The fifth floor of the American Museum of Natural History is prohibited to visitors. However, for Dawn Roje, Edward Stanley, Phil Barden, and several other graduate students, this rule does not apply. Why? Because they are all graduate students at Richard Gilder Graduate School, which is housed in the American Museum of Natural History, where they study the specialized field of comparative biology. This school is quite prestigious and, in 2009, it became the first school in the USA to be accredited to offer a doctorate in its own name.
What do these students do a daily basis? They spend their days analyzing millions of specimens, including everything from ants that have been encased in natural amber to birds that have been dry-mounted. They are examining these specimens to determine what fossils, leeches, frogs, and various other creatures can tell us about evolution and life on Earth.
Although the American Museum of Natural History is one of the first museums to also serve as a graduate school, it will not be the last.
“We’ve had inquiries from quite a few other museums, and they’re watching what we’re doing with interest,” said John Flynn, the dean of Gilder Graduate School. “Many museums already have a lot of what you need – the collections, the curators, the libraries, the tradition of research.”
The president of the American Museum of Natural History Ellen Futter also seems to think this trend will continue:
“There’s been a redefinition of the schoolhouse, as the roles of different institutions are being blurred,” she said.
Gilder Graduate School is different from other graduate schools in more ways than just its location. While most graduate schools take five years to complete, a student can earn his/her degree from Gilder Graduate School in only four. More importantly though, in my opinion, is the opportunities that are offered to students at this school. Many students go on long-term “field trips” to distant lands in order to learn more about their subjects. One student, Shaena Montanari, ventured to the Gobi Desert to analyze dinosaur fossils, and in the fall, Roje will be traveling to Madagascar to gather tissue samples. These experiences are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will enhance the educations that these students receive.
“I’ve done the university thing, and in a big biology department, my interests wouldn’t be in the mainstream,” said Roje about her decision to attend Gilder Graduate School. “Here we are all share an interest in phylogenetics. We’re all into that tree-of-life thing. I like being one of the white sheep, not the black sheep in the group.”
Via The New York Times