Research & Teaching

Research & Teaching

Anyone can arrange a visit to study the collections, and all are welcome. No previous experience is needed, and specialist advice is available to help you make the most of your visit.

Guidance on developing a research project

This guidance supports the development and collaborative design of substantial and complex projects involving Museums and Special Collections staff and collections, such as those requiring funding applications.

All externally funded project applications which involve Museums & Special Collections as a Co-Investigator or Project Partner will require the use of the University of Aberdeen’s project approval system, WorkTribe. This usually involves senior staff approval and input from Research & Innovation, Research Financial Services and Digital Research teams, so it is essential that the Museums & Special Collections Academic Engagement and Research Lead is involved from the start of idea development, to ensure this process works smoothly and successfully.

General research enquiries should be sent to or as appropriate. Research enquiries involving public activities such as events, exhibitions or social media work should be sent to


Using the collections

Substantial use of the collections must be planned and costed into a project (for example, through funding for curatorial assistance). Activities which need careful consideration include conservation, cataloguing, creation of digital images of items in the collections (from 2D scans to complex digital images), destructive sampling, and work with human remains or items requiring consent from associated people (such as restricted access archives, or items identified as sacred). Conservation work may be essential before or during research, and require staff and/or materials. For more information on relevant policies, including Destructive Sampling, please see Policies | Museums and Special Collections | The University of Aberdeen (



Large-scale digitisation (including scanning, photography and more complex recording) may be an important aspect of a research project. As with conservation, there are various possible approaches to funding, with work carried out by Museums & Special Collections staff or by visiting project staff. Copyright in project images will normally be the property of the University of Aberdeen, with licensing arrangements to suit the needs of the project. Logistical arrangements, costs and copyright licensing must be discussed during the planning of the proposal. General information on the use of images for research can be found through the following link Images of the collection | Museums and Special Collections | The University of Aberdeen (


Sharing knowledge

The sharing of knowledge and understanding before, during and after research must be considered during project planning. All knowledge-sharing throughout the research process should be inclusive, and project planning should involve discussion of the ways in which this will be achieved (for example, through payments to community partners, and use of assistive technology and interpretation/translation). Researchers may share knowledge by providing information for catalogues and other collection documentation systems, and by providing published research outputs. Open access publication is strongly encouraged.


Public engagement activities

Research projects may include exhibitions, events, and non-academic publications. Proposals involving public engagement work will need to be considered within the public engagement programme of Museums & Special Collections. Likely costs and time commitment required from museum staff must be discussed with the Exhibitions and Public Programming Manager, although programme commitments cannot be made before confirmation of funding. Some activities (such as work with community participants, or the recording of discussions for analysis), may be classed as research work with living people, so will require additional consideration, including discussion of aspects such as ethics and data management. Exhibitions can be extremely costly and labour-intensive, so ideas must be discussed at an early stage. Other approaches may include social media posts, short online talks, and  small events involving viewing of selected collections material. Staff can advise on opportunities and likely audiences. Proposals for exhibitions should follow the Exhibitions Policy – see Policies | Museums and Special Collections | The University of Aberdeen (


Ethical review

Much research undertaken in universities and similar research organisations requires ethical review. This includes research with living people (for example, though visitor surveys, or participant observations of staff and visitors). Most such research is undertaken by individuals employed or studying in established research organisations, and we therefore normally expect confirmation that review has taken place before the commencement of research of this type. Individuals and groups without access to formal ethical review processes (for example, small third sector organisations) should discuss approaches to ethical review of any proposed research of a kind which would normally require ethical review, if undertaken in a university or other research organisation. A Data Protection Impact Assessment may also be required, such as for oral history recordings.



Employment of staff within or alongside Museums and Special Collections may be needed for the research (for example, to carry out substantial conservation, cataloguing, digitisation or community engagement work). There are various possible approaches to staffing, with work carried out by Museums & Special Collections staff bought out from their regular work, or by visiting project staff. During proposal planning, please discuss supervision arrangements, and supply a simple draft job description (including key tasks), as soon as possible, particularly if the project worker is to be a University of Aberdeen employee.



Researchers should discuss whether equipment required by the project may already be available, or may need to be purchased as part of the project. They should also discuss how it can be supplied, and whether it could be used for other work or after the completion of the project. Note that all purchases made by the University of Aberdeen must follow the relevant procurement guidelines.

  • Can anyone get in contact with ideas and questions? Yes! Individual people and groups or organisations with ideas are always welcome to get in touch, whether or not they have previous experience working with collections or other types of research project. We may not be able to help with all ideas, but we will try, and in some cases, we may be able to suggest alternative ways of working together, or alternative sources of help.
  • How long will it take to develop an idea? This will depend on the idea. Projects which involve specialist consideration of matters such as conservation, curatorial assistance, digitisation, digital research including data storage, public activities, external funding, or partnership working are likely to take several weeks to develop. Ideas for very large, complex or unusual projects may take months. Early contact with Museums and Special Collections staff will increase the likelihood that the development process will run smoothly and efficiently.
  • What sorts of role can Museums and Special Collections staff play during research projects? Museums and Special Collections staff can play many roles, from leading or co-leading, to working on specific activities, such as conservation, specialist cataloguing, or authorship. In certain circumstances, this may be provided as in-kind support, and in others, it may be externally funded, with creation of new staff roles. All forms of contribution to research projects should be fully acknowledged, as a matter of ethics and good research practice, and this is increasingly important to many relevant funding bodies.