This past summer, summer of 2017, I was a research intern at BRIT. When first coming to BRIT I did not know what to expect. All the perceptions of internships that I had in my head were of interns running back and forth delivering coffee and dry cleaning to any staff member that asked. Luckily BRIT blew all of those premonitions out of the water and showed me what a great internship should really strive to be.
During my internship I worked on three main projects with plenty of other small projects sprinkled in between (oh, the joys of a non-profit). The first one I encountered was helping digitize the rare book collection by scanning beautiful illustrations and photo slides. One of my favorites was an illustrated Japanese botanical book that was published in 1910. With vibrant colors that just pop up from the page, the illustrations look like they were just recently painted. I am studying for a minor in Chinese at college, so it was wonderful to be able to read the kanji characters and be able to understand the botanical notes on the illustrations. I also scanned over 500 photo slides of ferns (you only go a little crazy after looking at them for so long). All of the photos were taken by one man who collected and identified nearly all of the fern species in Arkansas. Amazing, right? I additionally helped my main mentor Alyssa B. Young (Research Coordinator and Special Collections Librarian) in the BRIT archives, organizing a collection of books, reprints, and documents from Jack Cutshall, who worked with the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association to help promote sustainable ranching.
Whether you like it or not, when interning at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas you are going to run into some botany. I know - surprising, right? One of the biggest projects this past summer that I got to work on was helping organize and move 450,000 plant specimens from the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s herbarium, which is exactly as big as it sounds. Weeks of preparation and planning went into this project with tons of help from staff, volunteers, and interns. What was nice about this project was I was able to meet and work with several other interns from different departments while helping measure out and determine how many new cabinets we could fit into the herbarium and where we could put them.
But that was not my only brush with botany! I also was trained in mounting specimens and was actually able to go through the whole process myself of collecting a specimen, entering its data into the BRIT and Symbiota databases, mounting the specimen, and cataloging the specimen into the herbarium.
BRIT also has fantastic researchers who work on anything from ferns to fungi, and as an intern I had the amazing opportunity to help across the Research department. The big research project that I helped with was working with Dr. Brooke Best to compare insect populations of BRIT’s two man-made prairies (one of them a living roof) to that of a naturally occurring prairie. The project also involved comparisons of soil types used to create the prairie to see if there are any significant differences in insect diversity and population. And my task? My take dealt with the collections of insects from the different prairies. I went through each collection and separated, counted, and identified all of the insect species inside (and the occasional rogue snail). Sounds stressful right? Well it’s actually quite relaxing counting thousands of fire ants. I also definitely recommend doing this project if you have a fear of insects that you wish to get over. It was so much fun being able to investigate the mysterious insect species that I had never even heard of before, such as soil mites and globular springtails.
Throughout this internship I was able to explore many different interests of mine in not only environmental studies, but also in botany, ecology, teaching, entomology, and much more. I have made some amazing friends and met some amazing people at BRIT, which is an experience that I would never trade for anything else. Interning at BRIT was a priceless learning experience of the workings and processes of a nonprofit organization and a window into what a career in research might look like for me. The staff and volunteers at BRIT have helped me grow not only as a researcher, but also as a student and young adult with their lovely life and educational lessons that they have passed down to me. No matter where I go in the future I hope to continue volunteering at BRIT.