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Hi there blog readers!


Erica’s asked me to write a post telling you about my time volunteering in Entomology, and after a few days of procrastinating, I’ve decided to knuckle down and get to it. This is my second draft, my first ended up being half a dozen pages long and judging by the Doctor’s reaction, that’s a bit too long for a blog post...


alex and adam.bmp


I don’t know how to condense 6 months into a few paragraphs!!!


So here goes, my name’s Adam and I’m 28 years old (that’s young for somebody working at the museum). I’ve been volunteering in ‘Entom’ for almost six months, and it’s been quite an experience! I walked in through the staff entrance on Exhibition Road on a chilly afternoon in February with a notebook in my hand and absolutely no idea of what I had signed up for. During my induction I was privy to a number of interesting tales about my new supervisor, but thankfully most of them have turned out to be untrue (apart from the one where I was told she’s spectacular!).


I’m working as part of a team of 10-15 volunteers sorting through and classifying insect material that was collected from the rain forests of French Guiana at the end of last year. We essentially have twenty jars of insect sludge that’s been preserved in alcohol for the last six months and smells pretty bad! Inside each jar there are thousands of insects and we pick through them one by one and attempt to determine what they are. We normally classify to Order level (if you don’t know what that is then Google ‘taxonomy’), but with the help of Erica and an amazing collection of books in the museum’s libraries we’re starting to identify some families too. It’s really nice to be making progress...


...anyway, we’re a big group of volunteers, and we all have varying degrees of experience in the subject. I was worried when I first started volunteering that everybody was going to be spectacularly clever and that I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. I was really happy when that didn’t transpire to be true! Everyone’s come from a different background, and everybody has oodles of character that they bring to the lab, but one thing that we all have in common is our willingness to help each other out if ever we’re stuck! It’s created a really dynamic environment and has enabled us to learn loads of stuff about Entomology that six months ago we simply didn’t know.


So everything’s going well. We’re learning new things all of the time, and we’re trying not to be too disruptive in the process.


The staff at the museum have been great too. There are so many volunteers, it would be easy to take us for granted, but that’s not been the case. Most people have been really welcoming, and helpful. We’ve often had the opportunity to explore other departments in the museum. I had a personal tour of the Entomology Library off-site in Wandsworth; I’ve been to see some amazingly weird and huge fish preserved in formalin in the basement of the Darwin Centre; I recently went on a tour of the photographic unit too and it was really interesting to see how specimens were photographed for commercial and scientific purposes...


...but after all that science, there comes a time in the day when the lights are dimmed and the visitors go home, and that’s when the NHM like to throw a party! I’ve been to three or four now and they’ve been great opportunities to get to know people working in the museum and other volunteers on a social level.


I’ve had a great six months, and wherever my life takes me from here I’ll always look back fondly on the time I’ve spent with Erica and The Volunteers. We’re going on a field-trip to Exmoor next weekend. We organised it between us; we’ve booked a little ‘bunk-house’ in the middle of the moor and Erica’s driving us down in a minibus. It’s going to be an adventure, and it’s one that I’m really looking forward to. I think another volunteer is going to write and tell you about that one!!


Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!!!

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