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Biodiversity Blog


Meet Lauren Hoff!

Lauren 1 web
 (Photo: George Yatskievych)

Lauren is our new Assistant Curator in the Billie L. Turner Plant Resources Center. Lauren took some time out of her busy day to tell us a little about herself and how she got her start.

Tell us where you came from before UT, and what you studied. 

I recently graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Forestry and Natural Resources. Since botany was not offered as a major or minor at the university, I tailored my learning experience toward botany and ecological restoration.  

What got you interested in botany? 

I was introduced to botany in the first quarter of my undergraduate program through a introductory course used to satisfy a general education requirement. The basic overview of plant ecology piqued my interest and led me to pursue more advanced botany courses outside of my major, such as Plant Taxonomy and Field Botany. The professors I met suggested I volunteer at the Robert F. Hoover Herbarium, where I was taught the importance of herbaria and how to manage preserved collections.  

Were there any people that really influenced or inspired you? 

During my time at Cal Poly, I was fortunate to be advised by Dr. Jenn Yost and Dr. Dena Grossenbacher, who helped build my foundation as a budding botanist and encouraged me to pursue a career in plant collections. Annie Ayers was the student curator when I started as a volunteer at the Hoover Herbarium, and she became a close friend and mentor who invested a great deal of time and energy into my curation training.  

What interested you about the Billie L. Turner Plant Resource Center (PRC)? 

The PRC was particularly interesting to me for its differences and similarities in comparison to the Hoover Herbarium. I started volunteering at the Hoover Herbarium towards the end of its commitment in an NSF grant to develop a California Phenology Thematic Collections Network. During this time, I was trained in digitization and developed a fondness for the curation process. When I started doing research on the PRC, I was excited to learn of the TORCH grant for digitization of Texas and Oklahoma flora and the similar responsibilities that came with the assistant curator position. I saw the PRC as a chance to use the experience I gained from the Hoover Herbarium while expanding my skillset in a much larger set of collections with greater opportunities for networking with other herbaria. 

What advice would you give students pursuing work in an herbarium collections? 

The best advice I can give is to be open to the process. I would encourage students to try every aspect of collections management, even if they know they’re already interested in a certain sect. There are challenging and rewarding parts of every task, and each new skill gained is marketable and can set a student apart when trying to land a position in herbaria or other types of collections. I would also advise students to be unafraid to ask questions. When I was first starting out, learning how to digitize specimens was complicated and confusing, and in an academic environment where there is constant competition with peers it can be intimidating to admit when something is unclear. If a student is asking questions, it relays to their superior that they’re interested in the process and care about the quality of their work.  

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