Meet the Young Cultural Heritage Professionals – Interview with Elena-Maria Cautiș

Meet the Young Cultural Heritage Professionals – Interview with Elena-Maria Cautiș

Young cultural heritage professionals
CHARTER is teaming up with Heritageeks, a group of motivated young cultural heritage professionals, to discuss and learn more about the perspectives of the new generation of heritage professionals as they enter the sector and take their first professional steps. Our fourth interview reunites the experience and views of Elena-Maria Cautiș (Romania), a PhD student in Cultural Heritage Studies, Environmental Sustainability and Wellbeing.

New profile on the Young Cultural Heritage Professionals series:

Young cultural heritage professionals

What was your motivation to enter the cultural heritage field? Was it your first option?

The choice to enter the cultural heritage field wasn’t an obvious one at the beginning. After having graduated my BA in history, I felt the need for something more tangible. After having discussed with my supervisor and after having thought about my own relationship with my heritage, I’ve decided that this is both something that I have always been fascinated with (although I wasn’t able until then to point out exactly what interested me) and a chance to apply my historical knowledge into a more concrete and tangible setting, which is that of project development.

I have therefore started my MA in Cultural Heritage, with a focus on heritage management and then, with my thesis on international law related to heritage. It seemed at the time that this would satisfy my interest in interdisciplinarity and I wasn’t wrong. Then of course, this was also a personal choice, as I was constantly searching for meaning and identity in my cultural environment. The choice was therefore directed also at making sense of the world around me.


How was/is your transition from studying to working?

During my MA I undertook an internship at the National Institute of Heritage in Romania for a summer. After that I went on Erasmus for a year, hoping that when I’ll come back I would have a chance to work at the NIH. After finishing my MA I soon realized both that I was still lacking knowledge and skills in order to apply for a position there and also that the environment was highly competitive and mostly directed at professionals with an even more tangible background (architects, archeologists for example).

Even though I was constantly following their activity and still hoping for an entry-level position that would also suit my interests, I came to the realization that this would not happen in the near future. As anxiety towards the future heightened, so did my search for a job. In the meantime I decided to take up a voluntary position at an NGO in Romania and worked with them for a few months, while also trying to expand my activity at an international level. It was a period of extreme anxiety, numerous breakdowns and depression, but also one of great hope and possibilities. This was due on one hand to the acknowledgment of the fact that my university had not prepared me for scouting for opportunities and for the skills requested by the market and the sudden realization (when I started expanding my search outside of Romania) that the requested profiles were so diverse that I couldn’t grasp the exact requirements.

So I started teaching myself, by reading a lot, attending international conferences on various topics and applying for specialization courses or summer schools and just allow myself to absorb all information. This is when I started expanding my network, which proved to be essential not just for exchanging ideas, but for moral support as well. In the end I chose to continue my education through a PhD, because I became aware of how little we all actually know about heritage.

I knew I was interested in interdisciplinarity and in critical heritage studies, so I went for the PhD programme I’m currently enrolled in. While I am doing this, I’m also continuing to do various other external projects, on one hand because of my need for concrete immediate impact and also because I am now aware that in order to make it in the sector you need flexibility and willingness to work on multiple levels at the same time. This has not necessarily been easy, but for now I feel that I need to push myself a bit in order to achieve and create the opportunities I want.


How are you looking/looked for a job in heritage?  And how do you experience/experienced the phase of search and application?

Since my first year of my MA I started thinking seriously about building my career. I thought that starting with an internship (apart from the ones that the university was offering us) would be the first step. I therefore took up an internship at the National Institute of Heritage because at the time working there seemed the ideal job. I was hoping that after my graduation I would be skillful enough to apply for a position but nothing came up in the end. I continued to look for jobs and finally I had found one in a museum, but I felt that the respective position was not in line with my interests so I gave up on the application.

I then started looking at NGOs that I was interested in and that were doing activities which matched my ideas. That’s how I came in contact with the Mihai Eminescu Trust Foundation. I’ve started with a voluntary position and then continued for the following years to assist them in various activities. At the same time I started looking for paid opportunities at an international level. This intensified once I became one of the European Heritage Youth Ambassadors at ESACH and Europa Nostra. Their newsletters have often guided me towards opportunities. Nothing was matching my abilities and values entirely. At some point I decided to go into research so I applied for two PhD positions in Italy, one of which I obtained. At the beginning of my PhD I continued searching for jobs and internships, either actively through the institutions that I knew I was interested in, or through my network.

