What I Learned From 5 Weeks of Science Communication

Anna here –

As an undergrad wrapping up my first year of college this past spring, I remember sitting in my dorm room with a thermos of hot tea, scanning website after website, asking myself what I was going to do with my summer. At the time, I was about halfway through my first-ever geology class, which had sent me on an earth and climate science kick that inspired most of my searches. Eventually, my professor sent me a link to the TimeScavengers website and internship information page. It seemed like a perfect opportunity – something that would allow me to geek out about science from the comfort of my own home, where I could still spend time with my friends and family. I decided to apply.

Naively, I assumed the internship would be a breeze. Looking back, I’m ashamed of how smug I felt about it – I had grown up hearing people telling me that I was a good writer, and that I was a good scientist, so I imagined that it wouldn’t be that hard to combine the two. Within the first week, I quickly found out I was mistaken. It turned out that there’s likely a reason most scientists aren’t writers, and vice versa: because it is hard. 

For me, the biggest challenge was the time and effort it took to dissect each article to a level where I could rewrite it for others. I remember multiple occasions when I put my highlighter away, thinking I fully understood an article, only to sit in front of an empty Google Doc and realize I had to go back and reread an entire section. I discovered there was a huge difference between understanding something in my brain and putting it in words. (This, of course, was shortly followed by the realization that the understanding locked in my brain was probably not all that complete to begin with). Point being, there’s another layer of insight that comes with trying to explain science, and, as painful as that layer might be to reach, it will definitely be beneficial in the long run.

While nothing about the internship proved impossible, it certainly challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. However, I was also struck by how much easier these processes became over time. In one of my first articles, I remember essentially skipping over a methods section that had too many big, scientific-looking words. The task of sorting through all of them, looking them up, rereading and rewriting seemed too daunting, and my mentors, Sam and Alex, had to explain the whole thing to me. On a more recent article, however, I was able to plow through an equally challenging methods section on my own. I sprawled out at a table at a library nearby, a printed out and highlighted article in front of me, with a notebook on one side and my laptop to look up words with on the other side. It still took quite a while, but it was satisfying in the end to see the improvements I had made over the course of the internship.

In the end, I don’t think my time with TimeScavengers has changed the path I hope to take as a scientist. If anything, the hours reading articles made me realize how much I itched to be out in the field doing my own research, rather than pouring over someone else’s. However, this internship definitely changed my perspective on science communication going forward. It seems to me that anyone who seeks the fancy title of “scientist” should also seek the title of “science communicator.” After all, earth-shattering research is worth nothing if only the researcher themself knows about it – they must be able to convey their findings to everyone else in order for it to make an impact. I also hope to make accessibility a priority in any research that I do in the future, so that aspiring scientists feel encouraged, rather than intimidated, when reading my findings.

4 Things I Learned this Summer about Science, Communicating, and Connecting with Both

By Habiba Rabiu

Science communication has been a part of my life for longer than I could name the concept. I grew up in a family of science lovers, so reading, watching, and listening to science-based publications and entertainment has been something I have enjoyed since early childhood. Interning at Time Scavengers for the summer of 2022 was my first time creating science content in a professional capacity. It was a challenging and rewarding experience to be on the other side of the words. I learned a lot about myself and what science communication meant to me, namely:

  • There are many ways to be a science communicator, from creating short-form content on social media to writing policy. All of those levels are important, and more people than ever are needed on all platforms producing and distributing clear, accurate information. There are endless avenues to explore with science communication, one only needs to be inspired to pursue them.
  • As necessary as it is, summarizing research articles and studies in an easily consumable way is not a simple task! At times it felt like I was translating from a language I wasn’t entirely fluent in. It was constantly necessary for me to remind myself of what my intention was with every piece I wrote: to make the information interesting, relatable, and concise. That helped me to focus on the core of the information and organize it in a way that did justice to the source material while still being accessible to those who may not be experts in the subject matter.
  • Not all science news and articles have to be shocking and dazzling. As wonderful as new discoveries are, there can be just as much impact in reinforcing simple, close-to-home ideas. Proof that a hot desert is slowly but surely getting hotter is not what most people would consider exciting news, but it’s the job of a science communicator to express why information like that is just as if not more significant as the discovery of a new exoplanet.
  • Communication is lost without consideration. While there is a time for jargon and complicated graphics, as certain ideas can only be expressed in a technical manner, care should be taken when trying to reach the masses that everyone has different levels of ability, understanding, and education. Choosing to communicate science means choosing to share information that affects everyone. Part of the job is ensuring that everyone gains as much as possible from what is being shared. Accessibility and diversity are as important to the dissemination of science communication as clarity and precision are to writing it. It is worth the extra time and words to make sure that a key term is explained thoroughly, or the alternative text of a graph gives accurate values.

