The Museum of Natural History loomed up before me. As I entered, I noticed visitors sitting outside, waiting for the museum's opening at 10 am. I, however, got to pass right through because I was part of the Intern for a Day Program at University of Maryland at College Park.
My name is Yaroslava Kuzina and I am a freshman at UMD right now. I am doing a General Biology and English double degree and when I heard of the Intern for a Day Program, my curiosity was immediately piqued. In this program, students are matched with employees of various industries, whom they get to shadow for a day. This provides a glance at the sort of work various professions actually do, without the obligations of an actual long term internship.
My Intern for a Day match was Erin Kolski of the Entomology department at the Museum. She met me as I entered the Museum and took me straight up to the Coleoptera (Beetle) collections. Here I met a longtime volunteer, Gary Hevel. Gary showed me many colorful specimens and introduced me to some different types of beetles- such as the longhorn and the scarab beetles. He also showed the largest beetle in the world- the Goliath beetle of Africa- and the longest- the Stick Insect. Some stick insects from the neo-tropics can grow to 18 inches in length!
Afterwards, Gary talked about his own work, which mostly involves preparing and mounting insect specimens.
Next, we headed to the Lepidoptera (Butterfly and moth) collections where I met museum specialist Brian Harris . He acquainted me with the lustrous blue Morphos. The tiny scales on the wings of beautiful butterflies reflect light differently, thus causing the unique sheen that characterizes them. I also saw some Dead Leaf butterflies- which look just like dead leaves when they rest with their wings folded up! While we were examining these specimens, Brian also pointed out some wing slides that a previous employee had made. Wing slides are slides with butterfly (or moth) wings mounted on them. However, prior to being mounted, all the scales are scraped of the wings so that the veins on the wings are revealed. It turns out that the pattern of veins on butterfly wings is extremely important and that some species are even differentiated by the pattern of veins that they have on their wings.
At 11 am, Erin took me to meet Jennifer Strotman of the Paleobiology department. Here, on the lower floor of the building, I got to peruse some of the museum's fossil collections. The specimen that I liked the most was a piece of bone with scars from Megalodon teeth on it. Megaladons were the largest species of shark to ever inhabit the oceans. They lived. 15.9 to 2.6 million year ago, during the Cenozoic Era, and could get up to 59 ft in length. The fossilized teeth of some of these monsters can be as large as the hand of a grown man! I also, got to see fossilized star fish, brachiopods, leaves, seeds, trilobites and more. However, the biggest treat was getting a peek at some behind-the-scenes work of the Dinosaur Exhibit which is closed and under renovation now, scheduled to be reopened in 2019. I got a chance to look at some truly amazing fossils- the skeletons of a plesiosaur, a Giant Bird and others. Plus, I got to see some Mammoth tusks and a mummified bison!
After thanking Jennifer, we moved on and got to talk with many more experts in the entomology field, including researcher Torsten Dikow, data manager Jessica Bird, acting collections manager Floyd Shockley, collections information officer Patricia Gentili-Poole and emeritus researcher Oliver Flint. Each of these people gave me some insight to working at a museum and advice on how to continue my education and start my career in the biological field.
Erin Kolski, my Intern for a Day match, showed me some of the work that she does, too. Erin started out as an intern in the Anthropology department and gradually migrated over to entomology. Right now, she is working on cataloging holotypes of Diptera (flies) into a publicly accessible database. Holotypes are specimens of species that are used as a reference point for a species. Unknown specimens can be compared against holotypes and as Erin said herself, if the Museum caught on fire, the holotype collections will be saved first. In fact, some of them are over 100 years old!
It is needless to say that as my Internship for a Day experience came to a close, I had seen but a fraction of the entire insect collections. After all, the Museum of Natural History has about 30 million insect specimens which puts it in the top three museums of the world with the largest insect collections. The only two other museums that rival it are the Paris and the British Museums. Over all, I really enjoyed my day at the museum and the chance to see everything that goes on behind the scenes, and I hope to be back soon! Perhaps, as a long-time intern!
Yaroslava Kuzina, University of Maryland, College Park