Aside from cartoons, I used to watch plenty of nature TV shows on either National Geographic or the Discovery Channel when I was young. The natural sciences always had a special place in my childlike heart. So, when I was offered employment by the Natural History Museum in London last October as one of its permanent staff, said heart almost stopped.
The Natural History Museum is home to 80 million unique specimens (only a small fraction of these are on display), and it is also one of the leading research centers on the natural world. Working with them continues to educate me on the amount of research and curation involved to make the gargantuan structure both a nexus of varied and exciting findings on display, and a fun place to visit.
The building itself is one of the most magnificent I have ever seen. I continue to be awestruck (as I definitely was the first time) whenever I lay eyes on the structure. On terracotta walls, both inside and outside, there are ornate relief carvings and sculptures of various plants and animals that add playful, eye-catching accents. The interiors are cavernous and the ceilings high, leading often to expansive skylights and windows that provide plenty of natural light.
Aside from its galleries that present specimens and displays, or daily tours and learning activities, the museum features different exhibitions that showcase their brand of science in an engaging way throughout the year; may it be the one hundred best nature photographs done by the top nature photographers of the world for “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” or an interactive, multisensory exploration of nocturnal ecosystems in “Life in the Dark,” or a run of “The Wider Earth,” an acclaimed theatre show about the life of Charles Darwin. That’s how they share to and inspire the public, and they do it with panache. But more than just impressing guests, promoting the advocacy of wildlife and environmental conservation and preservation is always at the heart of these expositions, each one communicating a valuable message to every visitor.
The British Geological Survey also holds residence within the museum, and is responsible for the featured minerals, precious stones, and interactive displays about the Earth housed in a zone called the Earth Halls. Visitors can also take a closer look at how our museum’s scientists work by going to the Darwin Center and entering a magnificent postmodern structure called the Cocoon.
Admittedly, being on the front lines interacting with the guests, answering questions, and providing guidance for the entire day can be quite exhausting; especially on the weekends where the average attendance is 20,000 people. The museum’s management, however, is very considerate towards its staff. The number of breaks given, as well as the methodical designation of tasks, make the day go by quickly. My co-workers are also some of the most chill I have ever encountered. I am amazed at how the museum is run with relaxed efficiency, perhaps because it has been operating for so long.
Of course, the perks of the job certainly inspire! My favorite thing is the ongoing range of partnerships with almost all the museums here in the UK, granting us unlimited complimentary access to their paid exhibits. I often spend my free time visiting other museums here, discovering and learning.
What impresses me the most is how accessible all this knowledge is to visitors and researchers. Entrance to the museum is absolutely free, and all it asks is a voluntary donation of whatever amount. Much like going to the theatre, visiting a museum here in London is a staple activity, encouraged by the government and the community.
Every weekend I find myself delightfully looking forward to work and sharing the sense of wonder I have gained to the museum’s visitors. There is nothing more precious and joyful than seeing children enter the museum doors and see the skeleton of Hope the Blue Whale, or when they enter the Dinosaurs gallery. The excitement of individuals, couples, and families as they navigate through the galleries is always something that makes me smile.
As the weeks go by, I find that my passion for science and the natural world is stoked anew; never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be fortunate enough to work with this institution. I hope to take what I am learning from this experience back to the Philippines and, given the opportunity, share it with our museums so that we can inspire the next generation to hold art and the natural world close to their hearts.