By Madeline Griem
When I was contacted about applying for an internship at the Zoo, I was confused and intrigued. I hold an undergraduate degree in history with minors in geography (focused on cultural geography) and anthropology; not exactly zoology or environmental science, which most people would think would be more applicable. Despite being concerned that my background had not adequately prepared me to be an Interpretive Writer at the Indianapolis Zoo, I went ahead and applied. I was ready to face the challenge head-on, and as it turns out, I was well-prepared because of my academic background, not despite it.
The skills I developed studying social sciences were transferable to my role as an Interpretive Writer, even though my knowledge of animals and biology was limited. Historians are no strangers to research. It turns out, research is vital to writing interpretive graphics, and knowing how to properly conduct research (using good search terms, finding reputable sources, and synthesizing information) is key. In fact, because members of the Zoo’s general audience are not experts on animals, biology, or the environment, I found that I was in a good position to look at the interpretation signage from their perspective and adjust my writing accordingly.
Another important duty that I undertake at the Zoo is evaluation. Human-subject research is a focal point of social sciences. While the Zoo is the first time I have implemented any evaluation myself, my background in understanding patterns and cultural perspectives has helped me analyze the results of surveys and observations.
When I started the Museum Studies program, I was still concerned about being able to apply my academics to my internship. I hadn’t yet realized the overlap between zoos and museums. My concerns were quickly assuaged. I am now into my second semester of the program (and my internship) and I regularly apply the skills I have gained and developed during the graduate program thus far.
All my courses in the Museum Studies program so far have bolstered my abilities to think critically, ask questions, and consider multiple perspectives. My research skills continue to be improved and I now know more about evaluation and better understand its importance, application, and methods. I recently started conducting inventory on the Zoo’s education/teaching collection and I use what I learned in Collections Care and Management and what I am learning in Preventive Conservation as I go through the process of inventorying.
While I will constantly build and bolster my skills (as learning and development is never complete), I recognize how vital my background was in preparing me for this role, despite initial assumptions. It was a pleasant surprise how my previous experiences and academics can be applied to my role at the Zoo and it is exciting to know that the skills I am developing in the Museum Studies program will increase and add to my abilities as a professional.
Madeline Griem is a first year Museum Studies MA Student at IUPUI.