Writing for Time Scavengers gave me skills and insight that I will use throughout my education and career. I had a great time, am thrilled to have been a part of it, and can’t wait to use what I learned to make the world a more informed place. 

Finding Connection in Science – the Heart of SciComm

By Makayla Palm

I have changed a lot since I began my journey into sci-comm. While I do attribute some of it to post-high school maturity, I think pursuing sci-comm has helped me become more empathetic, a better listener, and it has helped me reframe my focus to hone in on connections with others. My goal in this essay is to share a bit of that journey with you. 

I remember being taught that science was objective, and implicitly learned to take the human-ness out of science. The science came first: if someone wanted to interject their own experiences or feelings into the science, but it should be treated separately from the science.Science, especially the science that deals with the history of the Earth, can feel contentious for people. The history of our planet ultimately says something about our origins, and people have very strong opinions about the implications for those origins. The mystery of origins, about us, earth, and life itself is what got me interested in geology–it keeps me awake at night, wondering how all of these big ideas connect. I realized about five years into my thought journey that I was thinking through all of this the wrong way. Having attended scientific conferences and now wrapping up the Time Scavengers virtual internship, I know how important it is to strive for connection with others rooted in the personal, especially in science.

I have always enjoyed writing and telling stories, and because of how I learned science (i.e., how I thought you had to separate the facts from the emotions), I thought these things were mutually exclusive. I took my writing and geology classes and did not think much of it until I met my geology advisor. In the beginning of the semester, she described geology as being a storyteller, with the privilege of being able to learn more about the world around us. Especially during the pandemic, she made efforts to get us to see local geology in (socially distanced) outings. Ultimately, she wanted us to know we all had voices, and that we had the ability to tell these stories to others. She helped me understand how important it was to promote diversity and how integral connection with others was to doing good science. 

This changed my perspective quite a lot because before this,  I spent my time learning to build walls. I had a lot of people walk out on me or lose my trust. I desperately wanted to make connections, but it felt like it was getting more and more difficult. Being raised in a politically and religiously conservative environment did not help this attitude, especially as a science major. With a conservative Christian background, I was sharpening my swords for the secular institutions that I was told would try to snatch my faith from me with their long ages and fossils. Since graduating and stepping into the academic field, I realized what I learned all those years ago couldn’t be further from the truth- science and faith don’t have to be mutually exclusive at all. Meeting with my advisor and talking with her about my background helped me realized I could blend my knack for storytelling and my desire for connections with my love for geology

The Time Scavengers Internship was something I excitedly took on because I wanted to learn more about sci-comm while earning some summer cash. What I did not expect was to learn from people who have made an impact in science communication and hear their personal stories. This was a unique opportunity for me to see that I can blend my passions for studying origins, philosophy and religion with my enthusiasm for science. The first speaker, Riley Black, is my sci-comm hero. Her book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, was a huge part in my realization that science and storytelling can intertwine. The second speaker, Dr. Liz Hare, talked about accessibility and making figures/images/graphs interpretable for people who cannot see them. Her overarching theme of accessibility was really insightful because it points to a role of connection that is overlooked by people who are not disabled. Another speaker, Priya Shukla, spoke about embracing our individual pasts and experiences because they can deepen the meanings of our scientific work. This was affirming to me, as I have always been hesitant to share my religious background in a scientific setting. I want to embrace my unique position and hopefully be helpful to those who may also be navigating similar journeys. The more I am in the academic/scientific community, the more I see people who want to connect with others, and I am learning to be more vulnerable in sharing my story. The more I have learned to let down the walls of protection, the more connection I’ve been able to have with others and learn from them. 

