Getting to know Shawn

Shawn is a 26-year-old geologist who recently completed his masters degree in igneous geochemistry and remote sensing. He became involved in natural science collections through the Devonian Ecosystems Project back in 2021 as a means of self-funding his masters part-time. He describes himself as an enthusiastic but introverted scientist who enjoys spending time outside and learning new skills and hobbies, “although the hobbies may be due to my ADHD.”

He has often been complimented on his creative ideas for outreach and scientific applications, and he often introduces unique solutions to problems faced in collections. While his dream is to become a volcanologist and spend his time travelling the world, natural science collection care has been a very interesting branch in Shawn’s life, and he has welcomed it.

Shawn works as a curation/research assistant for the Devonian Ecosystems Project, where he advertises the project while also maintaining and researching the fossil collection from South Africa’s Devonian sites. 

According to Shawn, a day’s work varies depending on the week’s activities, but it typically includes outreach (poster design, Instagram posts, and merchandise design), curation (accessioning, organisation, data cleaning, and photographing), building maintenance, and research.

Shawn’s views on the importance of collections:

“It is not just the historical importance of these collections; it is also the research potential and educational importance that these collections hold. The key aspect of educating future generations on the historical, cultural, and scientific reservoir that these collections act as is ensuring that they are preserved and used as educational tools in the scientific and global communities. Personally, they act as an inspiration for what our predecessors have achieved and what we are still able to achieve.” 

Shawn as a young leader: Shawn considers himself to have always been a solo worker, often taking on too much in terms of workload or responsibility in all aspects of life. However, he has recently discovered that in collections, we do not have to rely solely on ourselves, and there are resources and connections available if we are struggling; reaching out need not be a bad thing.

Shawn has also discovered that, despite being an introvert, when he is passionate about something, such as collections, he is more likely to speak up and take control in situations that require it.

The importance of the workshop: Shawn, who studied geochemistry, frequently finds that when it comes to workplace etiquette, he tends to ignore the human aspect of the workplace and instead focus on active plans to expand the collection or navigate a path forward to achieve a goal. However, he hopes that this workshop will provide more insight into navigating office conflicts and obstacles in terms of the collection care plan. Shawn had never considered himself a leader or been involved with natural collections prior to his current job, but he sees this workshop as providing an opportunity and possibilities for a future in collections care, and it may also help him navigate his means of interacting with and getting involved in the community. 

Shawn emphasizes that people should not do collections work for recognition but rather because they are passionate about the collections. However, identifying young, passionate leaders may be beneficial in assessing and mitigating any potential threats to collections in this country, as they provide a new perspective and way of thinking about collections that may change how things were done previously.

Shawn’s expectations for the workshop: Shawn is excited to network with other young people in the collections community, as he has previously only associated with older generations.

Anticipated challenges in stepping into the young leader role: Shawn’s major challenge is the lack of funding, which makes his role in this collection uncertain as his contract is due to expire at the end of June 2024 without a promise of extension. Thus, he has to complete the majority of the detailed work before potentially vacating his position. This offers a challenge to this collection in terms of training and upkeep of the fossils. He is worried that he may struggle to voice his opinions during the workshop, as he tends to be introverted.

He believes that collaborating with Albany Museum members for outreach and teaching could provide an opportunity to take initiative without taking control of the collection. Furthermore, obtaining permission from the supervisor to work more independently is something he sees as an opportunity for the collections to grow and gain visibility.

Preparation for the workshop: 

Anxiety meds (hahaha). But seriously, I have been stepping into more extroverted roles in outreach and looking into reading and online tips on how to address a new role.”

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