Last semester we of the Triplehorn Insect Collection offered our first Insect Curation Internship. I was pleasantly surprised with the interest generated by it. There were over 380 visits to the internship announcement and 207 visits to my post “Internship, Volunteering or Job?” on this blog. Fifty one (51) undergraduate students (of those 49 were women!) and 2 graduate students inquired about the internship. Of the 12 students interviewed we accepted 3 for the Fall 2016 internship. I also received requests for information from a few colleagues who are planning to offer similar internship activities in their collections and/or institutions. Here’s a summary of what we did.
Our overall goal was to provide OSU students, both graduate and undergraduate, with a structured, mentored, hands-on experience on collection curation techniques and the preparation of research quality insect specimens. Activities were planned specifically for the internship. Our requirements were simple: patience, attention to detail, good organizational skills and a minimum commitment of 5 hours/week for 10 weeks.
Interns received handouts containing our broad goals and specific objectives for the internship, and were asked to write down their own goals and expectations for the internship. At the end of the semester we did a two-way evaluation of the internship, from the perspective of the mentors and from the perspective of the interns. They also submitted a report of their activities and were asked to comment on what they thought of the internship.
From theory to practice
Interns received training on basic preparation standards and techniques used in insect collections, from sorting bulk samples to mounting and adding a label to the specimen, to entering the specimen information in the collection database. They worked on identification of the most common orders of insects and had the opportunity to take high resolution images of dry specimens. Weekly discussions involved broad topics of interest such as the importance of biological collections, why and how to deposit scientific vouchers in collections, challenges of long term preservation of collections, etc. Interns received handouts and/or electronic links to reading material related to our topics of discussion. Each intern kept a lab notebook with records of all their internship activities, with date, brief description of the activity, time spent on the activity, plus any difficulties they encountered, questions, etc. Those records served as the basis for their internship report, due on the closing day.
Challenges to offering an internship
Time: A great deal of time went into the planning of the internship. We defined goals, developed activities, prepared handouts and tool kits. During the semester, we worked closely with the interns, individually and in groups, mentoring and evaluating their progress as we went along.
Space & Equipment: We do not have much idle space or equipment in the collection. Work space allocation to accommodate both our working staff and our interns was one of our major concerns (and cause of stress) in the planning of the internship.
Credit where it’s due
Our three interns, Ellen Dunkle, Hannah McKenzie, and Alexandria Ent, were very diligent and focused. They set the bar high for future interns. I also want to acknowledge the terrific work done by our guest scholar, Dr. Natalia Munteanu Molotievskiy, who instructed the interns on general insect taxonomy and on recognition of Coleoptera families.
Our goal is to repeat the internship offering in 2017 as we already have students interested. Watch for the announcement some time during spring and come learn how to build a top notch insect collection with us.