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Graduate profiles

A fascinating degree with excellent future prospects

Alumni of our History Department have taken careers that relate to historic buildings and documents – but that’s only part of the story. The quality and direction of the teaching at Royal Holloway is the spur for some singular career paths.

Name: Kate Cary
Subject: BA History, MA Women’s History
Graduated: 1989, 1992
Place of work: Erin Hunter and Bloodline novels
Position: Author

Kate contributes to the Warrior series under the pseudonym Erin Hunter. It follows the adventures of four clans of wild cats in their forest homes.

She wrote the first two books in the series, one of which reached the Booklist’s Top 10 Fantasy books for 2003. Kate has also been writing under own name, publishing Bloodline in 2005 and Bloodline: Reckoning in 2007.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I fell in love with the building. I imagined myself sitting in a turret, writing scholarly essays. Meanwhile, my common-sense self noticed that Royal Holloway was near London, but not in London, which suited me perfectly.

I was keen to pursue some of the women’s issues I’d touched on as an undergraduate. Studying history from many points of view provided a broad and fascinating perspective on the past.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

My time as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway was one of the happiest times of my life.  I still remember my professor’s advice – before you start writing anything, THINK!

Having spent my life obediently learning and regurgitating facts for exams, the idea that I could form an original opinion was splendidly liberating.

You get the most out of anything if you’re prepared to take the initiative. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Royal Holloway gave me the confidence to ask.

What’s happened in your career?

I found my own way into writing, sending off manuscripts and writing samples to companies until I was commissioned by a packaging firm to write a series of How To books.

I was asked to write a fantasy fiction series for girls aged 8-12 starting with Into the Wild under the name Erin Hunter. We’ve gone from strength to strength since then with a huge following in America, Germany, France and increasingly China.

Name: Ruth Bush
Subject: MA History
Graduated: 1991
Place of work: Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego
Position: Research Scientist

Rady Children’s Hospital opened in 1954 with 12 patients, and has since treated over 2 million sick and injured children from all over the US.

Ruth’s role as a Research Scientist involves writing research methodology, analysing data and project managing research across the hospital.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I was steered toward Royal Holloway based on the advice of Dr. Peter Brown (Princeton) who had been in the History department at Royal Holloway, and Dr. Peter Mandler (UK) who thought I would be pleased with the programme there.

Every independent research project I completed as an undergraduate had to do with Women’s History, so there really was not a choice; it was as if the course had been developed specifically for me.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

It taught me so much about living in another culture, communicating clearly, respecting other backgrounds, and being far away from people I loved.

I often refer to my year there as the most important of my life. I learned to be independent, made wonderful friends and learned that it takes about six months to start to find your feet when you do something new.

I have reminded myself of this lesson several times since and it has helped me to persist in some challenging situations.

What’s happened in your career?

After Royal Holloway I gained a Master’s and PhD in Public Health and worked as an epidemiologist studying Gulf War veterans. At Pfizer I was involved in clinical trial research project management then moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, again studying veterans.

My current job involves analyzing research data, writing manuscripts and teaching our medical fellows. I am lucky in that I have been able to meet many of my aspirations still fairly early in my career.

Name: Dr Melinda Haunton
Subject: PhD History
Graduated: 2002
Place of work: The National Archives
Position: Programme Manager for Accreditation of Archive Services

The National Archives (TNA) is the UK government’s official archive, containing over 1,000 years of history. Melinda is the Programme Manager for Accreditation of Archive Services.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I knew that my research would involve very extensive work among government records, and that moving nearer my key sources would be helpful, so I was considering various options within the University of London.

In the end, I liked the atmosphere of Royal Holloway most. I also found a PhD supervisor who understood what I wanted to do and why – that’s critical for doctoral study to succeed.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

I worked with some great colleagues and enjoyed meeting fellow postgrads with links to wider London history institutions. I enjoyed coming into contact with raw materials from the past; never quite knowing what to expect when you open a file.

There was a really strong faculty when I was there which gave me an insight into very different types of research from my quite traditional political focus.

What’s happened in your career?

I joined the Historical Manuscripts Commission in 2002. I’ve had a number of roles within TNA, all with a focus towards supporting the wider archives sector.

Among my key roles have been developing the National Register of Archives, monitoring sales, archive inspection, digitisation, developing collaborative projects and working on the government policy on archives.

I use transferable skills developed during my PhD, such as lone-working, research analysis, elucidation of complex subjects and persistence. I also sometimes get to deal with records enquiries which relate to my research, and the background of historical understanding is always useful.

Name: Tim Reeve
Subject: Ancient History
Graduated: 1994
Place of work: English Heritage
Position: Historic Properties Director

English Heritage champions our historic places and advises the government and others to help today’s and future generations get the best out of it.

