Hi! Blandine here.
Thanks to the Tilly Edinger Grant, I was able to attend the 2021 SVP (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology) annual meeting. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the event was fully held online, with four days of live broadcasting and meetings on a dedicated platform from the 1st to the 5th of November.
As it was my first time attending a conference, I honestly didn’t know what to expect before taking part in it, apart from getting the chance to learn more on my topics of interest in paleontology (taphonomy, preparation, bone histology, and dinosaur related research) and science communication in an interactive way. I first received via email the abstract list and schedule of the conference, which allowed me to already think about which meetings I wanted to take part in, and what topics interested me the most. Then, I got access to the online platform, made available one week prior to the live conference to give attendees the time to watch, study, and read pre-recorded or uploaded speeches, papers, presentations and posters. In order to make the content available to a wider audience, it was strongly advised by the SVP that presenters provide a script of their presentation/speech, which they almost all did (all live sessions were automatically subtitled as well!). The conference’s website was set up in a similar way as a forum, with each presenter and attendee having a personal profile where they could share their content, research interests and links. It was possible to follow other scientists profiles, in order to get notifications whenever they would post additional content, and everyone could also interact via private messages. The thematic live sessions were organised as the following: one host would introduce each talk/poster one after the other, and anyone could ask questions about them and get direct answers from the author of the presentation or poster. Unfortunately, it felt from time to time that some attendees were not aware they were meant to check out the pre-recorded presentation before the live sessions, and thus very few comments or questions would be asked about some of them.
On the main page of the event were listed the main topics tackled by all presenters. I focused on the content belonging to the following categories: Dinosaur Systematics, Diversity and Biology; Education & Outreach; Non-Avian Theropod Systematics, Biology & Evolution; Preparator’s sessions; Paleohistology & Paleopathology; Biomechanics & Functional Morphology; Taphonomy, Paleoenvironments & Stratigraphy. My favorite talk was by Jasmina Wiemann about how “Molecular composition determines biases in the fossil record of vertebrate soft tissues”, explaining the interactions between mineral phases and organic components during fossilization. Too many times, people focus either on biology or geology, but as this talk reminded the audience, paleontology is a mixture of both!
A Coffee Lounge was included on the platform, allowing attendees to have breaks together and enjoy some time off between live sessions. Unfortunately, due professional schedule conflicts, I could not take part in those breaks.
One section of the main menu was about awards in various categories, one of them being paleoart! I was really happy to see this part of paleontology represented at the conference, because paleoart is definitely helpful when it comes to visualise “in the flesh” animals we study the remnants of, as well as their environment. As many artists study papers before working on their pieces, the representations they make of extinct species are not pure fantasy, but more interpretations of scientific facts.
Regarding the content I could benefit from over the conference, the first day was dedicated to workshops; I attended to the live Zoom-meeting about “Inclusive Science Communication” by Sara Elshafie (@sci_story on Twitter). The presenter taught us through her presentation and small, interactive exercises in breakout rooms how to reflect on inclusivity when it comes to scientific communication. Indeed, it is crucial to consider the public’s struggles, priorities and interests, in order to make information easier to grasp and not exclude anyone from the scientific discourse. Adapting a narrative to the person in front of you should not be a struggle but more of a natural thing, because it takes two to share a story. She also put great emphasis on storytelling, for which she actually does coaching, and how much easier it is to convey a complex idea when it is turned in a small tale/story. I learned a lot through this workshop, and Sara shared with us all documents and resources after the meeting.
Another workshop I watched, related to scientific communication (this time, on record) was about “Optimizing Gathertown for interactive science education” by David Levering. The presenter was giving tips and tricks on how to use and optimize the Gathertown platform in order to create engagement with students and help them learn about geology/paleontology at their own pace in an entertaining way. He explained how his students enjoyed the learning process as they were using the website, and made significant progress while interacting with each other about the content they had to study for.
I think the two workshops definitely were up to date with what our field needs: more inclusivity, more interactive resources and creative ways of sharing science with any audience.
On the next days, from the 2nd to the 5th of November, the live sessions I attended included talks related to dinosaurs, but I specifically enjoyed the preparator’s sessions, in which preparators would explain and share their newly discovered techniques for fossil cleaning/preservation/restauration.
Overall, I enjoyed the SVP virtual conference, and it felt good to see so many people passionate about the same topics and excited about paleontological research. My interactions with the other attendees were quite limited apart from a few private or public questions as I couldn’t attend the networking sessions/coffee breaks due to time difference with the USA and my professional schedule, but I could definitely get to know about people who share the same research interests as me, and learn about so many recent and exciting scientific discoveries!
I would like to thank the Time Scavengers for having allowed me to take part in my first conference ever through the Tilly Edinger travel grant. Hopefully, I’ll be able to attend to one in person soon!