What is your role on the NatSCA committee?
I am new to the committee, so I am helping out wherever I am useful, which to start off with has been assisting with planning training and our approach to diversity and inclusion.
Job Title and Institution
I’m the Manager of National Learning Programmes and Partnerships at the Natural History Museum, London.
Tell Us About Your Day Job
I work in partnership with museums and other organisations around the UK to design and deliver natural history learning experiences for lots of different audiences and share our collections nationally. We do this in several different ways, for example through things like Dippy on Tour when the NHMs famous Diplodocus travelled around the country, through public participation in science, or through Explore: Urban Nature where we’re helping young people in cities investigate the nature on their doorstep and participate in real scientific research. I’m also a research associate at Smithsonian NMNH and do collections based paleobiological research with colleagues there, mainly focussed on how we use fossil record data to understand ecosystem change over time.
Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?
Most people have some kind of connection to nature, wherever they come from, and often that links back to childhood experiences or family. Many will have collected a shell, rock or pinecone and had it sitting on their windowsill at some point in their life! Natural history collections can feel very familiar for that reason, and most people are primed to appreciate beauty in the natural world. Natural history is the least abstract type of science so as well as that sense of awe and beauty I also think many people find it accessible in a way that other disciplines sometimes aren’t.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?
I think most natural science collections institutions are recognising the opportunity, and perhaps responsibility, that we have to engage people with our collections to help them make sense of some of the most important issues of our time, like climate change and the biodiversity crisis. How we digitise collections, conserve them and make them accessible to the widest possible audience are all important challenges that we are facing that tie in to how we can best connect people with these big global issues.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of fieldwork and spend time in the outdoors for work, which has always been my favourite part of the job. There are so many compelling stories that help people understand science and to think critically about the world around them that can be told through nature, so without museums I’d probably still be talking to people about science but doing it out in nature.
What is your favourite museum, and why?
A biased answer because I helped develop it – but the Deep Time exhibition at Smithsonian NMNH is a beautiful example of how to put life into context, both humans in the context of the vast history of life on our planet, and all the life that has gone before us in the context of its environment. A less biased answer is the Tenement Museum in New York; it brings human histories to life and they also create a space for people to come together and have effective dialogue about contemporary issues.