Andie Carrillo manages the Zoology Prep Lab, where she prepares skins, skeletons, tissues, parasites, and other vertebrate materials for the zoology collections. Her primary job involves preparing hundreds of specimens a year, ranging in size from hummingbirds to giraffes. She also trains new volunteers on vertebrate prep techniques and engages in public outreach. The prep lab Andie manages is well-stocked and ready for animals of all sizes. It includes a dermestarium in which bones are prepared, two hoods for working with chemicals, and a necropsy table for our extra-large specimens.
Women in Science
A Conversation with Andrea Carrillo
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) is home to many amazing Women in Science. From anthropology to food services, guest services, leadership and much more, these individuals help the Museum and its guests learn, grow and get excited about science!
Introducing Andrea (Andie) Carrillo. Andie manages the Museum’s Zoology Prep Lab, where she prepares skins, skeletons, tissues, parasites and other vertebrate materials for the zoology collections. Her primary job involves preparing hundreds of specimens a year, ranging in size from hummingbirds to giraffes (giraffes!). She also trains new volunteers on vertebrate prep techniques and engages in public outreach and is active on many of the Museum’s internal committees.
We spoke with Andie to learn more about her work, career and her experience as a woman in science. Her answers are below. Click through to learn more about Andie’s work at the Vertebrate Prep Lab.
What is your role at the museum?
I'm the zoology preparator here at the museum. My role is to dissect animals, skeletonize, take tissues and preserve parasites for the zoology research collections. All the specimens that come through my lab will be used for research or educational purposes. [Research specimens] are in exhibits, and help researchers in academia or other museums all over the country.
How long have you worked here?
I've worked here since January 2018.
Can you explain your day-to-day job?
It can vary. Today's very meeting-heavy. I'm on some committees, so there are days where I'm doing DEAI (diversity, equity, access and inclusion) work or I'm doing health and safety-related work. For the most part, my main job is to prepare specimens, so I'm dissecting, I'm skeletonizing or collecting tissues, pretty much every day for eight hours.
What has your career path been like leading up to this job?
My career path has been really straightforward. I always knew I was interested in animals. I was that kid that didn't want to play with other kids at recess - I was out collecting ladybugs by myself. And I grew up going to museums like this in Southern California, where I grew up. I just always really liked nature and science – specifically animals. I took a lot of science classes in high school. I got into the University of California, Davis and I studied animal science, then changed my major to wildlife sciences.
I just fell in love with working at the museum there – preparing the animals and getting to work really hands-on. This was not an experience I’d had in any other place. I started to seriously look for museum positions a few months before graduating college. I started my post-university career at the California Academy of Sciences. I didn't do a science position there; I was a tour guide. But I also volunteered in their prep lab, so I was gaining some more experience in what I really wanted to do. A few months after I started that position, I found out about this job. I knew I had to apply, and I got the job!
What is your favorite part of your work?
I think my favorite part is getting to work hands-on with animals every single day. That has always been my favorite part of doing zoology sciences. I personally have a preference for dead animals, because you can notice so much more. When I look inside of an animal, I’m truly exploring. I'm the first and only person to look at the insides and record that data. All the research done in that aspect is dependent on me. I think that's the coolest part of my job.
What is the most challenging part?
The most challenging aspect might be the physical part. I'm on a bench for multiple hours. It's very similar to someone that's doing typing all day or on their computer all day. So, I do need to make sure to take care of my body, especially my back, my wrists and my forearms because they get tired really fast. And this job is known for carpal tunnel. It's definitely the physical part that people don't really think about until they actually start preparing. They'll be three hours in and quite sore.
Have you had any unique challenges as a woman in science?
I started my position when I was 22. I was mentoring teams at the time, but I would get confused for a volunteer or grad student, and get surpassed even though I was managing the lab. People would always ask my male coworkers or male volunteers for information. They didn't know who I was yet.
Over the years you get to know the staff. They know who I am, they know I'm an expert in this part of wildlife sciences, [they know] I manage the lab. It's definitely changed over time, but it still comes up when there are new people. Luckily, I have my team to back me up to the point where, whenever we do tours, they'll say I'm the professional preparator. I appreciate that. But yeah, there are definitely some challenges.
What advice would you give to kids of any gender, who want to be you when they grow up?
Go for it. If you really want to do it, don't let anyone stand in your way. You can be your own self-motivation, and find external people that will support you. If you don't have the support from your peers or your family, know that there are people out there like me and a bunch of scientists in the Museum that will support you, answer questions and try to help you.
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I'd love to talk about DEAI work. I'm a Mexican-American woman and that comes with its own challenges, specifically culturally. I've never felt too much discrimination here, though it does happen in the sense of tokenism. But within the Mexican-American community, I feel like there's still a precedent of women staying at home, to take care of the children. And I think part of the reason I didn't follow that is because I am an only child. If I’d had other siblings, I would have taken care of them. I was really fortunate that my parents encouraged me to follow science. But that being said, some sciences are more approachable and digestible for them than others. I was discouraged from Computer Science and Engineering - the typical "male" sciences.
Today, there is a shift towards women going into biological sciences, like wildlife. Most of my graduating class was women - primarily white women. For a university that was majority Asian/Asian-American, that didn't fit with the demographics of the school. But overall, we - women - don't go into this for the money. We do [wildlife sciences] because we want to do it; because that's what we're passionate about. Unfortunately, though, these lower-paid fields then become predominantly women. We’re not taking up space in the higher-paid fields. So, things still need to change. Culturally, societally and institutionally.
Zoology preparator Andie Carrillo works behind the scenes of the museum, studying animal specimens to learn about their lives and environments from their physical characteristics, and preparing each specimen to be kept in our collection and studied by other researchers for years to come.
Educational Chicken Prep
During the Covid closure, lab preparator, Andie Carillo showed us how to make an at-home lab right in her kitchen! Using an uncooked chicken, see how she prepares birds in the lab
Specimen to Species
How to determine Hard to Distinguish Species
If you've ever spent the day in Colorado's mountains, you might have spied a chipmunk scurrying along the trail or across the forest floor. But did you know that Colorado is home to five distinct species of these miniscule mammals? It's true, and these species are tricky to tell apart. Join Zoology Preparator Andie Carrillo and Lab Manager Tiffany Nuessle for a live look at how DNA sequencing can help scientists crack the code.