Charlotte Hohman’s GSA Connects Experience

Charlotte holding conference name tag for GSA

This year, I attended my first National Geological Society of America meeting, now called GSA Connects. It ran several days from October 10th — 13th, and over 3,000 people attended, representing many different subsets of geology and related fields. There was a virtual option, but I attended the in-person conference hosted in Portland, Oregon, at the Oregon Convention Center. There were talks, posters, and a plethora of booths from different schools and organizations, along with many different networking opportunities provided by the Geological Society itself.

My poster was accepted and assigned to the advances in paleontology session on Wednesday the 13th, but I did attend the whole duration of the conference. Although I am a Montana State University undergraduate student, the research I presented was in association with the Western Science Center (WSC) in Hemet, California. The WSC had a booth at the conference, which I helped out at. They were speaking on their broader impacts initiative, where they give researchers the ability to do outreach about their own research by having an exhibit at the WSC.

I was also attending the conference as a student ambassador for the Paleontological Society. I worked at the society’s booth during the conference, speaking with professionals and students about the journals, scholarships, and conference opportunities available through society memberships. At the booth, I was able to speak to Paleo Society mentors and other student ambassadors about my plans and struggles within the field and was able to get feedback and suggestions on how to continue to successfully move forward within the field.

Charlotte preparing a Lake Elsinore specimen

As I mentioned, there were also professional resources provided by the Geological Society— one of the resources that I took advantage of was the CV and resume reviews. I am a junior in college at the moment and am starting to look at summer internships. Many applications require a CV, so I brought mine in for a review. I got some very helpful feedback on how to improve the formatting, have worked on it some more, and am quite happy with how it’s been turning out.

Many schools also had booths at the conference. I plan on going to grad school, so being able to speak to school representatives and current students was extremely helpful. I am still working out if I want to do a master’s or apply straight to Ph.D. programs after finishing my bachelor’s, so seeing what is available and having those conversations makes me feel like I’ll be able to make a more informed choice.

I was also able to attend talks related to the research I’m doing at Montana State University, which focuses on dromaeosaurid dinosaurs. Due to the pandemic, in-person conferences and museum visits were largely put on hold, and I was not able to meet with other people working on the same family of animals. The conference finally provided that opportunity, and I was able to discuss my research in detail and receive constructive feedback. The feedback I received allowed me to ask questions about my own project that I otherwise may not have thought of and has given me many ideas on how to evaluate and strengthen my claims.

Charlotte doing a livestream about her poster before the session begins.

As I stated earlier, however, the work I was presenting at the conference was not my university research, but rather the work I’ve done in association with the Western Science Center. The focus of my presentation was the disappearance of megafaunal animals in Southern California during the end Pleistocene (Ice Age) extinctions with a focus on horses. Horses disappeared from California at or near the end of the Pleistocene, along with most other large mammals— but the order of disappearance of the large mammals in the Southern California region isn’t well documented. Lake Elsinore is a naturally occurring lake in Riverside County, California. During the 2017-2019 excavations of a housing development in Lake Elsinore, numerous fossils were exposed by mitigation company VCS Environmental. These finds included large mammals, small animals, invertebrates, and wood. The site dates to around 14,600 — 14,800 years before present. The fossils are consistent with other Late Pleistocene fossil assemblages from Southern California, with the large mammal bones belonging to camels, bison, and mastodons— but no horses! This is extremely odd— Its absence is likely not due to habitat preference, as horse fossils are found in abundance across many different Southern California sites, from the Mojave desert to the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Its absence from Lake Elsinore is likely not due to a sampling bias because of the number of well-preserved fossils recovered from the site. My co-author Dr. Alton Dooley and I suggest that the absence of horses could be perhaps attributed to the start of their disappearance happening before the extinction of mastodons and camels and the disappearance of bison from Southern California.

Charlotte doing photogrammetry to build a 3D model of a Lake Elsinore specimen

I was grateful for all the people that stopped by and listened, and I had multiple constructive conversations with other scientists. I was able to speak to other paleontologists, several geologists, and even a geoarchaeologist. These conversations allowed me to discuss multiple aspects of the site, which I found incredibly helpful.

