I can’t believe the last 12 months have flown by so quickly! Our first 5 trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have now completed their traineeship with us and have been released into the wilds of the UK’s biodiversity sector, only now it’s with a whole host of new skills and a wealth of experience under their belts.
Before they left I caught up with each of them to find out what they have found most rewarding about their time with us and what they are going off to do next…
I have loved how many opportunities I’ve had to engage with the public through events such as Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and Science Uncovered. I especially enjoyed inspiring children about our natural world. Kids are like sponges and it’s such a rewarding feeling seeing their faces light up.
Working with Gavin Broad, Senior Curator of Hymenoptera was also a huge highlight for me. I worked with him during my curation placement and was set the challenging task of assisting him in writing a key to the British Alexeter, an understudied genus of ichneumon wasps. Gavin was an excellent mentor; passionate, knowledgeable and very supportive, the same of which can be said for all of the experts that have helped us on this traineeship.
I don’t think I’ll ever have another job which involves me walking under Dippy’s tail to get to my office! Being based at the Museum has been an experience in itself and I have felt so lucky and privileged to be here. We have also had the advantage of being behind the scenes and being in parts of the Museum that most people never get to see. I have never tired of telling people that I work for the Natural History Museum, people are always so excited to hear about what I’ve been up to and I take great pleasure in telling them how amazing the Museum is and all about what exciting things I’ve been getting up to on the traineeship.
But as for what’s next, well, job hunting! I am so eager to get out there and use the skills and experience that I have gained over the last 12 months and it’s an exciting time for me as I begin to see new doors opening up that would not have been there before the traineeship. I’ve also been asked to present on developing the British Alexeter key at the National Forum For Biological Recordings annual conference in May and will be continuing to volunteer with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust following on from my work with them developing a new resource for identifying the shrill carder bee during the final phase the traineeship.
Although, in all honesty, I am also quite looking forward to taking a bit of time out to relax and enjoy not having to commute into London while picking up some of my new entomology books that I’ve not had time to look at after our action packed year!
For me the identification workshops were the absolute highlight of the traineeship, in particular the Coleoptera and Freshwater Invertebrates workshops. We also had a field trip to Dorset which was such a wonderful week and we were lucky to have the most glorious weather. On the second evening we set out with our moth traps, carefully placing them in different locations around the grounds of the house we were staying in. The following morning at 5.00 we snuck out of our warm beds in to the cold morning and emptied our traps to find an array of wonderful moths (and to my delight a Cerambycid; a longhorn beetle!).
Working in the Museum is just the most surreal thing, every morning you walk past Darwin and then our office door is opposite a statue of Wallace. It is just the most incredible place to work and I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to work here alongside so many inspiring scientists and people. The best part for me is when I can head up to the Coleoptera collection after a days work to immerse myself in the diversity of beetles. I usually just pick a family name on a cabinet and then dip into drawers at random. For example, the other evening I went into a cabinet full of Cerambycid specimens and discovered the genus Compsosomoa a wonderful group of longhorn beetles that are just stunningly beautiful.
I am hoping to get involved with the wider recording community over the summer, particularly within Coleoptera. I feel like we have been given all of the tools we need to delve into the world of identification and I’m keen to get out in the field collecting and using the knowledge and skills I have gained. I was recently asked to co-manage the Cerambycidae recording scheme with Will Heeney so I’ll be working on that in the near future.
We have many wonderful plans for the scheme and getting people engaged with recording longhorn beetles. I’m also working on a paper with Dr Max Barclay at the Museum on a project I’ve been working on recording the beetle fauna of Bookham Common. Amongst all of this I’ll be job hunting and spending as much time as I can developing my skills within entomology and enjoying wildlife on Dartmoor!
The highlights for me mainly involve having some form of collecting apparatus in hand, scampering about some extra-ordinary locations. From the dense heathland along the Jurassic coastline to the Scottish highlands; we’ve been hunting for plants, fungi and creatures. It’s been brilliant working alongside the Museum’s experts and other trainees, collecting and identifying our finds.
Exploring the Museum’s vast collections over the past 12 months has been unforgettable and I’ve learnt so much about their importance as incredible resources of hidden information as well as valuable tools for learning. We used the collections throughout all of our 10 identification courses, during which the Museum’s best shared their knowledge and expertise on a huge array of species groups.
During my placement in the British and Irish Herbarium I was taught by Mark Spencer and John Hunnex (thank you both!) who showed me how to curate the historical collections – part of this was plant-mounting and I spent many blissful hours carefully mounting specimens for inclusion in the collections!
