The Natural Science Collections 2019 Summer Professional Internship

The Natural Science Collections 2019 Summer Professional Internship aims to help graduate students develop skills in natural science collections curation and management through interdisciplinary training. The program is led by Drs. Alan Prather (Director of the MSU Herbarium), Anthony Cognato (Director of the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collections) and Barbara Lundrigan (Curator of Mammalogy & Ornithology, MSU Museum). Participation in the three-month internship requires the completion of an application and a $6,000.00 fellowship is awarded to each of the top six applicants as determined by the program leaders. “The extensive natural science collections here at MSU provide a foundation for specialized hands-on training that very few universities have the capacity to offer,” says Dr. Lundrigan regarding the aims and value of this program.

Graduate students who are accepted into the internship participate in biweekly seminar meetings intended to expose them to both theory and practice; these encompass a wide variety of relevant topics including but not limited to history of collections, preservation, collections use, and digitization. Other experts, including the Collections Managers from participating units, are also invited to the seminars to share their knowledge and expertise, and allow participating students to see other facets of natural science collections curation/management while expanding their networks.  The location of these seminars changes amongst campus natural science collections so all the participants are able to tour each facility while comparing and contrasting the curatorial practices at each. The included group photograph was taken at the group’s June 19th meeting at the MSU Museum. Though participation in the seminars is mandatory for graduate student interns, meetings are also open to other interested members of the MSU community!

In addition to seminars, each intern spends between 10 and 20 hours each week working in collaboration with a curator/collections manager on their daily tasking. Activities include processing acquisitions; specimen identification, preparation and cataloging; data management; and fielding loan requests. Graduate students are assigned to an MSU collection that best matches their background. Collection assignments this year included

  • MSU Herbarium: an herbarium is a repository of preserved and labeled plant specimens, arranged to allow easy access and archival storage. The mission of MSU herbarium, founded in 1863, is to preserve and document the diversity of plants - from duckweed to sequoias.
  • A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection (ARC): the mission of ARC, founded in 1867, is to serve the people of Michigan by providing excellence in research, education and outreach through its collection of close to 1.5 million specimens mounted on pins, slides or stored in alcohol.
  • Vertebrate Collections, MSU Museum: the Michigan State University Museum, founded in 1857, houses over 117,000 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and fossils. These are utilized by researchers worldwide and include hands-on specimens for teaching and outreach.
  • W. J. Beal Botanical Garden: established in 1873, this garden is the oldest continuously operated university botanical garden of its kind in the United States. It is an outdoor laboratory for the study and appreciation of plants with more than 2000 different taxa being found in the collection.


Interns share updates on their collections experience and activities at the biweekly seminars, and will present more formally on topics of their choice at the final meeting.


            This year’s participants include (front row from left) Dr. Barbara Lundrigan (Curator, MSU Museum Vertebrate Collections), Matt Chansler (Collections Manager, Herbarium), Dr. Alan Prather (Director, Herbarium), and Scott Warner (Ph.D. student, Plant Biology); (second row from left) Dr. Anthony Cognato (Director, Arthropod Collections), Rachel Osborn (Ph.D. student, Entomology), and Gary Parsons (Collections Manager, Arthropod Collections); (third row from left) Erin Biggs (M.S. student, Entomology), Klara Scharnagl (Ph.D. student, Plant Biology), Laura Abraczinskas (Collections Manager, MSU Museum Vertebrate Collections), and Amanda Brohman (M.S. student, Integrative Biology); (top row from left) Nikki Cavalieri (Ph.D. student, Integrative Biology), and Ani Hristova (M.S. student, Integrative Biology).


For more information on the Natural Science Collections 2019 Summer Professional Internship program, please e-mail Dr. Anthony Cognato at