Behind the Scenes.

While most people have visited a museum, it is a whole difference experience to work in one. I have had the privilege to work both at the University of Alaska Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. When someone asks me what I do career-wise and I’m feeling lazy, I simply respond, I work at a museum. I’m sure that conjures of me tinkering with displays in the gallery or leading school groups. Oh, if I only had the energy to describe to them all the wonders I’ve seen and the odd things I have done.

I was tickled when I saw this gem of an interview with Smithsonian Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals, Dr. Nicholas Pyenson in a collection I’m oh so familiar with.

Next time someone tells you they work at a museum, I suggest probing a bit further. Ask exactly what they do at the museum. Perhaps ask them if they have any neat photos on their phone.



I was also relieved to hear them say the specimen the reporter was strumming and the one that Nick was haphazardously carrying in some of the shots was, in fact, a cast (a plastic replica of a real specimen.)


How do you milk a fur seal?

Scientists are notoriously bad about explaining what we do. In our defense, it has taken us years upon years to get to the point where we understand what we do and why it is important. Then we are asked to sum it up to someone with no background in the subject matter in three lines. It is hard. Probably one of the hardest thing scientists have to do (yes, sceintists, you HAVE to do it). Most of us have not been trained to be educators, we have been trained to study some very specific aspect of the universe in great and mind-numbing detail.

Despite this, we are not off the hook and we do need to continue to work on our outreach. Our research is really neat and exciting. The more we talk about it, the more we share it, the better we get.

I found a gem of an article in The Atlantic that talks about how “Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach.”

Check it out for a good chuckle.

That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis

And other tales from the intersection of science and airport security

Organized Chaos

I taught an OSHER Lifelong Learning class today about my department at the museum. One woman asked me what I did in my downtime. It was that question that made me come screeching to a halt. I was confused. Downtime? You mean what do I do when I’m not at work? I guess my explanation of what I do came across as overwhelming.

One of the beautiful labs I manage.

Today was truly a day that reminded me how much I love what I do. Working with students. Collaborating with colleagues. Sharing my love of science and genetic research with the public. I excel at this.

We are toying with the idea of purchasing and taking over my family’s toy store next year. Some days, I’m ready to move on and start career two. Other days I question if I could do both. I would love to do both. I know though I couldn’t do both to the high standards I demand plus manage all my extracurricular actives. I want to do it all and do it well.

After my wonderfully exhausting day, I gave the dogs bones in lieu of a walk, and I played in the dirt for a bit. I have way too much planted but keep telling myself, I’ll can and freeze the excess. By fall, the canning and freezing always end up rushed and not enjoyed because as always, we’ve overextended ourselves. It is how we live our lives. Sure, hubby and I can both work a full-time job, have a vacation rental, a long-term rental, tons of poultry, three dogs, a cat, a garden, two beehives, run daily, keep a somewhat clean house, put up firewood for winter, go camping, go hiking, do laundry, breath, and sleep. Thank goodness for 24-hour daylight in Alaska during the summer and very potent coffee.

Tomorrow we head to Seattle for a medical follow-up for hubby which starts the next few weeks of trips for me (medical, work, pleasure – in that order). I hate the physical aspect of getting myself to a new place, but I love it when I get there. Depending on the test results, it could mean an IVF round as soon as July. I think I’m ready to attempt round three. Add IVF to my summer plans; we have time.

Digital Data Refuges

A large part of my job is making scientific data publicly available. Not too long ago, I was a federally employed scientist. I’m now a state scientist. My science is the same no matter where the funding comes from. Data that I produce belongs you. It belongs to all of us. Scientific data is public information.

The following email arrived in my inbox today.



Scientists are now forced to create digital data refuges?!?! What is going on?

While I’m glad that there are people creating these refuges, I more overly disturbed that they are needed.

Halloween at the Museum

Do you know what is almost as good as Christmas? Halloween at the museum! I decked my cryopreservation lab and invited a ton of sharks, superheroes, a few police, and a cute pig in to oooh and awe. There was a smidge of education thrown in there, but mainly, I was there to overload their senses with the help of two excellent graduate students. Enjoy the frightful fun photos and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I didn’t have time to clean up before the open house.
Cryovats and mystery solution.
Tissue samples for the touching with proper data labels.
A wonderful museum graduate student sharing her love of science.
Another wonderful graduate student teaching future scientists how to use pipettes.
Meanwhile over in botany.
Home, home at last. I was a starry night for Halloween.

The Life of a Museum Biologist

I have been working in natural history museums and going into the field for over 16 years as a biologist. I have tracked ringed seals on the North Slope of Alaska. I have looked under rocks in Madagascar for tenrec poop. I have rafted the Kongakut River in northern Alaskan to help define the eastern range of the Alaskan marmot. This week, I assisted in sling loading a whale skull, mandible, and random large parts off a beach to our trailer and truck. There are not enough eager biologists or volunteers in the world that would be willing or able to carry a thousand pound skull up the extremely steep bluff. Smaller parts like the vertebrae were carried out. In fact, two years prior I helped remove two belugas off the beach there but we carried the parts one by one up the bluff. I was sore for days. This method was so much cooler and easier.

Great way to escape the realities of life. Great reminder why being a biologist in a natural history museum is a pretty neat gig.

Cutting and removing the bones from the whale slime to get it ready for flight.
A whale skull in flight.
Skull loaded on the trailer and ready to head to the museum where it will be made available for both scientific research and public education.