Internship, Volunteering or Job?

We at the Triplehorn Insect Collection frequently receive inquiries from students and even professionals seeking opportunities to learn about insects and insect collections. Some people are looking for training in a specific area, others have a more general interest. We also receive many inquiries regarding volunteering and research opportunities in the collection. We try to accommodate as many requests as our staff and resources allow.

In recent years we have had many undergraduate student interns in the collection. Most of them were Entomology majors at Ohio State, some were majoring in Biology, Zoology, and event in Art. We also had student interns from other colleges and universities. Some of these students spent a summer with us, others took internships during the semester for school credit. Some stayed for several semesters, others only a couple of weeks.

Because of the growing interest, we decided that it was time to make the internship offers a bit more structured. A few weeks ago we announced two internship opportunities for the fall semester, one for insect imaging and one for insect curation. As the email inquiries started arriving, it quickly became clear that there was interest (we received 25 inquiries in 10 days), but there was also some confusion on what an internship is versus an undergrad research experience, an undergrad job, or volunteering.

So what is an internship? How does that differ from volunteering? Is internship the same as research experience? What’s the deal with internship for school credit?

Here is our take:

Internship – Our understanding of internship is that it is a ‘mentored, practical learning experience in a professional environment’. Mentored, because it’s important that the experience be structured and directed. An intern, in our opinion, should not be given a task and left to fend for themselves. Our interns come in during regular hours only and are always monitored by a trained staff or experience student worker. Practical emphasizes that the intern will take what they have learned, both previously and as part of the internship experience, and put it to good use. The word experience has popped up several times: this is meant to emphasize (as does practical) that we want to do more than just talk about the work we do, we want the interns to actually do it. Finally, we mean professional environment not in terms of funds, but in terms of being serious and implementing whatever the best practices are.

There is something that is deliberately missing in that definition, though, and that is any mention of financial compensation. Some places offer paid internships. We do not. First, we simply cannot afford it. Second, what we provide is an educational opportunity in a university environment and we take the responsibility to make it a structured, mentored experience.

Beyond the practical learning experience, students can get school credit for their efforts by enrolling in formal internship course (in our department this is EEOB 3191, 1-3 credit hours; other departments offer some form of internship courses as well). And whether one enrolls for credit or not, at the end of the day the intern – we hope – has made the kind of personal connection with their mentor that makes for a substantive and useful letter of recommendation later on when they apply for a real job, grad school, med school, etc.

Note that research internships involve actively working in a research project under supervision of a faculty or research scientist. That is not the kind of internships we are currently offering. The broad goal of our insect curation internship is to familiarize students with the work involved in maintaining and enhancing a research quality insect collection. Specific objectives involve learning the basics of insect specimen preparation (sort, dry, mount, and label insect specimens). In addition, student interns are offered opportunities to learn other techniques and protocols, depending on their progress, their (and our) time availability, and their interest.

Volunteering – The core of volunteering is that the person donates their time and effort in support of an organization, projects, etc. As such, it can overlap a lot with our concept of intern. But it differs, basically, in that we’re not necessarily promising a well-rounded, holistic and mentored experience. Volunteers come to us willing to help in whatever capacity because they think our work is valuable in some way. We try to match the tasks with the experience that volunteers already have: one person might be particularly good with organizational skills, another with the fine motor skills needed to mount and label specimens. And while interns are typically young persons looking to gain skills and experience, our volunteers run the gamut in ages, from teenagers to retirees. Right now we have two amazing volunteers: Lauralee Thompson, who has just completed one year of volunteering with us on Sept 8, and Jan Nishimura.

Student Job – When we advertise a ‘undergraduate curatorial assistant’ job, it means 1) we can only hire undergraduate students (that’s what our money is earmarked for), 2) we have a particular set of goals to accomplish in a particular time and we offer training on the specific tasks related to the job, and 3) it is just the nature of an insect collection, in particular, the large number of specimens, that the tasks are likely to be repetitive and tedious.

In the end, though, students who are hired, say, to do specimen data entry, end up learning a lot about the various aspects of the curation as they will have the need to perform some of them, they also learn about geography, computers, and, no surprise, about insects. For young persons, jobs like the ones we offer are also great opportunities to learn good work habits and to foster and demonstrate attributes like reliability, honesty, diligence, perseverance, ability to learn and to work with others in a collaborative way. Then, this too can translate into the kind of reference letter that really makes a difference to a potential new employer.

We currently have two specimen digitization projects funded by the National Science Foundation, one for beetles, and another, that just started, for butterflies and moths. Neither of these projects would be feasible without the work of our undergrad curatorial assistants.

One thing is common between interns, volunteers, and student workers: they are all learning and they all need care and attention from the collection staff. It is important for us, staff, supervisors, faculty, to engage with them and to nurture their interest in the work we do. That not only helps to keep them motivated, but it also fosters good interactions between everyone in the collection, and provides them with a positive experience that they will hopefully remember and cherish for the rest of their lives.

