Abbie’s dream job at Natural History Museum

It’s a Zoologist’s dream. Working at the Natural History Museum exploring climate change and biodiversity research. And that is BSc (Hons) Zoology graduate Abbie Herdman’s job.

Embracing technology

Abbie is currently working as a Digitiser at the museum in London. She explains: “My job involves project-based work to contribute to the museum’s digitisation goals. Digitisation is an essential tool for climate change and biodiversity research. Museum’s hold historical location data spanning long-lengths of time that isn’t possible to collect in the field.”

She has just finished a project digitising location and date data for freshwater bioindicator research. Bioindicators are used to access the health of water quality, giving a complete picture of the ecosystem. Her work looked specifically at specimens of mayfly (ephemeroptera), stonefly (plecoptera) and caddisfly (trichoptera).

She will soon be starting a new job at the museum as a Collections Assistant, working mostly with invertebrates. She will be helping to prepare the collections to move to the museum’s new building in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

A Mayfly sitting on a reed

Why choose Derby?

All it took was an Open Day to convince Abbie that Derby was her first choice. She explains: “I was looking for a Zoology course not too far from my home in Coventry so Derby seemed like a great option for me."

“At the Open Day, I immediately felt comfortable on the campus. One notable aspect for me was that the university was quite compact and easy to get around as opposed to the larger campus-based universities."

“And I had an introduction to the Zoology course and met two of my future lecturers. They were incredibly passionate about the course and listened to my personal interests so I knew the course was for me.”

Two female students working in the Aquatic Research Facility

A perfect mix

The course content was one of the highlights for Abbie. She enjoyed the mix between lectures and more hands-on classes in the lab or in the field. Her favourite lectures involved discussing evolution and nomenclature (the system of naming things). This helped her to decide on her career path at the Natural History Museum.

The practical classes involved working with taxidermy, spirit and dried specimens of all sorts of species to bring out the content of the lectures. Abbie says: “In the first year, we got to learn about scientific drawing and drew specimens collected in the field, which is a traditional practice in natural history, as well as lab dissections and DNA work. So, it was a perfect mix of natural history and more modern zoology studies.”

Developing a career plan

Another highlight was that she never felt like she had to go in a set direction with her career aspirations. She explains: “You aren’t put into a box, as it were. I was able to learn a variety of things from genetics to animal behaviour during my course and found what stuck for me."

“The lecturers on my course were always open to discussions and ideas. And it was through these conversations my professor linked me to the Collections Manager at Derby Museum, where I began working with entomology [insect] collections. This then led me to develop a career plan around working with museum collections.”

And Abbie’s advice for any student – on any course – is: “Take the time to get to know your lecturers. They are all open to your ideas and questions.” This will help you find out your passions and where your interests can take you in the future.