This was by far the largest conference I had ever been to, and although all the people and interactions could be a bit overwhelming at times, I learned so much about possible paths in the field, made good connections, and am excited to continue working on my research both at the university, the museum, and in the future in general.

Annual Meeting of the German Geological Society

Iris here –

The annual meeting of the German Geological Society (Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft Geologische Vereinigung (DGGV)) was hosted by the city of Karlsruhe in 2021. Like many other conferences in the last two years, it was held online. At online conferences it is particularly difficult to have fun get-togethers and to participate in casual conversation. At GeoKarlsruhe 2021, some social events were organized that helped to make the conference more lively.

Firstly, there was the well-organized icebreaker on Sunday. Within the online platform “wonder” a nice room was prepared with several spaces and activities. Among them a pub quiz, a video space, a music space and individual spaces to meet. The pub quiz was quite entertaining and there were small prizes to be won. Sadly, I did not win a prize 😉. The video about an excursion to Oman was very cool and increased my interest to visit the region myself. Overall, the icebreaker was a great opportunity to talk to attendees in advance in small groups or individually.

The conference itself offered a wide variety of scientific topics. They ranged from Earth surface processes and sedimentation to marine geology, climate, geo-energy, geo-analytics, regional geology, tectonics, and applied geology, as well as mineralogical and geophysical topics. My greatest scientific interest was in the sessions on paleoclimate and sedimentology. However, the main reason I attended the conference was to organize the Early Career Researchers (ECR) meeting, the ECR game night, and the Young Scientist Session.

At the Young Scientist Session, we had 13 very interesting oral presentations. The session was divided into three parts, lasting from Tuesday morning to evening. At lunchtime on Tuesday, the SGA Student Chapter organised a little “networking speed dating” event. It was quite fun because you were sent into a breakout session with another random person, where you briefly got to know each other and talked for a bit. After 15 minutes, you were then assigned to the next person to talk to. The atmosphere was relaxed, and it was nice to meet some of the other attendees and learn what fascinated them most about their research topics.

The ECR meeting took place on Wednesday at lunchtime. At the meeting, we, the early career network of the German Geological Society, briefly introduced ourselves and then opened the space for networking and exchange between ECRs. For this, breakout sessions with different research independent topics were open for 45 min. It was super nice to get to talk about topics that are relevant to many early career researchers. It was a good reminder, that others are struggling with similar issues in their studies and PhDs. I was able to benefit from the experiences of the other attendees in my breakout room and even received some helpful tips.

Wednesday evening, starting at 8pm, we had an online game night. Here we had a lot of fun playing “geoguessr”. In this game you are set in a place on earth (unknown to you) and you can only navigate through Google Street View. You can move and look around a bit to find clues to where you are. Finally, you have to choose a point on the world map based on the visual impressions and see how close your guess is to the actual place you’ve seen.

Overall, the conference was very interesting. For me, it had a good balance between listening to interesting talks (while chilling on the couch) and talking to other conference participants. Still, it was a bit tiring to sit in front of the screen all day, often aswell during lunch breaks and in the evening to talk to people. I have yet to experience an online conference where networking is as fun as in a face-to-face conference. But the lower impact on the climate by eliminating the need for long journeys make online conferences very attractive. I would like to see more hybrid events in the future. It would be great to be able to attend international conferences without having to travel far by plane, but also to attend some regional conferences in person again to have the full conference experience from time to time.

3rd Palaeontological Virtual Congress

This year is the third iteration of an entirely online conference, Palaeontological Virtual Congress, open to abstract submissions from anyone studying paleontological sciences. A broadly accessible conference as the digital means provides increased access to scientific content. There is flexibility with file format, presenters can be visible on camera augmented by images and slides edited into the video, upload their slides without an overlaying audio, or walk through their slides while providing audio narrative. We asked Vicente Crespo, the main organizer, some questions about the concept and the history of the conference.

Who organized this event?

The Organizing Committee is formed by 9 people, with 3 professors (Evangelos Vlachos, Rosalía Guerrero-Arenas and Penélope Cruzádo-Caballero), 4 post-doctoral researchers (María Ríos, Francesc Gascó, Humberto G. Ferrón and me), and 2 pre-doc students (Fernando A. M. Arnal and José Luis Herráiz) from five different countries. In the past editions of the congress, it was expected there would be around 100 participants, and the final attendees were near 400. This year there was a total of 275 contributions presented, and I we will have around 600 participants, which at the moment are from 51 different registered countries.

