My BFF Erica P was kind enough to take a few minutes to fill you in on what it’s like to work in the Mammalogy Department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I have been “behind the scenes” there myself and I can attest to the utter coolness of her job.
Job Title: Scientific Assistant. I work in one of the research departments of a natural history museum. My primary responsibilities are curating (identifying and re-identifying specimens, keeping current with the scientific literature) and maintaining (boring physical stuff like organizing, labelling, cleaning) the expansive collections of mammals therein.
Upside: There are many. I get to see some of the world’s most interesting, obscure, and downright bizarre creatures, and that’s besides my colleagues. Oftentimes the curation work is actually mentally challenging, or at least engaging. A nifty perk is that, as part of the “sisterhood of museum workers,” I (and whomever I’m with) have free admission to other museums; it’s nice to pop into an art museum just to look at a painting for 15 minutes and not feel obligated to spend the better part of a day! I occasionally liaise with the Exhibition department here, giving them scientific advice and providing them with specimens when they are creating new shows and exhibits. I’ve also gone “into the field” to obtain new specimens for the collection, although I don’t do that as often as others. For the most part, things are low-key and there aren’t too many critical deadlines at my job. Very gratifying is bringing people to my workplace because they’re always so excited to go “behind the scenes,” which renews my own enthusiasm, plus I can impart some of my knowledge about the natural world.
Downside: The pay is not exactly stellar. Sometimes dealing with idiosyncratic personalities, people who couldn’t survive in a normal work environment, isn’t pleasant, or is at the very least capital-F frustrating.. (I’m sure other people here say the same about me.) Some of my responsibilities are unchallenging, boring and stultifying. For instance, it’s the only place I know where “cutting corners” makes things take longer, because you actually have to cut the corners of things (like labels and tags so that sharp corners won’t damage specimens).
How I Got Here: Combination of education and luck. I have a degree in biology, but I answered an ad in the newspaper and, after a series of interviews, was hired.
A Funny Story: I’ve definitely had some good times here, but nothing is leaping to my mind at the moment. One vignette: I may be one of the few people in the world who’s played a real-life version of Barrel of Monkeys, although it was a giant vat and they were gibbons.