Career Classification: Sorting Out the Future

More than 37,000 specimens of snakes, lizards, amphibians, crocodilians, and turtles populate the Herpetology Collection at the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum at BYU, according to Doug Brown, a junior in BYU’s Biology Department—and he is in a position to know. In his role as an assistant to Dr. Jack W. Sites, Jr., Maeser Professor of Biology and Assistant Director/Curator of Herpetology in the museum, Brown personally entered the 37,000th specimen this summer. “I sort of act like a librarian,” he says. But he not only organizes, preserves, and catalogues specimens, he also works with professors in the field—traveling and camping to collect information that BYU’s vast Herpetology Collection shares with its students as well as students and researchers across the region.

A few months ago, Brown had the opportunity to spend twelve days in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina with Frank Fontanella, a postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Sites. The goal of the trip was to collect samples of ring-necked snakes from specific
“I am hopeful that I can be as passionate about my career as my professors at BYU are about theirs.”
populations to see if groups that have come into contact with each other within the last 20,000 y
ears now share genetic material. They spent each day searching beneath ground cover and rocks, where the snakes tend to lurk. Fontanella is still analyzing the abundant data they collected, but already Brown can classify the trip as “life-changing.” “It gave me experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else and has helped me to have a more accurate view of what a future career for me might hold,” he says. In fact, if there’s a common thread that runs through Brown’s experiences in the classroom, the museum, and the field, it is an appreciation for professors who enjoy what they do and inspire students to select careers in which they, too, can thrive. Dr. Sites is just such a professor. Brown currently has the opportunity to work with him in the museum and now in the molecular lab, but he also took two classes from Sites and participates in the herpetology research group he oversees. Dr. Sites is just one of many dedicated, passionate faculty in the college that are committed to seeing that students leave the university well prepared. “My goal is to get him published before he graduates, as this will give him additional career options” said Sites. “Because of his help,” Brown adds, “I have become more involved with things that I hope will prepare me for graduate school and my future career.” Perhaps more importantly, Brown explains, “It is inspiring to see the passion he has for what he does—his passion is contagious—it gives me hope that I can have a career that I enjoy as much as he does.” Brown is still weighing various professional options, but he looks to his engaged and energetic professors at BYU as examples of people who love what they do. “Whatever my decision,” he says, “I am hopeful that I can be as passionate about my career as my professors at BYU are about theirs.” Thanks to supportive programs and teachers within the College of Life Sciences, Brown has already begun to enjoy that kind of professional satisfaction as an undergraduate. Working as an assistant curator at one of the largest herpetology collections in the Intermountain West, Brown says, “I’ve learned that it’s possible to have a job I enjoy.”

Dr. Jack W. Sites, Jr.