What are the major changes in the upcoming event compared to the last installment?

Although we always try to keep a similar format, which is comfortable and easy for users, we also try to innovate in each edition and try to learn each time from the advice given by the participants. This is why this edition we have set new Discord channels, so that interaction between participants is more direct and easy plus we set a new website. But, and above all, in this edition we really wanted to make clear the purpose of this initiative which is to reach all, and include all, which meant setting a new Social Fund that allows participants from low and lower-middle income countries to get a registration free of charge.

Online conferences have gotten much more common as the COVID-19 crisis persists. Will this change how people perceive the PalaeoVC?

I hope it won’t change the way people see us! It is true that in these difficult times, typically face-to-face congresses have become virtual. Most of them have kept their in-person soul, that is, reduced to the same time period as their face-to-face versions and the conferences in real time, although I believe that in time, they will return to being in person. However, in the PVC, which was held before the pandemic, and is aimed at a more global audience, the congress lasts 15 days, and the presentations are not live, so you can enjoy them at any time of the day, and as many times as you want, with the freedom other type of events do not provide.

Will there be a 4th PalaeoVC?

Hopefully there will be a fourth edition, especially with the success in participation of this third edition. Our idea is to hold it every year and a half, so the next one should be in May 2023.

So hope you enjoy it and See you soon at the 3rd PVC… and at the 4th PVC!

To learn more about the Palaeontological Virtual Congress, follow them on Facebook at PalaeoVC, Instagram @palaeovc, and on Twitter @palaeovc!

Happy National Fossil Day 2021!

National Fossil Day poster for 2021 by the National Park Service.

Today is International Fossil Day! 

International Fossil Day  is an initiative by the International Paleontological Association and the National Park Service (National Fossil Day in the U.S.), the idea is to spread the interest in the life of the past and many different organisations and museums around the world host events or activities today. Of course we, the Time Scavengers team, have to participate in this, there can never be too much paleo-related fun! 

We want to celebrate IFD by showing off our team members’ favourite extinct species or individual fossils, some facts about the species or individual and why we picked them as our favourites.

Click here to visit the National Park Service website to learn more about National Fossil Day, and here to visit the International Palaeontological Association to learn more about International Fossil Day!

Linda

A fossil cave bear skeleton. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Most of my paleontology lectures during my undergrad took place in small rooms somewhere deep in the side wings of the institute building, on the edge of the paleontological collection/museum that is located within the institute. Whenever me and my friends were waiting for our professors to show up, we would stare and marvel at the exhibited specimens. I vividly remember walking into that area for the first time, it is dominated by a huge, mounted skeleton of an adult cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and I was completely blown away by the sheer power it radiates. I didn’t care too much about the T. rex skull cast around the corner that most others found so fascinating. From that first day of paleo classes, having my own mounted cave bear skeleton has been on the top of my bucket list. U. spelaeus lived during the Pleistocene across both northern Asia and Europe and went extinct during the Last Glacial Maximum about 24,000 years ago. They are closely related to brown bears (Ursus arctos), the two species have a last common ancestor about 1.2 million years ago. Even though they were huge, powerful bears that were reaching 3.5m (11.5ft) when standing upright, with large teeth and fearsome claws, it’s currently thought that the majority of the western populations were eating an almost exclusively vegetarian diet! Recently, two very well preserved frozen cave bear carcasses have been discovered in two separate areas of thawing permafrost in Russia, an adult and a cub, both with almost all soft tissue present and intact. I’m already excited and looking forward to reading all the new research that will be done on these specimens!

Maggie 

Cast of U. anceps skull. Image credit: Wikipedia.

I worked at the Field Museum of Natural History during the summer of 2015 and that experience was what solidified my interest in paleontology. I worked with my supervisor on Eocene mammals from the western United States and had some of my first experiences doing large scientific outreach events during that summer. Because of that summer I will always have a soft spot for Uintatheres!

