National Museum of Natural History Internship

My STEP project was an internship at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).  I worked on an independent project about digital interactives in museums with the Office of Exhibits.

By completing my STEP project, I learned more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into museums and the possible careers I could get with my major and experience.  I was previously interested in museum work, but didn’t know of all the positions that were available in the field. After completing my internship, I’ve changed my understanding of my interests and my possible career paths. I was also exposed to people with many different backgrounds and cultures. This didn’t necessarily change my world view, but excited me about the possibilities of meeting new people and traveling with work.

I have never considered the idea of working in the exhibits portion of a museum.  Meeting the exhibits department helped me realize that there is a huge diversity of skills in the department.  I met graphic designers, sculptures, researchers, programmers, educators and more.  It was eye opening to see all the planning and work that goes into creating the exhibits, and I would now consider it as a career path.

The main aspect of my internship that led to a transformation was not my internship project, but the many people I met.  My advisor, Junko, encouraged me to not only complete my project, but to meet and talk to as many people as I could during my time there.  I was able to sign up for intern tours and workshops, where I could experience more of the museum.  I met or took a tour with each of the major departments in the museum, which helped me better understand what aspects of natural history I was attracted to.

I was lucky enough to get a private tour with the Collections Manager of Fishes, Lisa Palmer.  She explained to me the day-to-day work that she does to manage her collection.  I explained to her that I often like more broad topics than specific research questions, and she suggested learning more about Collection Management, since curation often includes independent research.  She offered to have me as an intern anytime in the future, which encouraged me to volunteer with the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity, where I helped catalogue fish collected from the EPA.

My favorite department in NMNH was entomology, which piqued my interest in a bug pinning workshop.  There, I learned the basics of insect pinning and pointing and ultimately led me to a lab assistant job, here at OSU’s entomology department.  I was grateful for the experience at the museum, because it’s not a skill I would’ve been exposed to anywhere else.  Although I am not an entomology major, the lab considered me for the position because I had experience with the entomology department at the natural history Smithsonian.  I still work at this lab and am considering the possibilities of a full-time job in this field.

This project was extremely valuable to me in shaping my academic and professional goals.  I made sure to ask everyone I met what their academic background was and how they got to their position.  This helped me understand what types of degrees and experience I would need if I wanted to continue following a career path in a museum setting.  The internship led me to volunteer and get connected with OSU’s Museum of Biological Diversity and get a job as a research assistant in an Entomology lab.  This will hopefully prepare me for a career in a natural history museum.

On a more personal level, I found that although I enjoy the Smithsonian Institute, I don’t want to live in Washington D.C. This will help me plan for future living arrangements and narrow which museums I would like to work at. I also learned that I really enjoyed the environment of a museum.  It was great to meet people who were so passionate about their career.  Although each researcher had a very specific topic they were experts on, everyone was interested and excited about each other’s work. I am interested in all aspects of natural history and love the idea of being in an environment where I can constantly learn from others.