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Working at a Natural History Museum

The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology is a fascinating place: fascinating, for more reasons than first meet the eye. As a Curatorial Assistant at the MVZ, I see creatures that I never imagined could exist, from places I had never heard of before. I am part of an institution that works hard to expand our knowledge of the natural world, and then uses that knowledge to help preserve it. But above all, I am able to work with some of the greatest people on earth: biologists.

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Few people love their jobs as much as biologists do and it shows in their everyday interactions, and their results. Here at Berkeley we have, not only the happiest biologists, but also the best. I eavesdrop on discussions of all the hottest issues in evolutionary biology, in conservation, and in animal behavior. And since we are a close-knit group, the researchers are generous in sharing with us their travel stories.

One biologist has been shipwrecked three times, while another found himself alone in caves buried deep in the Amazon rain forest. Another returned to a hotel room one night, only to find that a goat had snacked on his Pringles, and left a few smelly pellets on the floor as a payment before taking a nap on his sleeping bag. Some stories come to us in living color. Occasionally a Monitor lizard cavorts around the museum, or a pretty female spotted gecko needs its belly rubbed. Or we might find a casual email in our inbox asking us to be on the lookout for a Middle Eastern tortoise that was last seen on a mission near the bird cases.

In the end, you’ll find your perspectives changing. My old fear of mice, for example, has evolved into a new one: that I’ll not be able to identify a mouse to its family, subfamily, genus and species! All in all, this is a great place to work for a student at Cal. Influential scientists will be your mentors, and future scientists your colleagues. You will learn a tremendous amount about the integrated fields of biology. But above all, you will become fascinated about the study of life and excited about a life of study.

Nicole Danos
Undergraduate Curatorial Assistant
January 2002 – July 2003


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