Current Digitization Projects:

Digitization PEN: Integration of data from the Triplehorn Insect Collection with the Southwestern Collections of Arthropods Network. Award #1503659. Start Date: July 1, 2015, Estimated End: June 30, 2018. Investigator(s): Norman Johnson & Luciana Musetti.

Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: Lepidoptera of North America Network: Documenting Diversity in the Largest Clade of Herbivores (LepNet). Award #1602081. Start Date: July 1, 2016, Estimated End: June 30, 2020. Subcontract from the University of Northern Arizona to Norman Johnson & Luciana Musetti.


If you would like to know more about our internship program, about the digitization projects underway in the collection, or about possible collection-based undergraduate research experience, please contact us at


About the Authors: Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection. Norman Johnson is a Professor in the Department of EEOB and Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.


Looking back at 2015 and moving on


We got back to work after a short break during the holidays.  2015 was a very busy year for us at the Triplehorn Insect Colletion. Beetles and butterflies were without a doubt the biggest highlights.  First the beetles:

As part of our Beetle Curation Project, we completed the re-housing and curation of our massive Tenebrionidae collection (65,150 specimens, now neatly housed in ten 24-drawer cabinets.)  We were able to secure funding from the National Science Foundation to cover the costs of databasing the newly curated beetles. As part of that grant, which officially started July 1, 2015, we will add 80,000 beetle specimens of the families Carabidae and Tenebrionidae to our database, and make the data available to the world via the Internet.

Beetle curation and databasing has kept us busy for a few years now and with 100+ cabinets full of beetles in our holdings, we expect this trend to continue strong for quite some time. More on our Beetle Curation Project in future posts.

Butterflies in the Parshall collection

Butterflies in the Parshall collection

Traditionally, butterflies were not one of our collection’s biggest strengths, but that has started to change. In October 2015 we were honored with the donation of the David K. Parshall Butterfly Collection. That’s a very impressive collection of butterflies, with more than 50,000 pinned specimens and probably the same amount of unmounted ones. We wrote about the collection on the collection blog here and here.  On the week we moved the Parshall collection to the museum, and before we even had a chance to take a good look at the specimens, we were already receiving inquiries and loan requests from scientists. Pretty awesome!

Apart from big curation projects and large donations, there was also a lot of what I call “regular work”: we prepared and sent out thousands of specimens on loans, we hosted various scientists who came to study and/or take photos of our specimens, and we gave many tours of the collection to people interested in learning more about insects. We were also featured in a couple of newspaper articles that recognized our efforts (here and here), and that was very nice. My modest efforts at photographing local bumblebees and contributing my images and data to made it to the paper too (see it here), but that’s another story.

You will notice that there’s a thread connecting the events and accomplishments at our collection: people — the staff, undergraduate student assistants, volunteers, and interns who work in the collection. Without these talented and dedicated people we could have the biggest, most amazing collection, and it wouldn’t matter one iota because it would all be locked away cabinets, completely inaccessible to the public.

I’m particularly touched by the interest and the dedication of our volunteers and interns. Their efforts made a big impact in the collection in 2015 and I want to acknowledge them here:

Sarah Washburn, a local artist and full-time e-commerce manager at a large Columbus company, joined us in April.  She has a passion for cicadas (see one of her illustrations here) and comes in whenever she has time to help out with whatever we need. Thanks to her dedication we now have a complete list of all the cicada species in the collection. She started working on updating that taxonomic names and will be continuing to work on that in 2016.

Alex DeMilto, an Entomologist interested in the curatorial process, spent a semester working 10-12 hours/week alongside our staff and other volunteers. She received training in all basic aspects of curation, from proper handling to cataloguing and organizing. Alex produced a list of all our aquatic beetle species and updated all the taxonomic names. That’s a huge task and an enormous contribution to the collection.

Cherokee Read-Hill, an undergraduate student from Antioch College in Yellow Spring, OH, came to us to learn about what it takes to build a scientific collection. Her goal is to build a collection of pollinators at Antioch, and she’s already working on it. During her three-month academic internship, Cherokee received training on the basics of curation, and spent a good amount of time learning the details of specimen mounting, labeling, and databasing. She worked on her own bees and on databasing part of our bees in the family Megachilidae. As part of her internship, Cherokee wrote a lovely blog post about her experience at the Triplehorn collection.

Alex and Cherokee completed their volunteering/internship programs in December. They were with us for a short period of time, but by the time they left it felt we knew them for the longest time. Their good work will serve as basis for several new curatorial projects in the months and years to come.

Lauralee Thompson, a retired lecturer at OSU, joined us in September, after seeing one of the articles about the collection on the Columbus Dispatch. She volunteers with us for 4 hours/day, three times a week and we could not be more delighted. Lauralee is energetic and very enthusiastic about our work. Since she started volunteering, she’s already made a big dent on the collection’s backlog: she moved thousands of grasshoppers and other insects to new trays and drawers. Recently she has been working on cataloguing our extensive longhorn beetles (family Cerambycidae), among other things.

