Sooner at the Smithsonian: Guest Blogger Taylor Emery Describes a Day in the Life as a Research Intern

Two years ago, I never could have predicted that I would be where I am now.

I am about to be a junior in college, I am going to study abroad for a year, I am studying something I love, and I just happen to be working in the world’s largest museum complex.  I still think that this must be my dream, because I never imagined anything like this happening to me.  Somehow, I am at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History doing spatial analysis in archaeology.

My name is Taylor Emery.  I am majoring in Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma with a focus on archaeology and a minor in Spanish.  I will also be studying abroad this upcoming year at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom.  This summer I am interning at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  I have previously worked at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and the Oklahoma Archeological Survey.  I have never lived outside of Oklahoma and I am thrilled to experience a new city on my own.   I am guest-writing for OKPAN’s blog this week to talk about my experiences here at the Smithsonian and in Washington, D.C.

At the Smithsonian, I am an intern in the Paleoindian Program.  Under Dr. Dennis Stanford and Dr. Joseph Gingerich, I have been conducting a spatial analysis research project alongside another intern.  For those unfamiliar, spatial analysis is a way of learning about human behavior by studying patterns in geographic data.  In our case, we are using spatial analysis to study the Shawnee-Minisink site in Pennsylvania.  We are looking at the locations of lithics throughout the site from excavations in the 1970s and 2000s.  This will eventually become a poster that I will present at the next Society for American Archaeology meeting, which is in Washington, D.C., of all places.

One standout part of this internship was the day that the other intern and I drove up to Pennsylvania to see the site and collect rock samples from the quarry where the site’s lithic artifacts came from.  We wanted to see what heat treatment looked like on black chert.  Our road trip was a four-hour drive north to the Delaware Gap in rural Pennsylvania. It was as if you stuck the rural south in a forest and took away the tractors on the roads.  It was an interesting place to say the least.  Collecting the rocks from the chert vein involved hiking up a small mountain, angry dogs, and copious amounts of sweat.  It was worth it though, because I got to see parts of the country that I have never seen as well as where exactly the site is located.

Interning and doing research at the Smithsonian has been an incredible experience and will stay with me for the rest of my life.  Beyond just my little bubble of Paleoindian archaeology, I have met interns from across the country doing any number of things, and that is just at the Smithsonian.  I have met interns from Paleobiology, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, etc., who all share a passion for science and museums.  In addition to other interns, I get to meet many world class scientists.  Many of the people I meet have authored materials that I’ve read for a class or seminar, and meeting them in person feels surreal.  It truly is a once in a lifetime chance to meet the people writing your course readings and learn from them in person.

As an intern, there are weekly events and tours specifically for us to network and learn about the collections.  I have gone on tours of things like Forensic Anthropology, Herpetology and Mammals, and Anthropology.  Some of these tours take place downtown (AKA the museum on the National Mall), but others have taken place at the Museum Support Center. MSC is the place where most of the ~150 million specimens are kept.  Imagine the warehouse from the Indiana Jones movies with more state of the art facilities and fewer Russians trying to steal a crystal skull, and you have MSC.  The museum downtown is truly a sight to behold.  It is over a million square feet, and the museum galleries compose only one-third of that area.  The other two-thirds are dedicated purely to science and research.

This summer at the Smithsonian has also been my first time in Washington, D.C., and I must say that this is my favorite city.  It is neither massive like New York City, nor as smelly.  It is the perfect size to walk around or hop onto a functioning, air conditioned metro (I’m looking at you, NYC).  I usually spend my weekends exploring the city, going to museums, and hanging out with my roommates and friends that I have made while in the city.  I was fortunate enough to get a stipend from the National Science Foundation in conjunction with this internship, so I can afford to live in the city.  Washington, D.C. is a city that always has something to do, so if you say you’re bored, you aren’t looking hard enough.

My time here in Washington has been unforgettable.  I would be lying if I said that I wanted to leave. I meet new people every day who are always inspiring me and changing my view of the world. I know that’s a pretty cliché thing to say, but it’s true.  Even as a visitor to the galleries, I am awestruck by the sheer number of things to see. I could spend days in just the Natural History Museum trying to see everything.  I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and I hope that this blog entry has inspired you all to come see the Smithsonian and all it has to offer.

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