Originally Posted: December 7, 2018
On a slow November afternoon at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, exhibit writer Juliana Olsson and intern Myria Perez slipped behind a temporary barrier to sneak a peek at “Sea Monsters Unearthed,” the museum’s newest exhibit scheduled to open the next morning. With the quiet, dramatically-lit space all to themselves, the two reminisced on the years of work that led to this moment.
Juliana: A lot of people go through a dinosaur phase as kids, but I think we can safely say that neither of us grew out of it. What was your paleontology journey?
Myria: I was definitely that kid. My mom would take me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science growing up, and my favorite part was the paleontology hall. I was fascinated with fossils, and I started volunteering at that museum when I was twelve—I was technically too young, but they let me volunteer as long as my mom came along.
Later I started looking at universities with programs where I could work with paleontologists. I really wanted to continue doing fossil prep, and Southern Methodist University was one of the few places that let undergraduates work on fossils. My freshman year I started working in Dr. Louis Jacobs’ lab, and by my junior year he asked me to be an intern on the exhibit team and I said “Of course!”
Juliana: What was it like to go from SMU’s fossil prep lab to the Smithsonian?
Myria: I was very impressed with how the Smithsonian organizes and keeps track of everything, and how well you know your visitors. I hadn’t thought about that before: you all really want to know who’s coming, what people want to see, what’s important to convey to the public and how to convey it to the public. From your perspective, what’s it like to write exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History?
Juliana: As a person who likes all sorts of scientific topics, it’s a lot of fun, because with each new exhibit I get to explore something new. This time, I learned all about mosasaurs, a type of extinct giant marine lizard. And working with SMU, I loved that whenever I had questions, I could just call Louis and Mike Polcyn and get answers from the people who had actually dug up the fossils!