Coffee and a 3,500-year-old pot

September 16, 2005

Name: Stephen Quirke

Age: 42

Job: Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and reader in Egyptian archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

I teach health psychology, research coping with pain in chronic illnesses, and work on projects about student writing and assessment.

Salary: Must be £40,000 now.

Background: BA and PhD in Egyptology, research at the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, curatorship at the British Museum.

Working hours and conditions: The curatorial office is popular because one corner of it has The Sink, officially installed for soaking salts out of ancient pots but now most used as the well for museum staff caffeine intake. This is good, as I get to see everyone and hear what is going on.

Curatorial duties could keep me fully occupied and, like all museums, we have the scary challenge of keeping material in existence for present and future students and visitors to learn from and enjoy. The downside is the museum building, but we are fundraising to rescue the collection from it, while the upside is the constant chance to work directly with ancient material. In an ideal world I could "interdisciplinarise" myself more.

Who do you teach and work with? My largest undergraduate class would number about 100, MA classes about 15 to 20-strong, and I have a handful of PhD students. The museum manager is an inspiration, pushing ahead on diversity issues that are crucial for collection of material from other countries; there have been short-term outreach posts for Egyptian, Sudanese, African and African-Caribbean Londoners. Our staff are less diverse and, as with the student profile, change is slow, but we work at it.

Worst moment in university life: The most awkward recent moment was being pictured in The Times Higher burning a university contract of employment at a Natfhe demonstration, a few days before a formal dinner where I found myself seated with the vice-chancellor.

What university facilities do you use? University of London canteen (the staff there are the friendliest).

Most difficult customers? Difficult to choose between head of department, unforgiving student and the end-of-Friday telephone caller.

Do you interact much with other parts of the university? It is too easy to get buried within a discipline and too easy to do too much, so life is a bit of a tightrope.

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