MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
Look … it’s a SCUBA diver, it’s Batman, it’s a velociraptor, or is it Santa?
Nope, it’s James Hill – our exhibits & aquariums supervisor
with the delightful accent!
Get to know him in the interview below.
WHAT’S YOUR WORKDAY LIKE?
I’m responsible for coordinating the exhibits and aquarium staff at the museum.
I usually start the day walking through the public side of the museum, checking that all the exhibits are switched on, that the aquariums are clean, and that everything looks its best.
After that, my “average” work day can vary hugely, depending on the needs of the exhibits and aquarium teams.
For example, I’ve recently spent much of my time helping pack up our huge travelling exhibit, “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®”, and then unpacking and setting up our new travelling exhibit, “In the Dark”.
But, on another day I might be SCUBA diving one of our large aquariums to feed the fish, flipping logs in search of salamanders, or fixing a leaking pump. Also, as a supervisor I get to go to meetings … lots and lots of meetings.
ANY FUNNY WORK STORIES?
I was out collecting animals with a colleague for the museum one day, when we came across a pair of black racers (a type of non-venomous snake native to Mississippi).
I was new to the job and a bit nervous in handling the snake, but was very intent in not letting it bite me.
My colleague, who was holding the other black racer, was so busy telling me how to safely handle my snake that he didn’t pay attention to what his was doing.
While he was pre-occupied, his black racer raised up and popped me on the arm from about four feet away! My snake never did get me though!
Also, not a story, but it is funny how often I find myself in costume in this job. I’ve been a velociraptor, Batman, Santa, and Harry Potter in just the last few years!
WOULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I grew up on the “other side of the pond”, just outside of London, England.
London is a very exciting place to live, but also a very expensive place to live, so when I applied for university I concentrated on the north of England, which is traditionally a much cheaper place to live.
I ultimately settled on studying zoology at the University of Sheffield and enjoyed every minute of it.
I’ve always been fascinated with other countries and cultures, and so in my summer holidays I would go backpacking around various exotic locales such as Laos, New Zealand, and Namibia.
Once I’d graduated university, I continued my globetrotting. In between trips, I’d work in various temporary jobs back in London, saving up enough money to finance my next adventure.
In 2005, I found myself in Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria, helping a friend turn a small apartment into a backpacker hostel. It’s a beautiful medieval city, perched on the side of a gorge overlooking a river, but unfortunately it was the middle of the winter when we arrived and so the river was frozen, the city was blanketed in several feet of snow, and our apartment was so cold that the toilet had frozen solid!
Fortunately, we met a kindly Peace Corps volunteer that lived just down the road from us and who helped us to survive the winter – and that was how I met my wife Genevieve! When she finished her Peace Corps service, we travelled through Eastern Europe, but eventually she returned home to Mississippi, and took me with her.
We moved out to New Mexico for a few years to get our graduate degrees at New Mexico State University, before finally moving back to Mississippi for good.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS CAREER?
I grew up watching the BBC’s David Attenborough nature documentaries, and like everyone that watched them, became spellbound with the natural world.
It was really only after moving to Mississippi, though, that I finally had a chance to put my zoology and biology degrees to work.
One thing that Mississippi has more of than London is nature – growing, flying, slithering, it’s everywhere here!
The museum seemed like the perfect place for me to continue my natural history education, and so within weeks of moving back to Mississippi I applied for a job here.
HOW DOES YOUR JOB CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION?
The museum’s exhibits and aquariums are one of the primary ways that we educate the public.
By seeing live animals and the habitats that they live in, people can learn about the wildlife that lives in Mississippi, and hopefully come to value it!
ANY ADVICE FOR A STUDENT INTERESTED IN A BIOLOGY OR MUSEUM CAREER?
Get as much practical experience as you can. Having an advanced degree is great, but knowing how to use a backpack shocker or how to operate a scissor lift is invaluable!
You’ll wear a lot of hats working in a museum, so the more skills you bring to the job, the better!
Volunteering at a museum is a great way to get any appropriate experience you may be lacking, and also a great way to see if working at that museum is a good fit for you.