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I want to do what you do!

We recently had two long-time employees, Jessi Shupe and Heidi Pankratz, move on from the VLM to new opportunities. While it is hard to lose good employees and even harder to replace their knowledge immediately, we are happy for them. The two positions have recently been filled and we look forward to working with them. There were many, many strong candidates but the two chosen were ultimately picked because of a combination of character, personality traits, and experience. The amount of responsibility that will be bestowed upon them is significant and I follow a personal philosophy of hiring people that will grow into the position and that have already proven a significant amount of dedication to doing this type of work.

Guests at the museum, often on my behind the scenes tours, ask how did you get this job? or what do you suggest for me (or my child) to do to get into this type of work? My first suggestion is to actually do it – for free as a volunteer – to see if it the reality of the job is interesting or stimulating to pursue; this is important because NOBODY is in this for the money! My second suggestion is to do well in school in the biological sciences (a BA/BS in biology or related degree is required for employment) and get some experience somewhere. Understand that there are many people with a degree, but their experience is what differentiates the candidates. So once you have the degree and experience, be patient and flexible. Always do something as closely related to what you want to be doing as possible; working at a bookstore may pay the bills but stay connected to the work in anyway possible. Every employee of mine over nearly 7 years were volunteers of mine first, except one, who volunteered at the GA Aquarium an entire summer for free.


One of the two Lemon sharks brought down from Connecticut.


So what can you expect? A lot of mundane tasks, routine work, and virtually no recognition for the amount of work and responsibility invested. BUT you also experience things that very few people get to experience. A short list of my personal experiences related to one exhibit (Chesapeake Bay Aquarium – CBA) in the past year: driving our loggerhead 19 hours straight to her new home in Dallas TX almost exactly one year ago today and nearly 5 years after driving her as a juvenile sea turtle from TX, putting her in a bathtub in Mississippi overnight, SCUBA diving over 200 times with her, raising her to nearly three hundred pounds. Then bringing another loggerhead from NC that weighed only 5 lbs as a replacement (eventually put in the Chesapeake Bay Aquarium at 26 lbs, Fall 2010); removing two 6 foot nurse sharks (due to their size)acquired over 5 years ago from a pet store at 14″ and raising and diving with them; releasing a sandbar shark from CBA we raised named “Hank” after the friend of mine who caught him; driving 2 lemon sharks (currently on exhibit), from Mystic, Connecticut this winter to replace the sandbar shark; releasing two southern stingrays that were originally pupped ( at ~10″) at the National Aquarium and raised until they were nearly 3 feet across (because the lemons would eat them), and acclimating three 15 pound striped bass (currently in the James River exhibit) raised from 4 inch juveniles from freshwater to full saltwater to then be added to CBA. This is but a portion of the work involved with this particular exhibit. There are 3 weekly water changes, a weekly dive for interior cleaning, weekly maintenance on the life support, daily sea turtle feedings, lemon shark feeding 3 times a week, the fishes are fed for public program 4 times a week; all of which requires supporting work such as food prep, water chemistry, daily bicarb additions, etc.


Christi, on her way to Dallas Texas to her new home.


Striped bass that will be moved into the CBA tank

So…if you think you want to do this type of work, try it. If you like it, stick with it. Patience and hard work still matter; raising animals requires it.  Check out more opportunities here for internships.


  • Unknown

    Is this picture of the striped bass one that you took? i am looking for one to use on an interpretive sign at our conference center to educate our guests about Bay ecology and am hoping to find one for little to no cost 🙂 Let me know if you can help Thanks!

  • Barbara Webb

    I am very interested in volunteering at your facility. I need about 40 hours community service for a traffic ticket. But I love animals and can do most anything. I am a industrial technical specialist and also have a degree from Germany, many years ago, as a pharmaceutical specialist. I am willing to do cleaning and so called mundane chores.