Tim is responsible for the management of 400 historic properties, from staging events and providing a range of visitor services, to maintenance, conservation and capital projects.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I chose Royal Holloway because I liked the size and location of the campus, the semi-rural location and the intimacy. My school football coach had recommended it as a college with good sports facilities.

The history course offered a really interesting choice of modules from both Ancient Greek and Roman cultures and on a variety of different themes. I knew the department I was attached to had strong academic credentials.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

It had a real intimacy about it. I know friends who studied elsewhere and it is not matched at many other universities. You see individuals really grow into themselves and it’s where real, lasting friendships are made.

I was also able to throw in a couple of extra modules on management and accounting to provide something of more general relevance.  

What’s happened in your career?

I applied for an administrative job with English Heritage in 1996. After a year I moved into the Exhibitions & Interpretation Department, and spent four years as an Exhibitions Manager.

In my subsequent role as Head of Property Development I am responsible for almost every aspect of the management of our historic properties portfolio: visitor services, membership sales, retail, catering, hospitality, filming, concerts, re-enactment and other events, maintenance and conservation or capital projects.

Name: Johanna Frei
Subject: MA Public History
Graduated: 2014
Place of work: Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna

Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?

I found out about Royal Holloway and its history department through my internet research. After my studies at the University of Vienna I was looking for a master course that would have a practical approach, cover my interest in history and would give me the opportunity to study abroad. The public history course at Royal Holloway seemed to meet all of my criteria and I had a really good feeling about the university and the course so I gathered all my courage and applied for it. I can still remember how nervous I was on my first day in class!

What did you enjoy most about your time at Royal Holloway?

I really enjoyed how supportive everyone at Royal Holloway was. I always felt heard when I had to deal with an obstacle and was encouraged to seek help. The course offered me the opportunity to meet people who worked in the heritage sector but also in other professional fields and thus showed me what my personal career options might look like. I remember the history department, its members and students fondly but also the campus with its green spaces and, of course, the stunning Founder’s building that I always very proudly showed to my visitors.

How did your time at Royal Holloway help you in your career?

At the end of our course we were asked to do a public history project. The thought of “going out there” intimidated me at first but once I took the first steps towards it – narrowing down the field and topic, choosing methods and contacting institutions – it became easier. This project established valuable contacts to institutions and in my case with my future employer.

What do you do now?

I am now at the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna where I am working on different projects depending on the events and exhibitions at the museum. Sometimes I‘m translating texts, sometimes I‘m doing research but mostly I‘m managing projects. One of the exhibitions I‘ve worked on for example was about women and psychoanalysis where I researched the topic, wrote exhibition texts and communicated with internal and external team members.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career in museums and heritage?

I can only speak for myself but it really helped me to get in contact with museums already during my studies. As I mentioned before our public history project gave me a great opportunity to reach out to different institutions and to ask them if they had certain topics or small projects that needed to be looked into. Finding a job in the heritage sector is hard and it takes a large amount of luck to be at the right place at the right time but knowing people who either remember you when there‘s a job opening or who will recommend you to other institutions is definitely a huge advantage. I also think that it is appreciated in the application process if you can show that you are passionate about a job and topic.

What are your top tips for students who want to find a job like yours when they graduate?

Seek opportunities to show your potential and listen to people who are already working in your desired field. They know where to look for a job and how to apply for it.

What is most interesting about your current role?

I really enjoy that I’m doing different kinds of tasks during my daily routine. Working at a museum also gives me the chance to see how exhibitions develop over time – starting with an idea, gathering information and material, thinking about exhibition objects and designs and advertising the exhibition once everything is done. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t learn anything new.

What really motivates you to do the work you do?

We are at one of the most interesting moments in the museum’s history: The museum, which is located in Freud’s former home and practice, urgently needs to be renovated and modernised. Thus, the Sigmund Freud Foundation started the project Sigmund Freud Museum 2020 to save this cultural landmark. Working on this project and to witness the process of restructuring vast parts of the museum is something that I am very passionate about. I feel very lucky to be part of this project that has already attracted national and international interest. I also think that it is incredibly important to provide information to the public, in our case knowledge about Sigmund Freud, his time and his theories, which is why I was so intrigued by the public history course in the first place.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced in your job?

Being able to work on the project Sigmund Freud Museum 2020 is absolutely wonderful but it also is a great challenge for me and my colleagues. We are just at the beginning where we are trying to secure the money necessary for the renovation. What I’ve learned pretty quickly is that doing public history is also trying to raise money by making people understand why a cultural institution like the Sigmund Freud Museum needs to be supported. We are reaching out to the public, for example, by creating a crowdfunding campaign (which is supported by Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz) and other donation opportunities that are easy to reach via our website (http://www.freud2020.at/en/). As challenging fundraising can be it is also touching to see how many people are willing to help.

Johanna Frei, alumna - History

Johanna Frei, MA Public History alumna

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