A museum is a magical place to work. At its heart is an enthusiastic team of people doing a dazzling array of jobs to make the business of being a museum happen. Marine biologists; palaeontologists; managers of collections of birds, rocks and parasites; computer animators; exhibition developers; financial officers; public educators and web designers are all busily at work—and this is just the tip of the iceberg!
After studying biology and completing graduate work on the population genetics of a west-coast warbler species, I joined the museum team as the coordinator of the DNA lab at our research and collections building.
This is a very interesting job! The lab is busy with students and volunteers figuring out mysteries of the plant and animal world by unlocking information in DNA molecules. My work includes training students, generating DNA sequence data, fixing delicate equipment, ordering chemicals needed to replicate DNA, managing a collection of DNA samples stored at −80°C, teaching high-school students about what we do, and more.
And, because a museum is a magical place to work, I sometimes have the chance to do some extraordinary things. One of these is travelling to the Canadian Arctic with the museum’s botanical research team.
On these summer trips we travel the vast tundra by foot, canoe, small plane and helicopter to collect plant specimens for the museum’s herbarium, and tissue samples for DNA analysis. We focus on under-explored areas of the North in order to thoroughly inventory the plant life of the Arctic—an area facing many ecological changes because of a changing climate.
This autumn, I was asked to undertake another extraordinary task. Because of my love of doing field research in the Arctic and my obsession with taking photos when I’m there, I was asked to lead the development of a new exhibition to be called Awesome Arctic: Images of Our Research in the North.
The scientists at the Canadian Museum of Nature are a humble and dedicated bunch. They go about their work with little fanfare, highly respected amongst their Canadian and international colleagues, yet largely invisible to the public. What better way to show off our researchers’ work in the Arctic than to develop an exhibition? We are, after all, a museum!
In my next blog post, I will take you on my journey from DNA lab coordinator to first-time exhibition developer. I was to learn that there are many steps involved in getting photos onto a wall.