Alice Vossbrinck, a PhD student in the OSU Department of Entomology, is studying lady beetles (family Coccinellidae) and wanted to get training in order to work with museum specimens. Last May she started coming in the collection one day a week for 5-6 hours. She received basic curatorial training (how to handle specimens, how to transcribe data, etc.) and started working on the lady beetle genera she is interested in. Alice moved hundreds of specimens from hard to soft-bottom unit trays, transcribed their label data, and updated their taxonomic names by looking them up in the pertinent literature.

Katherine Beigel (Art & Biology major), Cody Cardenas (Entomology major) and Zach Franczek (Geology major) are undergraduate students at OSU with an interest in biological collections. They have first joined us as volunteers and/or interns looking for learning opportunities. Their volunteer work on imaging, specimen databasing, and multiple other tasks, was an invaluable contribution. As positions and funding became available in 2015 they were all hired to work as undergraduate student assistants.

Together, all of our volunteers and interns, have contributed more than 600 hours of their time and effort to the collection between April and December 2015.  They have been instrumental in the laborious process of curation of the collection and databasing our specimen records. I’m grateful to them!

Looking back at 2015, I see the challenges we had to face, the budgetary cuts that we endured (and unfortunately will continue to endure in 2016), the loss of skilled workers due to the lack of funds, and the stress that such conditions exerted on all of us. But despite the adversities, I cannot help but marvel at all our many accomplishments, and to feel excited about all the wonderful things we have coming up in 2016.  Stay tuned for more on that!

Happy New Year!


About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Museum Open House 2.0


Mark your calendars: 2016 Museum Open House – Saturday, April 23rd

Those who are familiar with the Museum of Biological Diversity Open House have probably heard say that we are the largest outreach event in the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio State. That’s a delight for the people who put the event together, and a big responsibility too.

The Open House started way back in 2005 with a two-day special event celebrating the Museum and the university’s biological collections. The program started on Friday, April 29, with lectures from various Museum alumni, from ichthyologists to botanists to entomologists, and continued with a reception and dedication of the OSU Insect Collection in honor of its long time curator, Dr. C. A. Triplehorn. The first day of the program closed with a lecture by Dr. Peter Raven entitled “How Many Species Will Survive the 21st Century?

Speakers at the 2005 Museum celebration

Speakers at the 2005 Museum celebration

On Saturday afternoon the Museum opened its doors and welcomed the public for guided tours of the facility and hands-on activities. The event was a success and motivated the people in the Museum to hold an Open House the next year, and the next, and on for the past 11 years.

As the event grew, new activities were added, more volunteers joined in, and our audience increased.  Over the last three years (2013-2015) the event attendance more than doubled. We welcomed over 2,700 visitors in 2015. That’s an average of 450 people per hour for a 6 hour event — a manageable number, assuming that the audience is evenly distributed throughout the total hours of the event. However, that’s not the case: most of the Open House visitors come in between 11AM and 2PM, only three hours. During this period we reached a peak of more than 700 people in the building at one time. That turned out to be a bit too cozy for comfort.

View of the Museum auditorium during the 2014 Open House

View of the Museum auditorium during the 2014 Open House


Our enthusiastic visitors tell us they would like less crowds and suggest a two-day event, or maybe more than one Open House a year. We wish we could, friends, we really do, but we cannot. We don’t have the staff or the resources to hold more than the one day Open House each year.

Because we do not have dedicated display areas, in order to welcome our guests during Open House, we have to free up space and move furniture and equipment that are normally used for research and curation. After the event, we need to put all that stuff back in place before we can return to our daily work routine.

Setting up a display at the Triplehorn Insect Collection

Setting up a display at the Triplehorn Insect Collection

In the insect collection, which is what I know best, it takes us roughly 2 months to plan and prepare displays and activities for the yearly Open House, plus one week to move furniture, do some cleaning, and set up displays, plus one week to take everything down and put it all away.

And there’s the toll on our people, the Museum staff and the dedicated volunteers that make the Open House the amazing event it is. For us, Open House is an exhilarating experience: we plan it, we work really hard to make it happen, we’re proud of it. On the day of the event we get up early and we spend at least 6 hours straight standing on our feet, talking, running activities, interacting with our guests. We love it, we give it all we have, but at the end of the afternoon we’re completely and utterly exhausted, our feet hurt, our voices are gone … and there’s still work to be done after the doors close.

In response to the success of the event, and the consequent overcrowding, and taking into consideration our own limitations, we decided to try something different for next year. If we cannot hold longer, or multiple Open Houses, we thought we would hold the event a little later in the year to avoid the cold and the snow and move some of the activities outside.

We picked Saturday, April 23rd as the date for the 2016 Museum Open House. Some of the hands-on activities that do not involve fragile museum specimens will be set up at the large Museum front yard, while our weather-sensitive specimens, displays, and activities will be available in the auditorium and in the collections.

Will this new formula work for our event? We hope it will, but the proof is in the pudding. So please plan on joining us this spring, April 23, (the day after Earth Day!), to learn more about our Museum, our impressive collections, and about the breathtaking biodiversity of the world we live in.


About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is Curator of the C. A. Triplehorn Insect Collection.