About Me

Rachel K Osborn

Hi there. I am a PhD candidate at the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University studying the taxonomy and evolution of ambrosia beetles. My dissertation explores the diversity of South American ambrosia beetles and their fungal partners. I am fascinated by our planet’s biodiversity and the evolution of complex relationships between disparate groups. I have nearly a decade and a half of experience working in entomological collections – both as a support worker and as an investigator using collections for scientific research. This diverse involvement has taught me that insect collections are a vital key to unlocking more knowledge about life on Earth. They can powerfully foster greater community enthusiasm and curiosity for science and critical thinking. To learn more about me, please download my curriculum vitae and scroll down.

Professional Experience

Xylosandrus amputatus by Rachel K Osborn

Work with Insect Collections

I started working with entomology collections almost fifteen years ago after sending a cold email to an entomologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (USNM) in Washington DC. I found his name through a contact in my college’s alumni network and he generously set me up with a volunteer position in the USNM moth collection. As I quickly gained confidence and proficiency working with insect specimens, I graduated to a paid position researching the collection records and species descriptions to verify that the holotype collection was accurate.

Continuing to progress in my research skills at the museum, I shifted roles a few times and gained valuable experience working with several different insect orders and the scientists who cared from them. I learned how to produce montaged images of insect specimens and grew comfortable crafting workflow pipelines and managing dynamic data repositories. You can find examples of this work at the USNM Hymtypes website and the Primary Type Specimens Catalog.

Joining the Holistic Insect Systematics Laboratory at Michigan State University as a PhD student allowed me to further develop as a specimen photographer. As I acquainted myself with several different methods of specimen photography, I enjoyed the synergistic benefits that come from cooperating with a team. Lead investigators in my lab taught me how to use the complex imaging system in the lab. They refined my ability to edit montaged photos, granting me the ability to create more accurate and consistent photographs. Some of my work became part of the online interactive key to Southeast Asian Ambrosia Beetles

The close association between my research lab and MSU’s AJ Cook Arthropod Research Collection provided numerous opportunities to work with museum specimens. Given my previous work with the USNM EMu catalog, I was an ideal candidate for several ongoing digitization projects with the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network. I assisted processing and uploading photographs of larvae in vials, transcribing label data from slides, and creating a digitized teaching collection of local Michigan insects. My strengthening interest in collections work led me to participate in two unique workshops focused on the management and preservation of natural history and insect collections. These special professional experiences cemented my desire to join the ranks of entomology professionals who work within insect collections.

Field Processing Station; Cosanga, Ecuador


During my time at MSU I have had the privilege of contributing several projects and cultivating my own research interests through my dissertation project. Like many taxonomic investigations, my research is built on a foundation of lab work and propelled by collection activities in the field. During four collecting trips to Ecuador, I collaborated with local scientists and government officials, handled travel logistics between field locations, collected ambrosia beetles, and isolated their fungi for further study. I used field-collected insect and fungal material to reconstruct phylogenies with sequenced DNA in the lab at MSU.

Beyond graduate school my foundational investigative skills will drive further research about symbioses between insects and fungi, and evolutionary patterns of mycophagy within Coleoptera.

My Collections Philosophy


I believe insect collections are invaluable to the scientific process as they act as repositories for past work and knowledge, as well as fuel for continuing, cutting-edge research. They are buzzing centers for scientific inquiry and attract a variety of investigators and students. They also possess an irreplaceable capacity to engage a wider audience. My experience working with insect collections at MSU and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has taught me that many people outside of the scientific community are excited to learn about how scientists create and use collections. Community engagement supports scientific research by encouraging involvement with the public. It also inspires curiosity about and stewardship of the natural world.

Natural history collections (including insect collections) are irreplaceable repositories for biodiversity on our planet. They attract interest from a variety of people. Yet the individuals who are generally granted access to collected specimens often do not fully represent the diversity of the community in which the collection is located. I believe that as caretakers of important entomological collections, we cannot forget our duty to widen the circle of who has access to collections. I recognize that as a white, cisgender woman I am afforded significant privilege in the scientific community within which I work. I aspire to use this privilege to ensure that the future of collections workers becomes more diverse at the institutions I can influence.

We store a vast wealth of biodiversity in insect collections. The people who work with and learn from them should be as diverse as possible.

Land Acknowledgement

I acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional and present-day lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. Michigan State University and my home sit on territory that was ceded to the government of the United States by the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi in the Treaty of Saginaw 1819. The university that facilitates my education and dissertation research subsists thanks to the federal grant of 235,193 acres of indigenous land in 1857 that was used to fund the founding and endowment of the “Pioneer Land Grant College.” Both the state of Michigan and Michigan State University have benefitted from systematic and violent removal of the people who have historically stewarded and protected the land and its resources. Without this legacy, Michigan State University would not exist today and my research and education would not be possible.

I also acknowledge the Quechua-Kichwa and Waorani peoples upon whose lands I completed the field research portions of my dissertation research. Although I cooperated with the government of Ecuador to procure research and collection permits, my research is only possible thanks to the curation of the land and its biodiversity by these ancestral and contemporary guardians.


 rachelkosborn AT gmail DOT com

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