Science writers, professors, and content creators these days all punctuate the same point: science is for everyone, and we can connect with each other through it, a shift that I think is a positive move for the community. Our stories matter and the science we are interested in and want to pursue is affected by our past, the culture we live in, and how we see the world around us. Science is not objective because people carry their experiences with them, and understanding this idea allows “doing science” to reach further depths than the raw numbers or data would by themselves. 

Since learning to become a better science communicator, my goal is to help others enjoy science and see the stories it offers us about ourselves, how we got here, and what we can learn about our past. Learning to see science communication as a way to connect with people brings a richness and unifying feeling, that we can begin to understand something bigger than all of us. 

A woman in her early twenties is sitting at a desk, wearing black-rimmed glasses and holding a journal that says “I dig it”, with an ichthyosaur on the cover. She has mid-length brown hair, an Allosaurus tattoo on her right arm, an ammonite tattoo on her left, and she is confidently smiling at the camera.

“What I learned” Article

By Michael Hallinan

Science has been a consistently developing field, with tons of new finds, new scientists, and a general increase in how many people are involved and engaged with the discipline. However, my undergraduate peers and I have found that effective communication is an often underdeveloped skill within science. We spend so much time learning calculus, learning physics, learning about environmental systems, yet never seem to spend much learning how to effectively share what we learn with others.

As of 2022, I’m entering my second year of undergraduate studies, and I’ve already seen the aforementioned communication divide as I share what I learn with family and friends. I entered science because I found the developments in biotechnology to be super interesting and to have great potential to better our world. However, science isn’t exclusive to scientists. There are policymakers, governments, educators, stakeholders, voters, and tons of other people who need to engage and interact with science, and often cannot because of the language and lack of accessibility regarding scientific research. As a result, I still want to pursue research in biotechnology, but I want much of my work to center open communication and accessibility within science. 

Thankfully, I was offered an internship with the Time Scavengers organization, and was granted the opportunity to further develop my communication skills through practice and learning opportunities. Weekly, me and the other interns got to hear a variety of scientists of various backgrounds teach about different factors of communications, which was an amazing opportunity. The major topics covered were effective storytelling, identities’ role in communication, effective teaching methods, accessibility, and compromise. However, although each of these topics was spoken on, there was so much more with each presenter having a unique background and journey into communications.

Besides these presentations, I also could practice communication through summarizing scientific research on topics from as broad as chimpanzee communication to global water evaporation with varying degrees of challenge. It was through this work that I truly realized how essential science communications work is. Much of the research I read through used jargon or failed to explain concepts or methods in a way that someone outside of the subjects’ field would understand. This meant that with most of the research I read through, to even understand a page, there was a lot of additional research and dictionary searching that had to be done. If I can’t understand their work without lots of additional effort, how can we expect those without a science background to do so? This was the biggest challenge I felt my experience within this internship helped bridge. 

Each article presented a unique challenge of learning something brand new and learning all the language and nuance to a degree where I could communicate that information to others. This was by far the most challenging part of the internship, but luckily, I had a lot of help. Every week I’d write about two articles summarizing papers I had chosen on a variety of topics. Sometimes this was a pretty straightforward process, but more often the not required the aforementioned searching and struggling to understand. After I finished this, though, I’d sent my article off to my mentor and we could discuss and edit. I got a lot of really useful tips about writing, especially having another perspective on my work. I think the most helpful information I got was just trying to be simple. A lot of writing, both academic and artistic, encourages high-level vocabulary or complex ways of communicating things. Which sometimes is valuable and arguably necessary, but for accessibility is not always the best. Many of the challenges in my writing were related to this either in complex words or structure that could be easily simplified down to something else. This not only makes it easier for non-native English speakers but also maybe those who are not as familiar with academic writing or the topic to understand. It seems like such basic advice, but really being simple when appropriate is so valuable, and something writers might not consider because of the culture around writing. 

In addition to this advice, within both my written articles and the presentations, there was a general focus on how to better connect with a variety of audiences. Sometimes this meant trying to use comparisons or more ordinary language to reach others, and sometimes it meant including more of yourself or relevant applications of your work to allow the audience to engage more with the topic. This type of discussion was something I hadn’t really engaged much with and felt as if there were so many perspectives that got to share and be heard in this experience, both intern and expert alike.