During the last few months of the traineeship I’ve been pouring my new skills into a final project – an interactive multi-access key to grass genera. It has been brilliant to be able to devote so much attention to this project, and after many mind-tangled moments, it is nearly complete! I’ve been collaborating with Rich Burkmar from the Field Studies Council who has been creating a stunning visualisation of the key. Meeting and working with different people from the biological community, an incredible network of scientists and recorders, has been a brilliant part of the traineeship.
The traineeship has been an incredible eye-opener into the world of biological recording. After a year working in the ‘old smoke’, I can’t wait to get back in the field and start surveying again! My understanding of the UK’s biodiversity has grown so much this year, and now I have the tools to start collecting, identifying and recording everything I find. I don’t mind what I do – as long as I can continue learning. I’d really love to work with natural history collections in the future, but for the time being I hope to find work in community engagement, connecting people with the natural world around them.
This traineeship wouldn’t exist without the identification aspect and of course, that’s the main reason we all signed up. Using state-of-the-art facilities and texts to apply our knowledge to solve identification mysteries would certainly be my major highlight. The sense of satisfaction from being able to put a name to the specimen is immense.
Being an outdoor person, our numerous jaunts out into the wilderness have been a welcome break from London life. Whether it be chasing wasps on Barnes Common or roaming the windswept Yorkshire Dales in search of rare wildflowers – I’ve frequently had to pinch myself. ‘I’m being paid to do this,’ I constantly thought to myself. I feel so incredibly lucky!
For me the aspect I’ve enjoyed most about working here has been the complete and total immersion in everything natural history. Being surrounded by your true passion in life is a hugely fulfilling experience. This has been accentuated by the wonderful people, many of whom are world experts who like me are so happy to be here, it creates a unique and special atmosphere. Going for a casual lunchtime stroll through the galleries or engaging in a hugely insightful conversation with a researcher on some complex biological conundrum is something I’m unlikely to have anywhere else.
Next for me is the London Wildlife Trust where I’ve recently been offered the position of Conservation Ecologist. Essentially I’ll be roaming the wilds of London and conducting habitat surveys of green space across the capital to assess their biological value and develop them as spaces for both wildlife and people. Key to this will be my identification skills gained from the Museum and I’m sure I wouldn’t even have been close to getting the job without them. I’m so excited to get started it’s difficult to describe – it’s going to be a fantastic year and I feel so lucky to have found a job so quickly!
It’s hard to choose a highlight of our traineeship, but I think the most memorable experience of all was the time spent on the FSC fungi course in the beautiful Cairngorms! It was an unforgettable experience joining Liz Holden, FSC Tutor and Fungi expert who was incredibly knowledgeable. The locations were an absolute pleasure and delight, from the Birks of Aberfeldy to the Mar Lodge Estate, they really were outstanding!
I think the Museum for me has been such an important and incredibly inspiring place over the years and this last year has reinforced this through visits behind the scenes to see the Historic Herbarium and working with the UK Odonata collections for my curatorial traineeship.
I think the Museum is blessed with an incredibly passionate set of scientists, curators and learning staff, not to mention the Visitors Services teams and other support staff who do an incredible job. Lyme Regis Fossil Festival was another lovely example of where I got the chance to work closely with the amazing team in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity to promote Citizen Science, UK biodiversity and the project I was working on, the Big Seaweed Search. I have built very strong links with the staff across the Museum and I have developed new skills thanks to their expertise.
For now I plan to return to Devon, but maintain my relationship with the Museum through my weekend Science Educator role. I think a bit of rest is certainly a good idea, I have been here, there and everywhere for nearly a year and whilst it has been the most amazing time, it has been challenging with so many things to fit in. I am looking to build a career in museums working on public engagement with natural science collections.
I personally wish my first group of trainees the very best of luck and look forward to watching their careers develop in the future! Over the coming weeks we will also be releasing information on their final projects, these include Sally’s key to Common Grass Families, Mikes vegetative guide to the British Orchids, Katy’s Beetle workshop, an update on Chloe’s work with Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Shrill Carder Bee identification resources and Anthony’s strandline species ID guide, so do keep an eye on our webpage (www.nhm.ac.uk/idtrainers) for all the latest information on those.
Our new team of trainees started just a few days ago and our next series of blogs will be from Jas, Nicky, Sophie, Joe and Krisztina as they introduce themselves to you. I hope you enjoy watching their progress over the next 12 months!
Project Manager, Identification Trainers for the Future