Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Jolene Teo

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Jolene Teo is a third-year History student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As our  Museum Archival Research Intern, Jolene researched on and compiled a bibliography of writings related to William Willetts, the second curator of the Art Museum in the University of Malaya, researching and compiling materials on the University of Malaya, as well as researching and compiling a bibliography of writings related to Roxanna Brown and Constance Sheares.  

Despite knowing close to nothing about William Willetts, the second curator of the Art Museum in the University of Malaya, I decided to challenge myself and applied to be a Research Assistant Intern for an upcoming lecture about him under NUS Museum to find out more about this figure. Being a History student, I wanted to try applying the skills I learnt in school to museum work and learning new things as well. As I was always interested in the arts, I wanted to explore the various roles played by the museum staff from curating an exhibit to the day to day running of a museum. Therefore, this internship was the best of both worlds for me and I applied for it without hesitation. 

I remember being completely lost on the first day and hitting several dead ends along the way, but it was certainly a fruitful journey of growth and perseverance. I started off reading several materials provided by the museum staff to get a brief overview of Willetts. Slowly, I started to branch off on my own and dug around NewspaperSG, National Archives, and visiting various libraries to find out more information. The museum staff have all been very friendly and helpful in answering our questions and letting us know what they do even if it was not related to what the interns were doing, so we were able to explore other areas as well. We also got a break from what we are doing by going on field trips or workshops to learn more about the museum itself and what they do. 

Picture of Baba House taken during the field trip.

Besides gathering information, I have to compile and reorganise it. I was constantly shifting around the organisation to view the various angles I could approach Willetts. I can now confidently say I am (almost) an expert in scanning and photocopying books and documents of various sizes with the photocopy machine. 

Hard at work trying to figure out the photocopy machine.

After gathering and organising information, I would have to present it to Ahmad, the Head of the Museum, which always made me slightly nervous because he was very strict. However, meetings with him were always very helpful, as he was always able to assess my work and prod me towards a new direction to progress in my research, look at other sources, or to expand on certain parts further. 

Finally, together with Ahmad and Michelle, I met Mr Kwa, who will be delivering the lecture. As a History student, I have read some of the things he has written and attended 2 of his guest lectures. Being an important and well-known figure, I was very worried my research was not up to Mr Kwa’s standards. After the initial nervous stammering however, we had a productive discussion about the lecture and how my research would slowly take shape. I was really relieved to be working under such supportive mentors and being able to voice my opinions despite being just an intern. 

Lastly, we wrapped up the internship by having presentations on object write-ups for some of the works in the museum we have written. This allowed us to contribute to the museum in some way, and try out visually analysing and writing about art works.

Picture of Wee Kong Chai’s painting Mother and Child, I had to do an object write-up for.

I am very excited to continue this project and see what else I can find out about Willetts, and how the lecture would turn out. It will be a challenge, but this experience has made me enjoy doing research and the excitement whenever I discover something new, making this process an enjoyable and enriching one for me. I would also like to thank Michelle, Ahmad, Mr Kwa, and the rest of NUS Museum staff for helping me throughout this winter internship and the upcoming months. 


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