Furthermore, I think it’s really important to acknowledge a lot of the direct and indirect discussion on accessibility that went on. Besides language and comprehension accessibility, there was an amazing presentation on alt text. Although I’ve heard of alt text, I never really knew how to properly put it into my work, what its true value is, and what makes good alt text. These things were touched on and discussed, and I could practice creating alt text for each of my articles. This meant describing images or graphs and really focusing on what information is being communicated through visual means, as well as how to explain that in full value to someone who is using a screen reader. For graphs, this meant describing the type of graph, variables, general structure, and any other important information. While for pictures, this meant explaining things like the perspective, the context, color, or any other important visual cues and information needed to properly create meaningful alt text. This forced me to really think about how to analyze what information is portrayed through visual means both directly and indirectly, later converting this into written information. This is going to be imperative to my future work and really opened my eyes more in terms of digital accessibility.

Overall, this internship was an extremely valuable opportunity. I not only got to engage and practice communicating challenging topics, but I also got to hear from so many perspectives and other amazing scientists. Each of the interns, presenters, and mentors all had something to contribute and expanded my view on what science communication is. Science communication isn’t just for National Geographic Writers, it’s not just for podcasts hosts, it’s something all scientists, both writing-focused and non-writing focused, should consider developing skills in. It’s in the way we describe a figure, in the way we share our findings with policymakers, it’s in the way we describe our job positions to others. Science communication is all around us, and to ineffectively communicate in science is to lessen the value of your work. This opportunity brought a lot of practice and new ideas to my writing, and I hope to continue to use these in all facets of my work in the future, as well as encourage others to think more critically about the way we communicate even if it’s not the core of their work. 

Lian’s Geological Society of America Meeting Experience

Hi, it’s Lian!

This year, I attended the Geological Society of America (GSA)’s national conference, known as GSA Connects. This conference is the largest one hosted by the organization, and thousands of people attended. It took place in Denver, Colorado at the Colorado Convention Center and ran for several days. 

At the conference, I gave an oral presentation in the “Future Leaders in Paleontology” session, which was very exciting! I talked about my senior thesis that investigated blastoid morphology  by studying their underlying skeletal components. The session was hosted by the Paleontological Society, and took place on the first day of the conference. Several of my friends and colleagues also gave oral presentations in the same session, so it was a fun environment to be in.

Before my presentation, the group of people that I attended the conference with and I were able to practice together at the hotel. We would go around and practice our talks while sharing helpful tips and tricks. I really enjoyed being able to practice in a calm and casual environment and felt like it helped ease my nerves.

Logo for the conference. To the left there are two incomplete circles one nested within the other with a dot on each line. The text reads: The Geological Society of America. Connects 2022. 9-12 October, Denver, Colorado, USA & Online Everywhere
Conference logo and website.

Outside of my oral presentation, I also contributed to several posters that were being presented in various sessions. The timing of my presentation and the posters didn’t overlap, so I was able to stop by and visit the presenters and talk to visitors who were interested in the research. 

The conference also had an exhibition hall, where numerous organizations, companies, and schools had booths. There was a lot of free stuff available- I collected a lot of pens and stickers! I was also able to learn about masters programs at different universities in addition to internship opportunities. The exhibition hall was nice because I was able to talk to a real person who represented a larger company or organization that I was interested in instead of just reading their website.

Overall, attending the national GSA conference was extremely beneficial and fun. I would highly recommend attending a national conference. I was able to expand my professional network by meeting with current professors and researchers. I was also able to learn about current research being done in so many different fields. It was amazing to hear about what everyone is up to! One tip that I would have for anyone interested in attending a conference would be to make a calendar of all of the talks/presentations that you want to attend beforehand so you don’t miss out on anything! Having an agenda was super helpful and also took a lot of the stress out of my days, especially because many of the talks run concurrently. 

Meet the Museum: Munkácsy Mihály Múzeum

Narrow hallway with lights indicating different years, open doorway at the end of the hallway. Lights are bars that start as blue near the front and become pink.
Figure 1. The exhibition begins with a little time travel…

Linda here – 

During a recent trip to Hungary I visited the paleontological and archeological exhibition of the Munkácsy Mihály Múzeum in Békéscsaba, in the south east of Hungary. The museum is named after Mihály Munkácsy, a Hungarian painter of the 19th century. The majority of the museum focuses on art, but there are many other exhibitions, especially covering Hungarian history — and that of course begins with paleontology. They first show some of the extinct fauna of Hungary before moving on to showcase the extant wildlife and local prehistoric archeology, namely Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and so on.