Uintatheres (U. anceps) lived during the Eocene in North America and were large browsers. These animals looked similar to rhinos but male U. anceps had six knob-shaped protrusions coming off of their skulls. Part of my experience working with these fossils was reorganizing the collections space that housed the skulls, they are incredibly heavy! I mentioned that U. anceps were browsers, but they also had long canine teeth that resemble the canines of saber tooth cats. These teeth may have been used as a defense mechanism but also may have played a role in how they plucked leaves from plants. While I don’t work on Eocene mammals now, Uintatheres will always be special to me for the role they played in getting me excited about paleontology and scientific outreach!

Whitney

Whitney next to Asteroceras stellare.

I cannot pick just one fossil to highlight right now, so here are two of my favorites! In 2016, I was studying in England and visited the Natural History Museum in London where I saw an incredible ammonite, Asteroceras stellare. Asteroceras was a large ammonite that lived during the Early Jurassic and whose shell reached nearly three feet in diameter. Asteroceras was a nektonic carnivore who might have fed on fish, crustaceans, and bivalves.

Whitney in front of an ichthyosaur!

My favorite vertebrate fossil is the Ichthyosaur. I loved visiting the Jurassic Coast in England and got to explore Lyme Regis, both the birthplace of Mary Anning and a town that had references to paleontology everywhere you looked. You can see ichthyosaur fossils in both the Lyme Regis Museum and the Natural History Museum in London and at the NHM, you can see some of the specimens that Mary Anning and her family had collected along the Jurassic Coast. Ichthyosaurs (Greek for “fish lizard”), are marine reptiles that lived during much of the Mesozoic and were thought to be one of the top aquatic predators of their time.

Mike

Mike in front of an American mastodon statue!

I have three favorite extinct species: the American mastodon (Mammut americanum), the dinosaur Parasaurolophus, and the chalicothere Moropus elatus. Mastodons are distant relatives of the elephants, and they seem to be overshadowed by the wooly mammoth. However, both lived in North America until the end of the Pleistocene epoch. I’ve always thought that Parasaurolophus was an elegant duck-billed dinosaur, and I’ve seen them featured in several movies in the Jurassic Park series. I think that chalicotheres are so bizarre! Distant relatives to horses, rhinos, and tapirs, imagine a big draft horse with giant claws instead of hooves! I’ve seen several skeletons of these over the years. Moropus elatus went extinct in the Miocene epoch.

Mike next to a Moropus elatus skeleton!
A statue of Parasaurolophus.

Alex

Like anyone in paleo would tell you I can’t pick one particular fossil organism as my favorite. Currently my favorite fossil organism is the “bear-dog” known as Amphicyon ingens which would have been a formidable predator during the Mid-Miocene. The cenozoic was a time for innovation in mammals and bear-dogs were the best of both worlds. All the stoic grandeur of a bear and all the cute charm of a dog, what more could you want? The picture shown was taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Amphicyon

Jonathan Jordan (Paleo Policy Podcast)

For me, the Mesozoic reigns supreme. However, my recent trip to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles gave me a greater appreciation for the Cenozoic era and mammalian evolution in general. While it may not be my favorite fossil ever, I was captivated by Panthera atrox’s look and the idea of an American Serengeti 340,000 to 11,000 years ago. Genetic analysis suggests with high likelihood that Panthera atrox is a close relative of the Eurasian Cave Lion (Panthera spelaea). After the Bering Strait land bridge was submerged by rising sea levels, Panthera atrox was isolated from its Eurasian relatives and became a distinct species that has been found as north as Alaska and as south as Mexico. Neat! Check out an image of Panthera atrox’s skull on the Smithsonian Learning Lab site!

Kristina

I’m fortunate to have worked on many different types of animals during my career, starting with dinosaurs, then moving to Devonian brachiopods and their encrusting organisms, and now working on much younger Pleistocene-aged animals that are still alive today. I mostly study biotic interactions, such as predation, so I thought I would share my favourite trace fossil (ichnotaxon), Caedichnus! Trace fossils are different than a body fossil because they show evidence (or traces) of an organism or its behaviour. In the case of Caedichnus, this trace fossil is created by a crab trying to break into the shell of a snail by peeling away at the shell opening (aperture) until it can reach the snail’s soft body. Imagine having a crab try to peel your shell back like an orange – scary! Caedichnus traces are useful for determining how many crabs were in an area, and identifying patterns of crab predation through space and time. I’m now using them to determine the impacts of climate change and human activity on crab fisheries since pre-human times.