I’ve had two failed applications with two big international institutions, but the experience of applying and interviewing were highly rewarding as they made me aware of the skills I need to improve, but also for setting a clear direction for what I really want to do. I then took a research internship at ICOMOS Philippines, which was in line with my PhD project to some extent and which helped me develop my research skills and my knowledge related to heritage and international relations and policy. For the last position that I took as a consultant for the communication part of a heritage project in Romania, I was contacted by the person in charge. This made me realize that all the efforts I’ve been putting in in the past years for developing my skills and widening my network were not in vain.

All the scouting and application procedures (apart from these I considered applying for various other opportunities so each time I was remaking my CV and motivation letters) were extremely precious as they consisted of both a practical exercise and a self-reflection related to what skills I was lacking, what could be improved and what I really wanted.


What skills and competences do you notice are demanded the most in job offers?

  • Ability to multitask
  • Strong interpersonal relations competencies
  • Ability to work in an international environment
  • Strong analytical and planning competencies
  • Autonomy
  • Having experience (2 years or more) in a similar position
  • Resistance to stress
  • Willingness and ability to travel for work
  • (not specified but implied) willingness to work over schedule
  • Digital skills, graphic design skills, mastering online working tools
  • Having a strong knowledge of European and international institutions and policies
  • Knowledge of a foreign language (mainly English and French)


Based on the profiles of job positions, do you notice skills or competences that your education didn’t provide you with?

I wish that my education would have provided for me the skills to actually search for jobs. For that I feel that education should have been more concentrated and updated not only with regards to the job market, but also to current thinking movements in the field. In this sense, the education curriculum was certainly outdated. Then another thing that my education didn’t prepare me for is related to digital skills and green thinking in general. I would’ve also appreciated more practical training related to project development and management, as well as research skills.

Overall, I think that the educational system in Romania has many flaws, the main one being that it’s not connected to the “real world”. This is  not only related to the practical side, but also to the theory. I’ve also noticed these flaws in Italy while doing my Erasmus, although to a smaller degree. I can also notice now during my PhD that in general academia is disconnected from what is happening in the field in other sub-sectors.


How do you think young people can be attracted to work in heritage? Do you have proposals?

The first step would be to allow for the creation of other heritages, meaning going beyond the authorized heritage discourse about what is heritage and what is not. The current situation leaves little space for individuals who don’t identify with certain categories of heritage to interact with the objects the sector operates with. Focusing more on recent heritage or emerging heritage would also be a tool to attract younger generations. Using storytelling more, intertwined with scientific research, might prove an asset for communicating heritage properly and in tune with modern communication techniques. Related to this, I believe that the sector should come out of the “elitistic” tone it has used for the past 200 years and open up honest conversations about what is heritage, why is it important (or not), what could the uses of heritage be in today’s society and for the environment.

In short, linking heritage to general current debates about the pressing issues we’re all facing and which are being felt most violently by youngsters. Only after having cleared out the existing rhetoric, can we start talking about inclusion: how could the sector become more inclusive, in allowing people from more disadvantaged backgrounds to get involved with heritage? In other words, ensuring and creating opportunities to gain a living for everyone who might be interested in heritage. Another big point is that of presenting entrepreneurship opportunities in the field for people who might be interested in developing their own projects and ideas. Finally, I believe that marketing strategies are a very wide unexplored field for heritage which, whether we like it or not, needs to be discovered in order to make the sector competitive.


How do you see the future of the cultural heritage field?

I think the future is bright. There are many obstacles which we all need to work together on overcoming, but in the end I believe that there are steps being taken in that direction already. My only fear is that if we fail to adapt to current demands, then the heritage field will slowly be eaten by other fields. I think that in the future heritage will focus more on ethics and international relations and cultural diplomacy and this will be a big strength, along with green thinking and the digital transformation. Related to the green transition, I believe that the heritage field is starting just now to reveal its true strengths in tackling the climate crisis and in making people more resilient in the face of adversity. We should point more on all of these, intergenerational dialogue and allow younger generations to take the lead more and we should be fine.


About Heritageeks

HeritageeksHeritaGeeks is a group of close friends who met during the 2021 ILUCIDARE Summer School in Poland and who have been since trying to navigate the heritage sector together. Group members hold a critical perspective on heritage, while at the same time trying to uncover its assets for tackling diverse contemporary challenges and its power in bringing people together to act accordingly. In this sense, the group looks to the present and the future as much as it looks to the past. The overarching goal for their 2023 activities is to emphasize the way young professionals enter and get along in the heritage sector.
Learn more here!

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