Black display background and a white line indicating change through time with different markers signifying events.
Figure 2. .. and then introduces guests to the concept of deep time by showcasing the geologic time scale together with the evolution of major taxonomic groups and important events.

After traveling back in time through a neon coloured tunnel (Fig. 1), the museum shows the geologic time scale (Fig. 2) so that guests can get a feeling for it and understand how long ago different events took place. The entire exhibition, including this time scale, is in Hungarian and there are no English explanations, but I used a translator app and that worked very well. 

Next, we see small fossils from different periods and epochs, such as leaves and a fish from the Oligocene (Fig. 3), before a larger section showcases the Pleistocene megafauna of Hungary, including the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius; Fig. 4), aurochs (Bos primigenius), and giant elk (Megaloceros giganteus). 

Museum exhibit with a small plaque at the bottom of the image with information related to the specimens. Leaf fossil is on the left and the fish fossils are on the right.
Figure 3. Unidentified Oligocene leaves and fish.
Image of museum exhibit with the lower left having a plaque with details about the three specimens displayed in the case. top left specimen is part of a pelvis, to the right is a molar, and then the bottom right is a complete mandible with teeth intact.
Figure 4. A tooth, lower jaw and hip fragment of the woolly mammoth found in Hungary.

An interactive map is projected on a large Hungary-shaped table and shows a variety of environmental parameters and how they have changed throughout time, such as where the major Hungarian rivers Danube and Tisza were during the Pleistocene  (Fig. 5). 

Museum exhibit that is a projected map onto a table. The map is upside down in this image with some one pointing at feature on the map
Figure 5. Visitors explore the interactive map that shows the course of the large Hungarian rivers during the Pleistocene in red, and the modern course in blue. This allows local guests to understand the prehistoric landscape of their country much better.

After establishing what the environment looked like in the past, the museum also includes a small zoological section showing extant wildlife which was already present in the area at the time. They exhibit species that live together in the same habitat together in the same display (Fig. 6), which really makes it possible to imagine the ecology of the area. 

Museum exhibit with a black base. There are several taxidermy animals of the local fauna in a glass case.
Figure 6. Species currently living in the Hungarian forests, such as the eurasian badger (front; Meles meles) which evolved during the middle Pleistocene.

Once the Pleistocene environment and fauna have been established, the exhibition continues with its archeological section and showcases tools and ceramics (Fig. 7) of the prehistoric population that settled here during the early Holocene. Later on, the exhibition also includes weapons, tools and other objects created by people during the Iron Age, as well as by the Celtics and Scythians, by Romans, by medieval people and during more modern history. 

Exhibit with a black background and different ceramic vessels including pots, goblets, bowls, all in a tan color. Some are mounted on small shelves on the wall.
Figure 7. Examples of the ceramic vessels made by the prehistoric people of the area.

Overall the paleontological exhibition is very small since this is just a fraction of the entire museum, but nonetheless it is very modern and uses up to date methods to introduce their visitors to new concepts and ideas. I really liked how they have merged the geologic time scale and the local paleoenvironments into their country’s history and decided to showcase it all together in the correct order of events. I highly recommend a visit! 

2022 Virtual Internship Program in Science Communication

The 2022 Virtual Internship Program in Science Communication was spearheaded by Committee Chair, Sarah Sheffield. The Committee included Linda K. Dämmer, Sam Ocon, Alex Favaro, Kristina Barclay, Adriane Lam, and Jen Bauer. The program was intended to be approximately 5 weeks long and the interns were expected to produce 10 blog posts each.

Funding for this year’s program was provided by the Paleontological Society, Geological Society of America, and the Western Interior Paleontological Society. This funding was mainly used to pay the interns and to provide an honorarium for the guest speakers, with none of the funding going to the committee, the mentors, or the Time Scavengers organization.

