Paul Callomon is the Collections Manager of Malacology, Invertebrate Paleontology, and General Invertebrates at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He is a published author, fluent in Japanese, Science, Technology and Society graduate student at Drexel, and co-host of Mega-Bad Movie Night.
How did you end up across the pond in the U.S.?
I left the UK in 1989 and spent 12 years in Japan working and studying molluscan taxonomy and systematics before coming here to work at the Academy. At this rate, I’ll get home when I’m 80.
What does it mean to be a Collections Manager? What is your daily work like?
It means you get to look after one of the world’s great natural history collections, preserving the story of Earth’s biodiversity and making thousands of specimens available for scientific research.
Every day brings different tasks, from using a scanning electron microscope to photograph snail teeth to finding leaks in the roof to designing custom-made storage equipment – often in the same morning.
What do you love most about the collections or working at the Academy?
Not having to wonder whether I do something worthwhile. I sleep well.
You were great co-hosting Mega-Bad Movie Night at the Academy. Had you done live comedy or theater prior?
I like to improvise comedy; I did it in high school, and still enjoy it. If you can’t see the funny side of things, you might as well pack it in. My comedy heroes are Woody Allen and Robin Williams.
You are really into films too?
Yup, though so much of what passes for mainstream cinema today is loud, dumb crap that leaves you deafened and amazed that someone got paid for a plot and script that my kid could have written. Still, there is the occasional gem, even now. Favorite films include The Big Blue, Life of Pi and Master and Commander.
You can speak 3 languages outside of English. What’s the story?
Languages and art were the only things I was good at in school.
I was the only kid in a high school of 750 who wanted to do German in junior year, so I moved to another school where there were two other such kids (out of 1200). My junior and senior German classes were thus four people, including the teacher. We had a blast.
I hated French at first, but came to like it later on, and now wish I was much better at it.
Japanese was necessary, because when I went there I kept wanting to ask “what the hell is this?” in restaurants, but on deeper study it turned out to involve whole different way of seeing things. I still use it today.
What do you love about Philly? Why do you think it’s great to be a geek here?
I like the intimate scale, the great museums and the fact that people live right in the middle; the good food and the variety and diversity of people. Center City is great to walk around and bring people to from abroad.
If there’s anything I don’t like it’s the prices (especially hotels – where do they think this is, Paris?) and the presence of so many cars. Center City should be car-free from, say, South Street to Callowhill and river to river, except for electric cabs on certain roads.
Geeks do well in Philly because pretty well all human life is here.
Reading people’s tattoos on the Patco in August can take up the whole ride.
A car-free Center City would make city biking easier. Have you always liked cycling?
I’ve always had a bike wherever I’ve lived, and still enjoy fixing and building them. As a lad I once rode from London to Bristol on an old gents’ three-speed. These days I’m no Iron Man, but can still ride a decent day’s worth.
Everyone should own their own bikes; I don’t hold with this rent-a-bike scheme, as it doesn’t require people to learn anything or take pride in maintaining their machinery.
I’m part of mighty Team Dinosaur, the Academy’s official team in the American Cancer Society’s Philadelphia Bike-a-thon in June. If you’re not planning on getting cancer, then don’t bother sponsoring us; otherwise, pony up till it hurts. Every little helps, but big helps more. Find Team Dinosaur (link: https://www.facebook.com/TeamDinosaur2015/) on FaceBook!
What do you do for fun?
What else do you geek out over?
Agricultural steam engines, American politics and the writings of Patrick O’Brian.