Work Experience in the RCOG Archive!

This week’s post comes from Genevieve, a 6th form student, who spent a week working with the RCOG heritage collection. Below she summarises her experience, the unexpected aspects of her placement, and her recommendations to fellow 6th formers working on their Extended Project Qualification.

I never really knew what to expect when doing work experience here as the college is not well known of people around my age (17 years old). As I am currently working on my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) and as my question is ‘Have changes in research and technology affect childbirth for the better?’ I soon realised that this was the best place to be to for my research.

For my work experience I was based in the Archive department which was a little daunting as I would be handling heritage items and didn’t want to ruin anything I came into contact with. However when I started, my manager put all my worries to ease; as she slowly introduced me into everything I had to do.

My first task was to use the cataloguing system to find any documents that would be of interest to me and benefit my EPQ. This was a great way to ease myself in as the cataloguing system works just like Google; in the fact that I can type in a key word and any documents containing any information on that will come up. I would then be able to get a description of the document and it reference number so that I would be able to retrieve it if I wanted to. After about twenty minutes of this I had a fairly substantial list, I was then able to go to the special items archive.

This was exciting as to get there I had to descend down a narrow winding staircase which felt like something out of Hogwarts. I was then presented with 10 bookshelves in a constant air conditioned room which contained everything from Obstetrics and Gynaecology Journals from decades back, photographs and original letters from key persons in the development and changes of Obstetrics. I then spent my time looking at all the resources I had chosen and picked out the ones I wanted to reference.

One of the most enjoyable tasks I was given was to go through a box of forceps that had been donated to the college and identify what type of forceps they were. To do this I had to go through museum photographs and compare the forceps I had to the pictures. If they did match the photo I would then write down their reference number and find the forceps in the archives as well as then comparing them by size and any identifiable features. I thought this would be very easy, I WAS WRONG. With my first set of forceps I very quickly identified them and labelled them straight away. However when I had them checked I realised that even if the forceps look the same they are completely different even if it is just done to the size of the screw or the curve of the handle, but this helped me to understand that attention to detail really does matter furthermore by realising this I started noticing all the differences in each set of forceps thus making my archiving more accurate.

Meeting people from different departments in the college was a great experience as they were all able to show me all the different things the college is involved with. I was introduce to a Senior Research Fellow who showed me how the College works with the National Institution for Health and Care Excellence (also known as NICE). The college helps NICE develop guidelines which are used to create quality standards across the country. I also met staff from the Clinical Quality team who shared their wisdom with me on medical school and applying, also tips for medical school interviews. These were very beneficial as in September I will begin applying for universities and if successful I will have to undergo the interview process to be accepted.

The next person I met was engaged in the development and international work of the RCOG; her job is to help develop new projects internationally. Some of these projects such as the ‘every baby counts’ project which entails taking the statistics about the amount of stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain injuries that occur during labour and bringing these results together to understand the bigger picture also to share the lessons learned.

Overall work experience here was not what I expected as in usual scenarios I would be making tea or filing whereas here I had a hands on experience of what a normal day is like and the privilege of being trusted to work with original documents. I would say that this has been the best work experience I have ever had and recommend it to everyone even if you are not interested in Obstetrics or Gynaecology; learning about the different roles in an establishment and how they all work together to help members and fellows.

This week has been extremely beneficial for my EPQ as working with archives has given me an unlimited amount of information. By having good quality documents it made me realise that my topic for my EPQ was too broad; having the archives helped me realise something so simple that I had been trying to figure out since December. Also by having the archives I had so much information at my finger tips that I didn’t have to use the same source over and over again or the internet as I was never limited in the information I received and it all came from a reliable source.

For any sixth formers doing research in any topic I would suggest that you try and get in contact with the British Library or any college that you think will have information of what you’re researching; they will always have something to offer you and even if they don’t (which is unlikely) there was no harm in asking. Also try and find somewhere that has archives so that your research has some depth and so not all of it will be new unproven work. I suggest you push yourself out of your comfort zone and don’t just rely on the internet because you cannot always trust what you see online.

Genevieve at work in the RCOG Archive

Genevieve Mahbeer


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