We had five guest speakers who specialize in different aspects of science communication, with each talking about different aspects of science communication:

  1. Riley Black is a self described fossil-fanatic and the author of a number of very popular paleontology- focused scicomm books such as “My Beloved Brontosaurus” and “Written In Stone”. Riley talked about her experience with navigating the popular science publishing world and gave the interns very insightful tips on finding and identifying exciting stories to write about. Learn more about Riley on her website.
  2. Liz Hare is a quantitative geneticist who focuses much of her work on learning more about dog genetics. Liz is an expert on using alt-text for scientific images since she is blind. Therefore she taught the interns what is required to describe images efficiently to make scientists’ work more accessible to people with visual impairments or other people who use a screen reader. Learn more about Liz on her website.
  3. Priya Shukla, a Ph.D. Candidate at UC Davis, is studying how climate change affects shellfish aquaculture operations within the coastal ocean. Priya spent a lot of time discussing with the interns the importance of thinking about your own identity and including bits and pieces of it in your science communication efforts. Bringing in your identity to scicomm makes it easier for the readers to form a personal connection to you and the topic, making it more likely for them to get excited about the content. Learn more about Priya on her website.
  4. Kelsey Leonard is a water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert, writer, and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. Kelsey’s work focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings for our shared sustainable future. She discussed getting involved with informing political and governmental agencies about relevant research results, but also about the importance of making sure local people are aware of research concerning their environment. Learn more about Kesley on her website.
  5. Edith Carolina Rojas is a professor at College of the Desert. She discussed how to efficiently break down complicated concepts and showed us which of her classroom teaching strategies can be applied to other forms of science communication. She also focussed on how to make science communication more accessible to non-native English speakers.

The committee received 24 applications and we had enough funding to support 4 interns, with an additional intern auditing the program and writing posts. Applications were ranked based on: lack of previous opportunities, interest, and values that aligned with the Time Scavengers mission. If you would like to see the rubric we used to rank the applicants, please reach out! Over the next few weeks you will be seeing all of the intern posts from the internship program released here on the website using the tag #VIPSciComm. The five 2022 VIPSciComm interns are listed below. Click on their image or caption to read all of their posts!

Habiba Rabiu
Makayla Palm
Anna Geldert

 

 

Michael Hallinan
Blair Stuhlmuller

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 2021 Annual Meeting & their Paleobiology Database Workshop

Ibrahim here – 

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is an organization with a goal of advancing science in the field of vertebrate paleontology worldwide. It was founded in the United States in 1940 and consists of approximately 2,300 members internationally. Every year SVP arranges an annual meeting with vertebrate paleontologists, writers, students, artists, and fossil preparators to share the latest research techniques, opportunities, workshops and also includes a prize giving ceremony. 

In 2021 I was lucky enough and won the Tilly Edinger travel grant of the Time Scavengers to attend The 81th annual meeting of Society of vertebrate paleontology (SVP). In 2020 it was my dream to attend the SVP annual meeting and the next year my wish was fulfilled, for this I especially thank the Time Scavengers team for providing me this opportunity. 

Due to Covid-19 the SVP annual meet has been held on an online platform since 2020 otherwise it would have occurred physically. Consequently I attended the 2021 online meet and it was quite easy and comfortable to attend . The event was held from 1st to 5th November and the virtual platform website became available from 25th October. The virtual platform had a simplified page by which one can easily click and view and attend the meeting they want. The talks , Romer prize and posters were recorded and uploaded on that site. Only networking sessions were done live. From the recorded talks I listened to the talk of Albert Chen et al. about phylogenetics insights from the pectoral girdle and forelimb skeleton of crown birds.

The coffee break session was interesting. The Remo app worked like a virtual hall room where anyone can walk around and have a sit and can talk to each other. 

On November 1st I attended the Paleobiology Database Workshop on Zoom, it was guided by professional group leaders (Mark D. Uhen, Evan Vlachos, Matthew Carrano, Pat Holroyd). It was my first time to visualize data from a systematic database. I enjoyed it very much as they were very helpful to show how to use the data from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). PBDB is an online resource that includes data on fossil occurrences all over the globe. It is a community resource that is added to daily by scientists from around the world. The most iconic of the PBDB website was the navigator, where fossil discoveries are represented by dots in map view. If someone wants to study the fossil record of a taxa over chronological order it is also possible to view and collect data. It can show the diversity plotted on the map overtime. 

More data can be accessible if someone is an approved user. Everyone in the workshop was an approved user. The benefit of an approved user is that one can add data on the website. “Taxonomic name search form” can help to find out necessary data about a taxa and from where you can download the whole database about the taxa in Microsoft Excel file. Another helpful feature of the PBBD is you can find images from a ePanda API system of your required data to retrieve images from the iDigBio system. 