Adriane

Like most of my colleagues above, it is incredibly hard for me to say which fossil is my favorite! So instead, I’ll talk about my favorite fossil group, the foraminifera. Foraminifera are single-celled protists that live in the surface ocean (planktic foraminifera) or in/on ocean sediments (benthic foraminifera). Planktic foraminifera are my favorites; they evolved about 175 million years ago, and still live in the global ocean today! One of the ways which we know about past climate states how the ocean behaved to such warming and cooling events of the geologic past is through analyzing the chemistry of fossil foraminifera shells, or tests! Foraminifera are also incredibly useful in studies of evolution, as they have a robust fossil record. Learn more about Foraminifera here!

Various planktic (surface-dwelling) foraminifera (marine plankton) species. Images are 60-100x.

What’s YOUR favourite extinct species? Let us know in the comments, maybe we will feature them in a future post!

Meet the Museum: Dino Parque Lourinhã

Linda and guest blogger David Kroeck,

During a recent field trip (August 2021), we visited the Dino Parque Lourinhã in western Portugal, approximately 50 km north of Lisbon. Dino Parque Lourinhã is open every day except on holidays and tickets currently cost 9,90 € for children, 13 € for adults, but you can get your tickets at a lower price if you book online [Fig 1].

Fig. 1: Entrance of the Dino Parque Lourinhã with Supersaurus lourinhanensis, a sauropod (long-necked dinosaur) named after the town of Lourinhã.

The park consists of a large outdoor area showcasing life sized dinosaur reconstructions, a small museum as well as an activities hall.

The main part of the park consists of an outdoor space, divided into four zones highlighting the terrestrial fauna of the Paleozoic, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. A fifth area (called sea monsters) displays a range of marine creatures from different periods, from Jurassic ammonites to Eocene manatees [Fig 2]. A large board near the entrance shows a geologic timescale, depicting the main transitional events and examples of typical fauna and flora for each period [Fig 3]. Five paths then wind through a dense pine forest, hiding even the largest dinosaurs surprisingly well until you stand right in front of them – you never know what lurks behind the next group of trees. The natural cover also provides shade on hot sunny days. Arrows give visitors a chance to walk through the zones in chronological order to experience the evolution of the prehistorical fauna.

Fig. 2: Liopleurodon, an ancient marine reptile belonging to a group called pliosaurs
Fig. 3: Panel showing the geological timescale, including typical fauna and flora and major events as well as the paleogeography.

All displays come with explanations in English, Portuguese, French and Spanish, giving a brief overview of each creature, where fossils have been found, when it lived, information about its diet and hunting strategies, and more. These signs also include pictures of the actual fossils that can be compared with the reconstruction.

The vast majority of reconstructions is rather up to date with the scientific literature; a large number of theropods is shown with a variety of feathers for example [Fig 4]. It is clear that such huge displays cannot be re-done with every new paper that is being published on a certain species, but overall, we found the scientific accuracy of the models impressive. This is certainly due to the very recent opening of the park in 2019. We highly recommend a visit to the park to see brand new dinosaur models. While dinosaurs are, of course, the main attraction of this place, you will also find reconstructions of many different prehistoric animals, such as invertebrates, amphibians, marine reptiles and pterosaurs. All reconstructions were made in dynamic poses, and this artistic choice makes them look alive – guaranteeing great photos [Fig 5]. In total there are more than 180 models.

Fig. 4: Velociraptor, a small, feathered theropod found in central Asia, belonging to a group called dromaeosaurids, also commonly known as ‘raptors’.
Fig. 5: Pterosaurs nesting in a tree in front of the Dino Parque.

For all the very young paleontologists the park has much to offer. Several mini-playgrounds are scattered throughout the exhibits and paleontology is presented in a child friendly manner with a diversity of educational activities and shows. There is for example a sand box in which a plesiosaur replica fossil is hidden so that playing children can excavate it themselves. We also noticed that the only stairs in the entire park are used to access a platform near the head of Supersaurus, a very large sauropod. The rest of the park uses slopes and is thus wheelchair accessible and lots of benches and picnic tables are distributed throughout the entire park so the next place to rest is never far away.

