Profile of a Museum Assistant
Name: Jessica Utrup
Position: Museum Assistant (Division of Invertebrate Paleontology)
Institution: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
How many years have you been working in this capacity? 6 years
When did you join SPNHC? 2012
What drew you to the natural history field?
I am from Cincinnati, Ohio, and so I’ve always been surrounded by fossils. As a kid I used to collect rugose corals from the stream bed near my grandmother’s house. Of course, my older brothers told me they were saber-tooth tiger teeth. It took me awhile to realize that wasn’t true. In college I was fortunate to have some very enthusiastic paleontology professors, and they helped nurture the love for natural history that I have always had.
Describe the nature of the collections you work with.
I work with an extensive collection of invertebrate fossils from around the world, ranging in time from the Ediacaran to the recent.
What are your responsibilities for them? I catalog specimens that are new to our collection as well as those that were added to the collection before widespread cataloging. I also identify and photograph many of the specimens before putting them into our systematic collection.
Describe some of your activities.
In addition to curating specimens, I assist graduate students and visiting researchers in the collection. I also do public outreach through the museum including tours and identifications.
What do you find most interesting about your work? I really thought I was well-versed in invertebrate fossils because of my hometown and my education, but I am constantly impressed by specimens I’ve never seen before. Whether it’s silicified productid brachiopods from the Glass Mountains of Texas, scaphitid ammonoids from South Dakota, or bizarre blastoids from Timor, I frequently encounter new and exciting things in the collection even after working with it for six years.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I have done a lot of digitization work in the collections from photographing specimens to georeferencing localities. I know of some colleagues who use our online database to double-check brachiopod identifications, and it’s nice to know that we have helped get this information out into the public realm.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
While it is always interesting to assist researchers, I particularly enjoy giving tours to students and the public. Watching the lightbulbs click on in the eyes of people who have never thought about the history of life on earth is an amazing sight. I have to admit that I also love it when little kids say that trilobites and brachiopods are as cool as dinosaurs.
How has SPNHC helped you?
Prior to working on the organizing committee for SPNHC 2012, I had little experience with SPNHC. Now, I have connections to a strong network of natural history museum professionals who have helped me in many areas. I have met friends who have helped me hone my georeferencing skills, envision the role we play as natural history stewards, address concerns in long-term specimen storage, and even learn how to ‘properly’ crack open and eat a lobster. Thanks everybody!