As a student of Geology with a great attraction to vertebrate fauna (especially dinosaurs), I enjoyed the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting and would love to join an in person meeting in future if I get an opportunity.

Benjamin’s 2021 American Geophysical Union Experience

This year’s AGU Fall meeting rotated to New Orleans, probably the most unique of any of the cities that AGU takes place in. We were met at the airport by a band organised by the meeting, and took the bus to mid city where I stayed. When I left Montreal there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground which was quickly turning to ice, but I did not want to bring my coat along and was ready for the respite of mid twenty degrees before I had even left, and indeed some months before. I registered at the conference centre, 1 hour’s walk at the same pace as the charming trams down Canal Street, and looked around the halls and grabbed a spare mask. It was strange to see some people at the conference not wearing one. It was chilly inside and I was glad I had brought a jumper. 

Benjamin in the foreground with a band playing in the background at the airport.
Greeted at the airport by a band

I attended a nice mix of talks and was glad that my oral presentation was in the middle of the week so it was not looming over me the entire time as it had in the past. However it was at 8 am on Wednesday morning and I wondered about the turn out for a mid-week early morning session. AGU is a long week with late nights and a lot of walking and talking. The room was small and had about 25 people in it. I think that conferences are still trying out different formats of presentations and I was surprised to find out that the format was a set of 5-minute overview followed by a free for all of questions, although being able to ask questions online is advantageous as more people can participate. I thought that everyone would have watched the 15-minute longer presentations but I’m not sure that everyone had, and I received one question. It felt a little disheartening but I think poster sessions are better for questions and feedback, and I brought some printouts of my data to discuss and refer to at the poster all in a kind of mini-poster session. The overview talks in my session were very interesting, and it was a hybrid session so there were both in-person and zoom overview talks given. 

New Orleans street that Benjamin walked on the commute to the conference venue. Street is lined with vehicles and shows row houses.
Views on my hours commute to the conference centre

Because of covid it seemed less social or less easy to approach people, and it was also difficult to tell who was who and to get close enough to read name badges and still politely maintain 2 metres distance. In the past the lanyard colour indicated which broader grouping of sessions you were part of, but this year indicated what level of comfort the participant had with social distancing. I find that conferences are always quite solitary and involve trekking back and forth to different interesting talks, looking for somebody to connect with. This year I signed up to host a queer networking pod in the poster hall after my talk. I rushed there to find a whole group of people, more than had been in attendance at my session, chatting and getting to know one another. There was a pod from 9.30-10.30 am each day and I think it is a great way of starting each conference day having had a chance to connect with someone new, as well as colleagues from previous years. This is especially nice and welcoming for first-time attendees, and I overheard people sharing advice and tips about navigating such a large conference, and telling each other about networking events that they had not heard about. One of these events was the ACQ Networking Meet-up on the Thursday evening where the organisers had managed to secure funding to cover refreshments for all of the attendees. They did a wonderful job organising it even though double the number of people anticipated turned up. This was a chance to get to know people a bit better than during the quick zipping around at the convention centre. AGU has different official networking events that you can sign up for but others are word of mouth. In the past I heard about ACQ by chance but this year it was part of the official program, and was advertised on Twitter, so the turn out was excellent. I met a lot of people and promised to visit them at their poster sessions. I learnt a lot, made links with my own research, and met many new people. It was a pleasure to be able to visit New Orleans, a beautiful city full of history and of life, and I also met many local people outside of the conference. My impression is that people are happy that people are visiting, and businesses are happy to have conferences like AGU take place, but there is also a sense of anger about gentrification taking place in the city.  I am very glad to have been able to visit and experience the conference and New Orleans, and returned to Montréal feeling very satisfied. 

Park in New Orleans with a focus on a water management system to mitigate flooding
Water management projects in parks

 

Below are some links to read more about gentrification in New Orleans:

 

Brittany’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2021 Recap

Brittany here – 

In December of 2021 I was able to attend the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, my first in-person conference in the last two years, thanks in part to Time Scavengers Tilly Edinger Travel Grant. This was the first AGU Fall meeting presented in a hybrid format, with sessions accessible to those who attended in person, as well as those who chose not to, or could not travel to attend. As the completion of my PhD studies is fast approaching, I saw attending in person to be a beneficial experience for my continued growth as an early career scientist.

