Erin Sigel ‘03

New Collections Manager of the Hodgdon Herbarium
Erin Sigel '03

Erin Sigel recently joined the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture as the new collections manager of the Hodgdon Herbarium, which she describes as a “hidden gem of the university.” Sigel graduated from UNH in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences.

COLSA: Please describe your area of expertise in nontechnical language.

Erin Sigel: I am the collections manager of the Albion Hodgdon Herbarium, UNH's preserved scientific plant collection housed in the Department of Biological Sciences. It's like a library of plant biodiversity of New England, with approximately 200,000 dried plant and algae specimens preserved on sheets of paper.

I have expertise in natural history collections management such as the maintenance and curation of the specimens. I also have research expertise in the systematics and genomics of ferns and other "seed-free" land plants.

COLSA: How would you explain what you do to someone unfamiliar with your work and field?

Erin: On a day-to-day basis I maintain and curate the plant specimens housed in the Herbarium. This involves keeping the specimens in good condition, sending specimens to researchers at other universities, creating digital images and records of the specimens so they can be accessed all over the world in online databases, and writing grants to support the herbarium.

Preserved leaves from the campus Ginkgo tree

Sigel displays preserved leaves from the campus Ginkgo tree.

A large part of my job will also be overseeing the move of the herbarium to a newly renovated location in Spaulding Hall, slated to open in 2023. Once that is complete, I look forward to having more time to develop new outreach programs that engage the UNH and local community with the herbarium and promote innovate research using the herbarium specimens.

COLSA: What draws you to your work?

Erin: I can't explain why, but I have always been interested in plants and wanted to study them. In my former career as a plant systematics researcher, I used morphological and genetic data from herbarium specimens to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among plant species and investigate how their genomes have evolved. I learned firsthand that herbaria and other natural history collections are invaluable for understanding the evolution of biodiversity.

COLSA: What do you love most about teaching at UNH and why?

Erin: I earned my B.S. in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. After moving all over the United States for graduate school and my research career, returning to UNH feels like coming home.

COLSA: Please describe your teaching style and what students who take your courses can expect.

Erin: Enthusiatically geeky. I just love teaching about plants. Many people overlook the immense vegetative biodiversity that surrounds them every day. Students can expect my classes to have lots of hands-on labs and field trips explore cool plants in their natural habitats.

COLSA: What do you wish others (colleagues, students) knew about what you do?

Erin: I wish the UNH community knew more about what an awesome resource the Herbarium is.

It truly is a hidden gem of the university. Anyone can contact us with questions about botany, inquiries about the herbarium specimens, or to arrange a tour. Classes are welcome!

COLSA: If you could share one piece of advice with students, what would it be?

Erin: Make sure you are following your own dreams, not someone else's dream.

COLSA: So far in your career, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Erin: This is a hard question because the achievements of my career have really built on each other. One scientific study leads to more questions, new and exciting discoveries, and another study. Not to be cliche, but it is all about the journey.

COLSA: Finally, if you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Erin: If I wasn't the herbarium collections manager, I would be working in a small bookshop and trying to learn botanical illustration.

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