Position: Senior Curator Natural Environment, Field: Botany, Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Being a curator in a museum is a dream job because it’s really a vocation rather than a job you go into for the money.

Dr Patrick Brownsey’s areas of interest include plants, ferns, biosystematics and taxonomy. He became interested in biosystematics while at the University of Leeds, England, during the 1960s. He credits this interest to his Botany Professor, Irene Manton, who was a truly inspirational teacher.His interest in ferns was more incidental. Ferns were the subject matter that Irene Manton and her colleagues at Leeds were working on, so when Patrick came to do his PhD, he worked on ferns too.

Subsequently, he had the opportunity to come to New Zealand where he found himself in a country that was full of ferns! There were far more ferns here than in England, and it’s here that Patrick became interested in ferns for their own sake. Patrick has been working at Te Papa for many years now. He enjoys the diversity of his role and considers it a dream job.

A major part of Patrick’s role is looking after the collections of reference plants. He is also involved with research to find out new things about plants, to look for new species, to work out the relationships with other species and with other countries’ flora. He gets to go out and work in the field from time to time.

There are also outreach aspects of the job that are very rewarding. A proportion of his time is spent developing exhibitions, and then there is a whole range of teaching and talks to different people. He gives talks to a wide range of groups, including school groups, university groups and community groups as well as to national and international conferences. Meeting a very wide range of people and talking about ferns to them is always enjoyable for Patrick!

Nature of science

Scientists’ personal interests can influence the questions they investigate. Patrick’s interest in ferns has carried on from early research as a student to his job as a senior curator in a national museum.

This article is based on information current in 2010.

Published 20 October 2010