Museum careers – so much more than curating collections!

Working in the field of biological science is a critical way to make a difference in the stewardship of our planet. When we were both in graduate school during the 1970s, we and our fellow graduate students not only were passionate about understanding the natural world but also shared a strong conviction that we could make the world a better place. We saw that human‐caused degradation of global habitats was on the rise and had high hopes of stopping rainforest destruction, reversing coral reef decline, saving endangered species, and ensuring clean air for everyone. Forty years later, the planet has lost over 50% of its primary forests, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have exceeded 400 parts per million, and 70% of coral reefs are bleached or destroyed. In short, the efforts of dedicated scientists worldwide have failed to stop – much less reverse – global environmental degradation (Racelis and Barsimantov 2013). Perhaps it could have been worse without those efforts, but we are far from a solution. There is a critical need to adjust the way in which scientists serve society – maybe that starts with the recognition and pursuit of diverse careers outside of colleges and universities.

While ecology positions in academia are declining, the world of museums, botanical gardens, and arboreta is burgeoning. At present, only 8% of new PhDs in biology are able to obtain a tenure‐track academic position, which offers a relatively narrow audience of predominantly undergraduates (or graduates), rather than putting them in a position to reach primary and secondary students, families, policy makers, and senior citizens. Approximately one museum per day is opening (mostly in Asia, especially China), and museum staffing is expected to double in the next decade. Each year, an estimated 900 million visits to museums are undertaken by Americans alone. Most importantly, museums are considered by the public‐at‐large as a trusted broker for objective science and as strong and supportive community pillars.

To read the rest of this article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, please click here.

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