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Virtual careers fair to show students ocean-related options

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Meshellae Payne will speak at a free virtual career fair offered by the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute for middle school, high school and college students tomorrow (Photograph supplied)
Meshellae Payne will speak at a free virtual career fair offered by the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute for middle school, high school and college students tomorrow (Photograph supplied)
Meshellae Payne (Photograph supplied)
Meshellae Payne gives a trench tour at a dig in Greece (Photograph supplied)
Meshellae Payne at work conserving a mast from HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar (Photograph supplied)

In high school, because she was good at maths and sciences, Meshellae Payne decided to become an actuary.

It turned out archaeology was a better fit. She considers herself fortunate that she worked that out before she embarked on years of study in a field she “had no passion for at all”.

“I just started thinking more about what my life would be like if I went for actuarial science,” she said. “I realised I was just going for it because I thought it would mean I was financially secure.”

It’s a story she will likely share tomorrow as part of a free virtual careers fair for students in middle school, high school and college put on by the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute in honour of World Oceans Day. Its aim is to show the raft of ocean-related options available – from “scientists to cinematographers, biologists to activists, dock masters and dancers”.

“I wish I’d had an event like this when I was in school,” said Ms Payne, who was recently hired as the East Broadway museum’s collections and exhibitions specialist.

As a child she loved exploring the artefacts at BUEI; they often fuelled her imagination at play.

“On the beach I would think that every weirdly shaped rock was an object from a shipwreck,” she said.

Not realising that archaeology was a career option for someone with her interests, she didn’t select high school courses with it in mind.

“I had GCSE history but I did not take Advanced Placement history because I wanted to do chemistry and mathematics and things that would help prepare me for actuarial science. If I had known that archaeology was a possibility before that, then I would have been able to take the right courses to prepare myself a little bit better,” the 27-year-old said.

“In the end it was fine but it would have been much nicer if I had known what was out there. That is why I am excited about the career fair. If people have an interest in the water, they can see that there are so many routes you can take. There are volunteering opportunities and internship opportunities.”

Ms Payne has a bachelor of science in archaeology from the University of Southampton, and a master’s degree in the principals of conservation from United College London.

In December she finished a year-long training programme at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, England.

While there, she worked to restore a mast from the HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

“It actually has a hole through the middle of it from where a cannon ball got shot through it,” she said. “I was actually in the hole cleaning it out and getting out all the cobwebs and dust. Then I got to work on consolidating some of the wood, because some of the wood was falling off. I made a consolidant to stick it all back together. I was really getting in there.”

Working with such historic artefacts can be unnerving, Ms Payne admitted.

“Even knowing your techniques, you still are afraid because you don’t want to do anything that will do irreversible damage,” she said. “I heard so many horror stories when I was doing my master’s. There have been ancient vases that have been dropped and shattered. It scares you when you are about to do something.”

Initially, she thought she would go into field archaeology. As an undergraduate she spent summers working on several digs in Greece.

She remembers the excitement of finding an ancient axe at a dig at Koutroulou Magoula, an archaeological site located 153 miles north of Athens.

“At first it was just covered in dirt,” she said. “It was only after I cleaned it off a bit that I saw what I had. I was excavating with a trowel and scraping away. Then when I saw a form, I went in with a brush. It was an axe with an obsidian blade.

“A girl in the trench right opposite me – we were so close to one another – found a small figurine. It depicted a pregnant woman and she was carrying two babies in her arms. Now that is the poster of the whole excavation.”

While discoveries are always exciting, the process is be physically gruelling. Depending on the site there can be long days in the hot sun, much of it spent squatting.

Ms Payne came to realise she preferred the post excavation processes – cleaning artefacts, researching and preserving them.

“At first these pieces of pottery are completely covered in dirt. Then all of the sudden you see all this paint and decorations.

“Suddenly, you are revealing this really beautiful object that just looked like a clump of dirt at first. Of course, there were also times when it actually was just a clump of dirt. You would be brushing it with a tooth brush and it suddenly falls apart.”

Her plan had been to stay in the UK and work for a while but the jobs were not there.

“The museum industry is not at its best in the UK right now,” Ms Payne said. “I thought I would come back to Bermuda, maybe in 2022. I imagined I would work in administration while I volunteered in what I was passionate about.”

The Department of Workforce Development’s graduate trainee programme opened up internship opportunities, first with the National Museum of Bermuda and then at BUEI.

She was thrilled when she was asked to stay on full-time. At the moment her job is to move the collection catalogue online.

“I want to figure out what type of exhibits would be the most interesting; what would be the engaging ways to use the collection,” she said. “I want people to love it as much as I do.”

BUEI’s free Life & Livelihoods Career Fair takes place tomorrow from 3pm to 7pm. To register, or for more information: https://bit.ly/3ifGiAb

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Published June 07, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 08, 2021 at 8:15 am)

Virtual careers fair to show students ocean-related options

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