservator, currently practicing in and around Philadelphia and the northeast of the United States. Graduating from Columbia University in Historic Preservation, an equivalent to built heritage in the U.K., I had a particular focus on historic metalwork and have recently authored numerous articles on early modern nickel alloys for leading material science journals stateside. As a result, I was encouraged to consider a PhD with a British institution. After countless interactions with potential supervisors in the U.K., however, I became increasingly frustrated with little response and a lack of clarity for those caught between the science and art of heritage PhDs. Pushed between departments that included archaeology, environmental sciences, architecture and materials, I subsequently missed funding deadlines for 2021.

I heard about the NHSF through weeks of research on funding opportunities for British citizens and was interested in attending the workshop that was offered in March. The talks consisted of general information on the organization and more intimate sessions that split attendees up to discuss current issues and ideas for the future of heritage science in the U.K. Given the SEAHA funding is due to end in 2022, I was particularly interested in the funding initiatives, but also a more effective leadership that could liaise with universities to encourage such research to remain or return to the U.K. 

We live in incredibly important times. As government continue to jostle over climate policy, the world struggles with accelerating change that is collapsing animal populations, raising flood plains and desertifying swathes of land each year. Both intangible and tangible heritage is at grave risk. Protection of historic fabric is strongest when both science and art intersect to support vulnerable stakeholders. Only through this, will we reduce demolition and waste, lower our carbon footprint and protect life for all species on this planet. I believe the U.K. could offer a distinct advantage in a nimble post-Brexit world but requires a more robust system of support that centralises opportunities for emerging professionals. The NHSF is best positioned to offer this, and it is my hope that they work on those initiatives I and my fellow cohort suggested.

Networking and support for heritage science students and early career researchers: findings from two scoping sessions held in March 2021

Caroline Peach, National Heritage Science Forum

The Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK is built around an outcomes framework and one of its three high-level goals is “A skilled and diverse heritage science community (workforce and volunteers) that is well placed to respond creatively to future change”.

At NHSF, our Communities working group focuses on delivering against the underpinning outcomes that will help to achieve this goal. It brings people together from across its member organisations to pool their strengths, knowledge and networks to address shared challenges in the sector.

In March 2021 we worked with the Icon Heritage Science group to run two workshops to scope the networking and support needs of heritage science students and early career researchers. For NHSF, these workshops are a step towards the strategic framework outcome of ‘Recognition of heritage science as an attractive career’. They also build on findings of research commissioned in 2017 to understand some of the opportunities and constraints associated with a career in heritage science (which highlighted the need for networks to strengthen the identity of heritage science, and a platform to enable young professionals to interact, share challenges, and develop skills).

We wanted to ask heritage science students and early career researchers about the support they need to pursue a career in heritage science and so our two online workshops included introductions to the work of NHSF and the Icon Heritage Science group, a reflection on heritage science as a culture and a career (see our next blog post for more on this) but for the most part, the sessions focussed on facilitated discussion groups asking:

– What are the needs of heritage science students and ECRs?

– How can NHSF/Icon Heritage Science group or other bodies help to address these needs?

– What are the next steps for the heritage science community?

Forty-eight people took part in the two sessions and contributed thoughtfully, enthusiastically and constructively to a wide-ranging conversation about what is needed and how it might be provided.

What did people identify as needs?

The post-it record of the breakout groups is shared below, and overall the main needs can be summarised as:

  • Knowledge of who’s doing what and where (a directory?) – to help develop a picture of the broad heritage science landscape, support making research connections and building networks.
  • Mentorship and help understanding career pathways and opportunities.
  • The opportunity to present projects and research and hear about work by others.
  • Training opportunities focused on specific (technical) topics.
  • Case studies of how people have entered the field and their career pathways.
  • A source of information on job posting and training opportunities.

Both NHSF and the Icon Heritage Science group are now working out how we can best provide support.

From NHSF’s perspective, we have some things in place already that address some of the needs, for example:

Profiles of heritage scientists in training and their experience of entry into the field.

Five minutes with… (a series of blog posts asking heritage scientists about their jobs)

Training opportunities in heritage science.

Though we fully recognise that these pages need to be updated – if anyone is willing to volunteer to help us do this, please get in touch!

Jobs, conferences and training opportunities are shared via Twitter (@HertSci_UK) and in our monthly e-newsletter which you can sign up to here:

Next, we’ll work with the people who have signed up to stay in touch on this topic and help us address the identified needs. High on the list will be agreeing which platform will work best to support the information-sharing and networking.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the scoping sessions. If you’d like to join our email group on this topic please contact Caroline Peach