Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Volunteer


Hi! I’m Sahar, a Volunteer in the Life Sciences department. By day, I work in a biological research lab. By night, I tutor high school chemistry and biology. Every other Monday, however, I come to Pacific Science Center and have a blast. This is the story of one such Monday.

7:45am Wake up. OK, this might not seem like the most exciting start to a blog post, but let me tell you, for me, it’s a BIG DEAL to wake up at 7:45. To say I’m not a morning person is an understatement. I’m just saying this because I want to emphasize how much I love volunteering at the Science Center: It’s enough that I’m willing to drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn – or as I like to call any time before 8am, the middle of the night – to be there.

8:20am Bus! I almost miss it (as usual) but I make it, and even manage to get a seat. Woohoo! Things are looking up.

9:10am I got to the Science Center about 10 minutes ago. I always love scanning my badge to get in. It’s so secret agent-y. The morning meeting is about to start. This is a brief, daily meeting where we discuss what’s going on at the Science Center, things to be aware of throughout the day, and (of course) a daily science fact!


9:45am After doing some before-everyone-gets-here cleaning, I prepare the naked mole-rat food. Because NMRs (yes, I know them so well I call them by their initials) live underground in the wild, they tend to eat a lot of tubers. So we give them a lot of tubers! They also get some “dough” every day. This dough is made of ground up rat chow and rice cereal that we mix with water to give it a doughy consistency.

Usually we provide some sort of enrichment with their food. This basically means we give them a toy or make them work to get their food in order to stimulate their brains and stave off boredom. Some examples are putting cut up tubers in toilet paper rolls, or hiding bits of food in egg cartons. In the picture you can see a fake bone chew toy filled with dough.


10am Feeding rounds! I feed the NMRs, axolotls, Ali the turtle, Lydia the leopard gecko and all the Tide Pool animals.

NMRs are hilarious to feed. Usually, they like to pile in one exhibit chamber in order to share body warmth. But when we put the food in, there’s a mad dash to get to it. As they scramble over each other trying desperately to get to their food, they end up bottlenecking in the tubes.

I love feeding the axolotls because, well, I love looking at them. They also get pretty excited for their food and swim up to grab it, swallowing big chunks of bloodworms in one big bite. Sometimes they get confused and try to chew up the red rubber tweezers we use to give them to the bloodworms. That’s pretty funny, too.

Lydia and Ali, our two resident non-snake reptiles, have tons of personality. Ali tends to stalk his food and then stretch out his neck and grab it, lightning fast, once he approaches it. Lydia is a princess and has to inspect all the mealworms we present to her, making sure that they meet her approval before deigning to eat them.


Next the tide pool - ahh, the tide pool. One of the coolest “wow that’s happening!” moments I’ve had at Pacific Science Center was watching a sea star eating its lunch. They actually bring their stomachs out of their bodies to digest the food. It looks really neat.


11:45am I catch myself up on the daily log and meeting notes that I missed while I was gone. It’s nice to be able to see what happened since the last time I was in. While this certainly isn’t as glamorous as feeding the Tide Pool or releasing butterflies, it’s important for an intermittent volunteer such as myself to keep up to date on what’s happened in the interim. Believe me, a lot can happen in Life Sciences in two weeks.

12pm LUNCH! This is a great part of the day, not because I need a break from my volunteer duties, but because I get to chat with some of the awesome people that work at Pacific Science Center. There are some truly epic (and truly nerdy) discussions that happen in the Staff Lounge.

12:30pm I join staff and other volunteers to talk about ongoing projects at the Science Center (a mini group meeting!). It’s always nice to sit down with various staff members and discuss long term goals and ongoing projects that I may not be aware of. Even if I’m not going to be a direct part of all the projects, there are a lot of really cool things going on and I enjoy hearing about them.


1pm Butterfly release! If you’ve been to the Tropical Butterfly House at the Science Center, you’ve probably seen the Emerging Window – where we keep the chrysalises and cocoons. On the other side of that window is a room where we gather all the newly emerged butterflies and moths to bring them out and release into the garden. This is both fun and frustrating. The basic idea is, grab the butterfly just right with the tweezers (because no touching!), and put them into a bin to take out into the Butterfly House. Well, the butterflies don’t always want to cooperate so we may end up chasing them all around the room and sometimes even have to capture them with the butterfly net.


2pm Wow, time to go home already. Another busy (and successful) day at the Science Center is complete!

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