Victoria Moseley Bayless
Curator, Louisiana State Arthropod Museum
I started my career as an entomologist at the age of seven when I decided to dissect a tobacco hornworm. I was extremely disappointed and slightly disgusted that there was nothing inside but goo. I think I was hoping for something that might explain how it became a big moth. That is one of those mysteries of nature that I still ponder, even knowing the science behind it. I mean, you take this gooey thing and turn it into wings with scales and long proboscis and some very strong muscles that make it fly... Really?
Fast forward a few years to college. I received my undergraduate degree in biology with an emphasis on botany from Louisiana State University in Shreveport (my home town). After working for several years as a pre-school teacher (my biology degree didn’t prepare me to teach 4 year olds how to write their names or use scissors), I decided to go back to school and enrolled in an intro entomology class and that was all it took. I worked at the library and at the herbarium while in school and developed a passion for filing, curation, organization and the mysteries of identification. Therefore I wanted to work in a museum of insects filing specimens instead of books. Next step would be to get my MS in Entomology. I chose the Entomology Department at Washington State University in Pullman Washington. I didn’t start out with a clear idea about how to get a job as a curator so I began by working on Lygus bugs and lupines and realized that was not my thing and so switched to working on a project with Dr. Gary Piper studying Agrilus hyperici as a bio-control agent of Hypericum perforatum. It was a great experience, I learned a lot and I got to travel the state of Washington. Dr. Piper was a wonderful mentor and I will always be grateful that he was my major professor! I graduated in 1986 with my Master’s degree.
However, I did not pursue a career in bio-control but returned home to Louisiana to be near my family. I began working for the LSU AgCenter at the Red River Research Station in 1988, happy to have a job but still not doing what I wanted to be doing... (I was working in cotton fields). My friend Tom Riley told me about a job opening at the Department of Entomology at LSU in Baton Rouge in the LSU Insect Collection (now the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum). Cheryl Barr was the Assistant Curator and was leaving to move to California and her position would be vacant soon. This was it! I knew it then like I know it now. My dream career! I applied and was ecstatic when the current director, Dr. Joan Chapin, hired me. I moved to Baton Rouge and started work here in March of 1990.
Dr. Chapin lovingly taught me about museum curation. She had built the collection almost from scratch in 1964 and knew it like the back of her hand. As I continued to fall in love with the museum I discovered that beetles fascinated me most. However, I couldn’t just focus on one group, I needed to become a generalist and learn as much about all the insect orders so I could do my job well. The curation of the museum was in excellent shape thanks to my predecessor Cheryl Barr (who is now retired from the Essig Museum at Berkeley). I remember her saying to me that unless I was able to accept that the things we do in this job will never be finished, then I would go crazy. I soon understood what she meant! As soon as I would get one family completely curated (you know, foam bottom unit trays, header cards and filed by subfamily and tribe), then a loan would be returned and I would have to move everything to return those specimens to their proper place! Really, it is just that a museum is not a static collection of organisms, it is constantly changing.
When Dr. Chapin retired in 1993 and Dr. Chris Carlton took over as Director 18 months later, among other changes he also started a very active collecting program. There were always specimens and more specimens. Pinning, labeling, identifying, curating and then.....databasing! Oh my! Graduate students bringing in more and more specimens. The museum facility grew larger and there was more work. Yes, Cheryl, you were right. The work is never done, but as you and all curators and collections managers know it is an extremely rewarding and fun career.
No matter how much fun the museum work is, it is collecting trips that make my job the perfect dream job for me! Collecting is work, don’t get me wrong (hot, sweaty, dirty days and long nights), but if you like traveling to new places, catching new beetles, experiencing new things, meeting new people and of course seeing new birds, then these trips are an exciting blur of activity that is over far too soon. Here is my list of places (see what I mean about fun!) U. S. collecting trips: Louisiana (all over our great state), Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, Tennessee (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and Texas. Workshops, meetings and museum visits: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Then the really exciting foreign trips for collecting, meetings and workshops: Australia, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Mexico and Taiwan. What great opportunities! What a wonderful job. What wonderful people I work with.
I decided that I wanted to do what most curators or collection managers do either as part of their job or on the “side”. I wanted to do a taxonomic revision. So with the help of Chris and Rich Leschen I became interested in a neo-tropical nitidulid genus Cyclocaccus back in 1998. Yes, I am aware that was a very long time ago, to have not actually done this! But the happy ending to this story, is that we had a Japanese visiting researcher, Dr. Sadatomo Hisamatsu here at the museum in 2012 and he took over the project and I am so happy! I no longer feel sad about all those cute little beetles out there with no names.
I have met so many great people through my job and many like Joan and Chris have become lifelong friends, in fact my best friends have all come into my life through entomology! My life has been enhanced in so many ways by these friends, the museum’s graduate students, undergrads and student workers who will always be my “museum family”!
My home family life is also rich and full of fun and loving people, most importantly my husband Ron; my step-daughter Rebecca; my step-son Forrest, who left this world in 2013 at the young age of 26, but will never leave my heart; my beloved father who passed away in 2003; my mother; my sister Marlene and her husband Charlie; my niece Natalie and her partner Carol and their little one (my niecelet Keira); my nephew Dylan and his wife Nicole and their little one (my nephewlet, Emerson) and Nicole’s daughter Savannah. Then of course there are all my wonderful friends, here, there and yonder, my dogs Angel and Ladybug, my cats Turtle and Itty, and last but not least (except in size) my grand-dog, Oliver, the miniature dachshund.
My belief in the goodness of the universe and all that it has to offer, keeps me on track even when times are tough. So that is my story. That is all.