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Posted by Erica McAlister Jul 29, 2010

So I have been away for a while but I am back, and back for a while...I have re-found my bay, reacquainted myself with my colleagues, and once again eating food from my fridge!!


It is great to be back in the Museum. I still love walking in though the galleries entrance and then sneaking off through a back door that only staff are allowed to go through. Especially now as its school holidays and peak tourist season...


I was expecting more chaos and to be truthful there was a tiny bit of stress as on the first Monday that I got back I had an interview for a promotion!!! I guess the good thing was that I did not have much time to sit around worrying but then I also did not as much time to mentally prepare! However, by the Tuesday afternoon I was a Senior Curator and so a very very happy person .


However, The three weeks before have been spent in a very hot Sweden under the tutorship of Kevin Holston, a Dipterist and meta-data specialist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. I had packed expecting it to be similar to Scotland in the Summer and so jumpers, long trousers and waterproofs '. However there was a heatwave for the whole time I was there and it was in the high twentys, early thirty's by Nine in the morning. And as there was no real night it just stayed hot!!




So I was to spend three weeks learning more about data cleansing, data migration and data management systems and different online data handling and storage systems. That may seem a tad dull to most people but I am very interested in the way we collect data, manage it and then divulge it to the wider audience. It is all very well have 30 million insects in our collection but people need to know more about them, in terms of locality where specimen was caught, date it was caught and who caught it. This is the sort of information that is useful when looking at species distribution changes, invasive species, habitat preference etc and so can help us understand more about ecosystem function/change etc. Their museum is part of a Swedish Initive called DINA (Digital Information System for Natural History Collections in Sweden) which is trying to provide all of this data online for unrestricted access. In the Entomology department at the NHM, we have taxonomic information available and in Diptera's case, the Type species registered, but that is mostly all we have digitised apart from some photos. We need to figure out and prioritise what and how we get online and uploaded to GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) and/or  EOL (Encyclopaedia of Life) to enable a wider audience to be able to access our data. In Diptera there are approximetly 3 million pinned specimens so this is not some small task. It has been worked out that if we carry on at the present rate of digitisation of the collection it will take over 500 years!!


So I learnt about different raw data storage facilities, standards for data, flat and relational databases as well as having a look at their collections and Museum. It is a lovely building although having a heatwave in a non-air condition room with no fan or air circulation was not something i would want to repeat in a hurry. The exhibits were on the whole good; the human evolution gallery models were very realistic though which was a bit perturbing and walking through a giant human mouth was less than pleasant!


I went north one weekend and was able to go sampling with a friend for dragonflies. I usually just let these fly out of my net and kill the flies so it was odd to do it this way round!



The photo above shows some of the traditional houses and hay stacks, there definitely was some glorious countryside!



Tis' a popular site at the moment..generation of new insects




Stockholm...many bridges. The boat behind had actually been converted into a youth hostel!


it was a great three weeks and I thoroughly recommend the Museum, Stockholm and Sweden! I stayed in the museum accommodation whilst I was there and under the bridge, across the road and then down the track was the Arboretum. It was very different from the surroundings of the NHM in london (see below....)





Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

View Erica McAlister's profile