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Archive for the ‘Smithsonian internship’ Category

Agents of Deterioration Interactive Website

Posted by Janet on December 4, 2009

November marked the end of my internship at the Smithsonian. I’ve been back in Chicago for a month now but it was only a few days ago that I turned in my Master’s project proposal. The topic for my project is paper preservation for scientific illustrations, and I will be making a Flash interactive guide over the next few months based on what I’ve learned at the Smithsonian internship. Here is a very nice interactive website about the agents of deterioration–things that can harm objects, such as paper based scientific illustrations that my project focuses on:

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Searching for Internships–Tips and Advices

Posted by Janet on August 4, 2009

Have really enjoyed reading about your internship, i graduated last year with an anatomical science degree and want to do somthing creative with it but have not found any jobs that combine the two…. this internship seems perfect tho! how did you find it?


Dear Louise,

These two links below list the current available internships at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Names and contact informations of the project sponsors are listed below project descriptions. Once you find an interesting project, you should contact the sponsor and have your resume (and portfolio if relevant) ready in case they ask for it. If your sponsor decides that you are a good fit for the project, he/she will contact you with further info.

As far as how I came across this opportunity, I contacted people I knew in the illustration field for advice and then looked online until I found those pages. A few questions to ask yourself:

-What skills do I have?
-Do other fields value these skills?

In my experience, thinking about your specific skills rather than what you want to be forces you to think outside the box and will open up more opportunities. For example, I am trained in medical illustration, but I have both traditional and digital drawing skills, I’m good with details, and can draw faces. Instead of looking strictly for medical illustration jobs, maybe I can draw portraits on weekends for extra income, etc. etc.

-What types of companies do I want to work for?
-Where would I like to live?

These two questions generally help me refine the search results. General searches often times will not point you to a specific position, especially if the title of the position does not match your search keywords. If there is a list of companies you are interested in, you can go directly to the company’s website and see if they have anything available at the moment. Adding a location after a general search will sometimes tell you whether there is a market for what you would like to do in that area.

Hope that helps,

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Tours of the Museum Collections

Posted by Janet on July 18, 2009

One of the neat things about being an intern at the Smithsonian is the intern activities. Being 30 minutes away from the main building, we usually can’t attend the lunchtime discussions. The Museum Support Center (MSC) where I work, however, houses part of the museum’s collections so we got some nice tours of the fish and anthropology collection last week.

The first question I asked on each tour was “Can I take pictures?” The answer is yes, but only if it doesn’t go on a website. Images that go on a website have a lot of legal issues that needs to be dealt with, and no one wants to take the time to fill out pages of forms for anyone who wants to post these images. It’s understandable, so I’ll try my best to describe what was seen.

Walking into the fish hall is like walking into a giant freezer. Temperature is kept low to slow the ethanol’s rate of evaporation. Fishes are stored in ethanol-filled jars, with identification labels both on the fish and inside the jars. Special paper and ink are used for these labels so they last, in ethanol, for hundreds of years. This collection reminds me of large library, but with over four million specimens of fish instead of books. Oversized fishes are stored on a separate section, and near the entrance is a shelf that houses the “Oh My” collection. The “Oh My” collection, understandably, contains strange fishes that elicit the “Oh my!” response from people. For example, a two headed shark, a fish that looks like a rock, and a fish that is just too strange to describe. Next, we go to a separate tank room to see the fish that’s even too big for the oversized collection.

The tank room is reminiscent of the bathtub aisle at Costco. On these shelves lie individual metal tanks with sealed lids. The lids can be slid away when they become unlocked, revealing one large fish just under the size of a tank bathing in ethanol. We walked into a preparation room and opened up the tank housing the coelacanth, which was thought to be extinct 65 million years ago until its discovery in 1938.

The museum deals with such a large collection, even after the tours it’s still difficult to comprehend just how big the collection is. The only thing I can think of is that stockroom scene from The Matrix where Neo says “Guns. Lots of guns.” and racks of guns start flying at you. That’s actually a pretty close description to the weapons section of the anthropology collection. The majority of the collection is stored in closed space, but several, including weapons and bones of large mammals, are out in the open due to space constraints. The anthropology collection appears even more spectacular than the fish collection, probably because it was housed in a larger open area rather than separated into a number of smaller rooms. Even so, we went up a total of two flights of stairs and walked through several fire doors before coming back out into the open. Within the collection area, filters run constantly to circulate air flow and filter out dust particulates, and the rows of white cabinets open up to reveal sliding drawers.

Each collection is organized according to the nature of the particular field. This particular collection is organized by geographical region and time. Artifacts included clothing, dolls, baskets, weapons, masks, and much more. Pieces with historical significance are often stored along with related artifacts and copies of historical documents. Even modern pieces such as Korean plastic toys from the 70’s have made their way into the collection. Objects deemed highly sacred by certain cultures are specially cared to make sure only those who are allowed to view or handle them can do so. Like the fish collection, the anthropology collection also accomodates oversized objects. Large objects ranging from figure sized statues to ships sit in custom-built metal frames with fireproof blankets over them. Some frames have wheels to facilitate transportation needs.

This concludes the collection tours. There is no way to open every cabinet in this lifetime. Maybe next week there will be other adventures.

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Smithsonian Internship

Posted by Janet on July 13, 2009

Third day at the internship, I’m still overwhelmed by everything this place has to offer. Even prior to the start date, the friendliness and efficiency of the staff members really stood out. Weeks ahead of time, I had already received detailed instructions about what to do on the first day. I followed directions diligently like a little kid on a scavenger hunt–“get off the Metro station…walk towards this intersection…go through this particular door, turn right, go through another door and receive a visitor’s pass…” Being nervous about missing the shuttle to the Museum Support Center in Suitland where I’m stationed, I arrived much ahead of time. Staff member Mr. Potter, who just happened to arrive at the same time, kindly introduced me to the cafeteria where employees can enjoy a morning cup of coffee before the museum opens. Mr. Potter then suggested that I kill time by visiting the Sant Ocean Hall. Here’s a glimpse of the exhibit at 8AM, without any visitors:


By the third day, I already met nearly 15 other interns. The majority are aspiring young scientists, but there’s a surprising number of illustrators like myself as well. An intern in my section is working her way to apply for a medical illustration program, and I just met another intern who actually goes to the same science illustration program I did four years ago. I’m excited to be surrounded by such a variety of people and all the resources this place has to offer.

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