My Year Volunteering at the Museum

Did you know that zombies actually exist? At least biologically, they do. There’s a genus of parasitic fungi called Cordyceps that infects an ant and invades its body, eventually taking over its brain. The fungus then takes over and pilots the ant’s body, much like a driver controls a car, to its death. The fungus then releases spores to infect more ants in hopes of causing an entomological zombie apocalypse.

That’s one of the many interesting things I’ve learned at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (BBM) in my time as an Education & Outreach volunteer. Last year, as a Biology major in my second year of undergraduate studies at UBC, I couldn’t say I was as much of a biology buff as I wanted to be. I felt like I was lacking in general knowledge and would most likely not know the answer to which species of sea turtle was in Finding Nemo if I ever found myself on a weird science-themed Jeopardy spinoff. I lucked out, however, when one of my professors informed us that the BBM was looking for volunteers. I jumped at the chance to learn more and finally evolve into my final form as a Big Biology Nerd. I applied, had my interview, and got the position.

I have to say, it was daunting walking into my first volunteer shift. I was worried about saying the wrong thing or not knowing the answer to a visitor’s question and feeling unqualified. However, the BBM staff and previous volunteers were absolutely incredible in getting me started. They gave me the tools to be an effective educator, helped me familiarize myself with the museum, and made me feel welcome. After a few shifts, I felt like a seasoned BBM veteran. And that’s when I realized I loved it there.

I cannot emphasize how great it feels when you see someone’s eyes light up because of something you told them. You help someone widen their horizons when you guide them towards knowledge. And you, in turn, widen your own when you learn how to better reach out to people. My time as a volunteer helped me develop my interpersonal skills, become a confident communicator, and build upon my networking abilities. Of course, learning that the nautilus is more closely related to a squid than it was to an ammonite is a sweet perk.

zaynahI’ve been at the BBM for a year now and I can’t imagine leaving it. I’ve engaged in conversations with wonderful visitors and met amazing UBC researchers, professors, and students that enriched (and are still enriching) my knowledge. I still remember a particular four-year-old boy that visited with his dad. He told me, in a slurry of English and his toddler tongue, more about the blue whale than I knew at the time. It was a wonderful moment, for both his dad and I, to see the budding scientist in him come bubbling out.

You must be thinking, “Well, Zaynah, you’re a science student and I’m not, so I wouldn’t be what the BBM is looking for.” And I’d tell you that you’re mistaken! The best volunteers don’t have to have a science background at all; as long as you’re willing to learn and are passionate about public outreach, then you’re exactly what the BBM is looking for. The volunteers I’ve met come from all walks of life; some are music enthusiasts, some are bug specialists, some are shy, and some are outspoken. You’ll definitely find your niche here.

So, dear reader, if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity for whatever your reasons may be, I urge you to give the BBM a shot. It’s a safe environment for discovering yourself and growing as a person.

Explore your interests. Or find a new one. Apply to be an Education & Outreach volunteer at the BBM, and I’ll see you in the museum’s collections soon!

PS: The turtles in Finding Nemo were Pacific green sea turtles. Gnarly, right?