By Tho Tran, YES! 2012 Intern
Where are you from and what brings you to the Museum?
My name is Tho Tran, and I am a rising sophomore from Annandale High School in Virginia. I love biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and mathematics with a great passion and want to dedicate my years of college to these subjects. I also like drawing, practicing martial arts, reading, writing, composing poems, and doing outdoor activities, such as riding a bike. As a realistic optimist, I always endeavor to improve myself and my community. I believe that everyone can make a difference in the society if he or she tries. With a love for science and math, and this realistic optimism, I became interested in having an internship at NMNH.
How did you get “Behind those Doors?”
After completing and submitting the application available on the website, it was a great pleasure and honor to get accepted to the Youth Engagement through Science! (YES!) Program for 2012. The experience I gained from this program is incomparable and valuable. YES! is composed of two parts: the six-week internship at NMNH in the summer and college preparation sessions in the fall. The six-week internship is organized into project days and learning days so interns experience work with mentors and scientists, field trips, and presentations about STEM careers. YES! introduces interns to the real-life aspects of scientific research, helps the them explore career options, and provides them with an in-depth look at college by allowing them to ask college students questions. The fall component then focuses on college preparation including resume writing, admissions essay writing, college visits, and more.
What are you doing back there, behind those doors?”
I assisted with the organization of mammal skins and skulls from the Walter Bulmer collection. The skins and skulls are classified into common groups like mice, bats, shrews, voles, etc. Using the field notes that the collector wrote, I matched up the skins with the proper skulls. Once the specimens were matched up, they were ready to be cataloged.
I also helped my mentor, Suzanne Peurach with other aspects of caring for this collection including preparing large and small specimens, cataloging, numbering bones, labeling skulls, and installing specimens.
Through this project, I learned how to identify skulls by observing the dental structure, and skull characteristics. For example, clues to the diet of Noctilio leoporinus (also known as the Great Bulldog Bat) can be found by looking at the sagittal crest, which tells us in this case that is probably a carnivore. I also found out that there are other clues such as hair identification and DNA that can help to identify unknown specimens.
In addition to these aspects of my work on the Walter Bulmer collection, I was taught how to prepare mammal specimens and had the opportunity to study internal anatomy of small desert rodents called jirds; learning about their muscles, tendons and bones while preparing the skeletons for cleaning.
What’s been the most amazing or unexpected thing you’ve seen, experienced or discovered while being part of the NMNH academic community?
It's too hard to pick just one thing! First, throughout the six- week internship, I discovered my weakness, which was that I tended to make simple things more convoluted and especially so with science experiments. I thought that science projects must be complex and intricate. However, after seeing my mentor and other interns' projects, I realized that one simple idea can lead to a simple project or experiment that can change the world.
Second, while on a tour of the Lab of Analytical Biology, which was then at the Museum Support Center, I found out that I really love genetics. The tour was an awesome experience and, with my prior knowledge from biology I learned in school, I felt really engaged and interested. I now know that I want to study genetics and molecular biology in college along with mathematics and biochemistry. I know that sounds ambitious, but it's possible!
Finally, I enjoyed honing my late-to-blossom public speaking skills. As long as I know what I am talking about, I now feel comfortable talking in front of a group of people. For example, I was confident when I helped my mentor give a tour of the mammal collections, and I felt excited and happy to share my knowledge with others.