After five years at the Frost, I’ve now come to the end of my PhD. I laughed, I cried, I defended…now it’s time to return all of the specimens I’ve borrowed.
When I first started my revision of Conostigmus from the Nearctic (North American, north of Mexico), I reached out to museums and collections across the United States and Canada for specimens. I was even lucky enough to to visit a few museums and sort through their collections myself. Because Conostigmus are so small and easily overlooked, it’s difficult to find large collections of specimens. To get enough specimens for my revision, I had to borrow specimens from over 20 different museums and institutions!
Thanks to all of the contributions and help from these museums and collections, I was able to successfully complete my revision, and I’m currently getting the manuscript ready to submit.
The only problem with borrowing specimens from +20 collections is making sure all of the specimens go back to where they belong. I have over 10,000 borrowed specimens, and that is a lot of tiny wasps to keep track of. Fortunately, I foresaw some potential challenges long ago when I first borrowed the specimens, and I’ve put some measures in place to help manage this enormous amount of specimens.
First, as soon as I got a loan in the mail, I checked the condition of the specimens and made sure that the information on the loan paperwork was correct. If anything was wrong (for example, if the loan was for 100 specimens and the box actually contained 99 specimens), I contacted the loan manager immediately to fix the paperwork. This saves hours of work later when you are ready to return the loan; you don’t want to get stuck trying to find specimens that weren’t actually part of the loan to begin with.
Next, I made scans of the loan paperwork and stored the electronic files in a Google Drive folder. Paper copies went into a folder in the file cabinet. I also made a spreadsheet of the loans I received, including the contact information of the curator or staff member who had facilitated the loan and the date when the specimens were due back at the collection. This especially came in handy when I found some loaned specimens I didn’t remember—I was able to check my spreadsheet and find out that the specimens were not from one of my loans.
Upon arrival in the mail, all loaned specimens immediately went into the -80°C freezer for a few days. While they were chilling, I made labels that had the museum coden and the number of the loan. Every specimen got a label as soon as they came out of the freezer and went into a specimen drawer. I color-coded the labels for ease—now I can take one look at a specimen and know that it’s from the American Museum of Natural History in New York if it has a blue label, or from the Canadian National Collection of Insects if it has a white label with a red stripe.
Having these measures in place already has made my life a lot easier now. I still have to add determination labels, prepare male genitalia mounts, and attend to other details, but I don’t have to worry about knowing which specimens were part of which loan.
To summarize what I’ve learned, here’s a short list of tips for managing loaned specimens:
- Inspect loans as soon as they arrive and make sure that there are no errors in the loan paperwork.
- Make electronic copies of the loan paperwork.
- Have a spreadsheet that lists your loans, the museum staff in charge of the loan, and the date that the specimens need to be returned by.
- Put the specimens in the -80°C freezer to kill any unwanted hitchhikers.
- Make color-coded labels with the loan number and museum coden. Put a label on each loaned specimen before they go into a drawer so you can easily tell which specimens were loaned from where.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to all of the museums and collections who have loaned me specimens. Thank you all so much! My work would not have been possible without your help.
And I promise, I’ll return your specimens!