What is your role on the NatSCA Committee?
I have recently become a member of the NatSCA committee after attending their conferences and events for several years.
Thus far I have taken on the role of tracking and supporting collections at risk. A natural sciences collection provides a perpetual physical snapshot of the natural world and holds important information which can help us better understand our planet today. However, this valuable resource is often the first to experience the strain of funding cuts, staff shortages and redundancies. Collections in long-term storage, especially those that exist outside of the public eye, are frequently underutilized and therefore undervalued.
NatSCA is trying to keep track of threats to collections and offer our support to those in need; with the intention of increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the value of natural sciences collection and the people with the skills to care for them. If you know of any collections that are at risk from staff loss or collection disposal, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Job title and institution
BBSRC CryoArks Technician at the Natural History Museum, London.
Tell us about your day job
I work in a unique type of natural sciences collection, instead of maintaining specimens with the aim of preserving them forever (e.g. like a traditional taxidermy collection) the objects I work with are destined to be destroyed! If a researcher uses samples from a collection of frozen tissue and DNA extracts those samples are broken down during the process of analysing their genetic information. There are tissue and DNA collections in freezers all over the UK but not all are managed and not all are available for research, that’s where the CryoArks project comes in. I am part of a small team of people working across museums, universities and zoos to make sure that the frozen collections that exist across the UK are coordinated, cared for and made available for all researchers to use. Tissue and DNA collections are a vital resource for genetic research and can be of most value when they exist alongside traditional collections with complementary voucher specimens.
What is your favourite museum, and why?
There are so many exhibitions/displays/galleries I like in so many museums it is hard just to pick one, so I will tell you about a couple of the most memorable. The Story Museum in Oxford is an exciting and immersive place that sparks creativity in people of all ages. The St. Fagans National Museum of History was one of the best school trips EVER, I loved that you could go in all of the little cottages, and they had pigs! The old wooden cases and galleries of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge is charming and houses a wealth of fossils you can easily spend hours looking at. The natural history section of the National Museum Cardiff was one of my favourite places to visit as a child. And finally, I get to walk through the main hall of the Natural History Museum in London every morning on my way to the office. Walking beneath Hope the blue whale in the empty gallery before the museum opens is an amazing feeling and a privilege, one I enjoy every single day.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
When I was a child, I first wanted to be a dog walker, then a zoo keeper, then a vet, then a zoologist. My dreams got bigger as I wanted to see more of the world, but the animal theme stayed the same. I love my job and I have been able to go on amazing adventures with it, including a voyage to the most remote inhabited island on the planet! But in an alternate universe I think I would follow in my parents’ footsteps. They are both self-employed and I have learnt so much from them. Having your own business is hard work but rewarding in so many ways as it is all yours. I would love to start up my own little village pet shop with a resident shop dog and/or cat to keep me company.