The Geological Society of America has section meetings in addition to the large annual meeting. These are separated out by regions, so here in Tennessee, we are in the Southeastern section. Each year a different institution takes the lead on hosting, planning, and executing the meeting. This means that there is a ‘chair’ that oversees all others and has to get faculty and students to help run the meeting.
Some of the faculty in our department played roles in coordinating volunteers, field trips, exhibits, the presentations, sponsors, and finances. That’s a lot of different jobs and a lot of work! In order to get registration covered, many of the graduate students in the department volunteered to help run the event. This included tasks such as helping people with registration, or upload their talks, or being present in the session rooms in case something went wrong. All of these are rather simple tasks, but really vital for a well- functioning meeting. I helped with registration the night the meeting started and then again at 6:30 AM the next morning. I also don’t drive in town so I was biking in and out each day; needless to say I was exhausted by the end of the meeting.
In addition to volunteering at the event, I was helping three students prepare, and preparing a talk myself! Maggie and I have been co-advising Audrey, who has been working on developing lesson plans around digital models of microfossils! She gave a talk on these microfossils during SE GSA! This meant we prepared and practiced a talk for the two weeks before SE GSA happened. Practicing talks helps you remember what you want to say and get comfortable in a professional talk setting. There are often podiums so you can’t move freely and you can’t always move toward the screen so you have to get comfortable with a laser pointer!
Logan was also gave a talk during the meeting on her own research. I’ve been working with her on using two different methods to reconstruct internal anatomy of fossil echinoderms. One method involves cutting the specimen up into tiny pieces, and the other part of her research includes using fancy X-ray imaging to see the differences in mineral density within the specimen. The X-ray imaging does not destroy the specimens, which is a big perk. However, fossil echinoderms have calcite skeletons and the sediment that fills inside their bodies is the same mineral, so the density differences are quite minor. Logan and Audrey both picked times the two weeks before to practice in front of Maggie and I. Each time they improved and we provided them with feedback!
Chris was presenting a poster, so a little less stressful but he did have to field questions for about two hours. His work was on uncovering specimens that were less than 5 mm in height to aid in our understanding of blastoid growth! It’s really cool because there are two differently shaped blastoids from this same location and you can see the differences in shape all the way down to specimens smaller than ¼ mm. We practiced presenting his poster several times before the meeting. Once was on a big projector where he pointed out his work to us and then several more times once his poster was printed.
Everyone did incredibly well presenting their work at SE GSA! Regional conferences are a really great starting conference for young scientists because there is typically less than 1,000 people in attendance. The larger annual GSA meetings include upwards of 8,000 people. That’s overwhelming! So, after I made sure the undergraduate students were feeling confident with their work, I was able to start my talk. I took a portion of my dissertation and went into more detail on specific aspects of the project and how it related back to Paleozoic echinoderms in general. I only had a few days to prepare my talk so I didn’t have much time to really practice or even write a script but it went well! Since I have more experience presenting, I made the right choice in focusing more on the undergraduates’ experience at SE GSA.