AGU 2021 logo

This year’s fall meeting was different in other aspects than just going hybrid. AGU prioritized safety measures for those attending in person. Masks were to be worn at all times while inside the conference hall, and proof of vaccination needed to be submitted to attend. It was the first meeting where I have experienced an outside coffee hour, which provided a means of social distancing while still getting a much-needed hot drink. Treats local to New Orleans were also served, such as beignets and bread pudding. More importantly, AGU used a new format for oral sessions, where a longer format talk was uploaded to the meeting portal for attendees to watch in advance, and a shorter format talk was presented live during the hosted session. While this format did not appeal to all, it did provide a more equal opportunity for posing questions to the presenters via the mobile app. In this manor session chairs were able to promote engagement between the audience and the presenters, with a much larger diversity of questions being submitted.

A few of the sessions I particularly enjoyed included: Human Responses to Late Quaternary Paleoenvironmental Change, Novel Applications and Technique Advances of Cosmogenic Nuclides, Advancing Research on the Hydroclimate of South America, and Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) to name a few. As I have been a participant in Northern Illinois Universities URGE pod I was very interested to see how other pods from different universities and colleges across the nation were tackling systemic barriers to those traditionally excluded from the geosciences, and particularly how these issues were being addressed in different sized departments. I really enjoyed watching the panel presentation hosted by members of the URGE leadership team and seeing the changes that so many departments across the country have been able to achieve in only a year. In the associated poster session, it was simultaneously encouraging and frustrating to see that many pods from similarly sized departments as my own often ran into the same issues my pod had experienced in the preceding year. 

A returning feature from previous meetings that I found engaging were the eLightning presentations. In these sessions presenters had three minutes to give an overview of their research, after which attendees were able to circulate amongst the presentations from the session, discussing aspects of the research presented while being able to interact with the presentations on touch screens. One particular presentation where I chatted with the presenter extensively involved computed tomography (CT) scans from soft sediment cores collected from around Antarctica. As I employ the same technique for portions of my own research, I was interested in hearing their experience with the processing software, as well as what other potential complimentary proxies could be used to further assess the data. 

To me, one of the most important facets to attending conferences is the accessibility to connect and network with other scientists. During the pandemic I joined an early career reading group focusing on cosmogenic nuclides, and this meeting provided an opportunity for many of us to gather for the first time. I truly enjoyed meeting these individuals who I had only ever shared a zoom screen with. What made the experience even more fruitful was getting to attend their presentations during the meeting and see how they were applying cosmogenic nuclides to solve various questions involving ice sheet dynamics, geomorphology and even human migration patterns. Furthermore, attending AGU provided a prime opportunity to sit down with collaborators to discuss various projects, as well as meet up with potential post-doctoral mentors. 

My presentation was hosted in the Friday afternoon poster session, a notoriously under attended time spot. As in person attendance was much lower than previous AGU fall meetings, the sheer size of the poster hall made it feel rather empty. However, this made for the unusual opportunity to visit the other posters in my session (Changes and Impacts of Climate Variability in South America II), and see other scientific work being done across the Andes and beyond. The work I presented represented the first chapter from my dissertation and a paper that has since been submitted for peer review. Within, we presented the first Chlorine-36 ages of late-Holocene moraines from the South-Central Chilean Andes to compare the timing of southern hemisphere mid-latitude glacial variability with low and high latitude regions. These data were coupled with a tree-ring chronology and are interpreted to represent progressive phases of glacial retreat over the late-Holocene. Additionally, we modeled an envelope of possible forcing parameters based on the location of these glacial moraines and the chronology of glacial abandonment. These results suggest that local glacial fluctuations are sensitive to variability of both temperature and precipitation. 

Brittany standing at her AGU poster in the conference poster hall
Brittany, a woman with brown hair in a green dress, is pictured next to her poster presentation titled “Chlorine-36 Surface Exposure Dating and Glacial Sensitivity Analysis of late-Holocene Moraines, South-Central Chilean Andes (38°S).” (photo credit: Mary Sorensen).

While the AGU fall meeting may have had a fraction of its normal in person attendance, the science presented was just as rigorous, exciting, and motivating as I have grown accustomed to!