The museum focuses on the rich local dinosaur fauna found in the area, such as a nest of Lourinhanosaurus eggs with embryos inside, and Torvosaurus remains. The museum also explains the local geology and how the area looked like during the Jurassic; it was a meandering river/delta system located in the Lusitanian Basin. Both alluvial and marine fossils are abundant in the sedimentary rocks. More on the geological setting of this area will be covered in a separate blog post where we describe our own fossil hunting efforts in Portugal. The museum also provides an insight into paleontological excavation methods and hosts the preparators’ laboratory, so you can watch people work on newly discovered fossils in real time through a large window [Fig 6].

Fig. 6: Ongoing preparation in the live lab of unidentified sauropod vertebrae found in Lourinhã.

We received a little tour behind the scenes of the park and talked to the preparators who showed us their current projects and were excited to explain the implications of their latest finds. Since these were of course still unpublished, we had to promise to keep everything secret and thus can’t talk about it. You’ll have to keep an eye out for publications on fossils from that area, it’s exciting stuff! Taped to the window to the preparators’ lab was a little poster saying the preparators accept (unpaid) interns/volunteers and people who are looking for thesis projects, so if you are curious about the topic, and excited about learning how to prepare dinosaur or other fossil material, you can apply for an internship there [Fig 7]. Our tour behind the scenes also included very interesting conversations with some of the people who worked on the life-sized dinosaur reconstructions. We got to observe their work for a little bit: they were in the process of creating a copy of a Torvosaurus gurneyi skull replica [Fig 8].

Fig. 7: Information poster for people interested in short or long-term training in preparation techniques, including theses and Erasmus+ mobilities.
Fig. 8: Left: Skull of Torvosaurus, the largest theropod of Europe; right: Preparator working on a mold of the Torvosaurus skull to create a copy of it.

Even without the tour behind the scenes the Dino Parque is definitely worth a visit. Here are some additional impressions of our visit:

Fig. 9 Explorer’s tent with, among other things, geological maps of the area, a poster displaying important dinosaurs from Europe and a globe showing, quite accurately, how the Earth looked like in the Upper Jurassic.
Fig. 10: Supersaurus with two small pterosaurs on its neck. With 45 m length, this model is the largest of the Dino Parque.
Fig. 11: Triceratops stealing Linda’s hat.
Fig. 12: Two Deinonychus stalking their prey. Like their Asian relatives Velociraptor, the North American Deinonychus belonged to the dromaeosaurids (‘raptors’).
Fig. 13: David and the large pterosaur Geosternbergia, falsely labeled Pteranodon (to which it was originally assigned)
Fig. 14: Triceratops skull.
Fig. 15: Lourinhasaurus, a sauropod named after the town of Lourinhã. Linda as a scale.
Fig. 16: Allosaurus with its prey, a stegosaurus. Notice the two juvenile Allosaurus in the bottom part.
Fig. 17: A happy Ankylosaur, an armored-skinned dinosaur.
Fig. 18: Tanystropheus, a long necked aquatic reptile from the Triassic in Europe and Asia. In the background you can see the ancient crocodile Sarcosuchus, a Tyrannosaurus rex and an Ankylosaurus.
Fig. 19: Linda and David unimpressed by the Dilophosaurus’ attempt to threaten them.

European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2021, vegu21

Agathe here – The European Geoscience Union, EGU, a leading learned society in the fields of Earth, Planetary and space sciences, organize each year the largest European conference in geosciences. Due to COVID-19, this year’s conference was entirely virtual. Naturally, attending an online conference is very different from going to one in person: meeting people is less easy and you don’t feel the excitement of being surrounded by your colleagues and friends, not to mention that it is difficult when you are in front of your computer to put your work in progress aside and devote yourself to the conference. I attended the EGU meeting to present results of my PhD work in paleoclimatology, on the evolution of continental climate from the mid-Eocene to the early Oligocene. As it was my first big 100% virtual conference, I would like to give my impressions on the format, a little bit particular, but which will certainly become more and more common in the future.

EGU (virtual) General Assembly 2021, vEGU21

Part I – Joining a fully virtual conference, what does it look like? 

The number of participants at EGU General Assemblies increases from year to year, and this conference format will not have limited participation with 18,155 scientists from 136 countries this year against 16,273 participants from 113 countries in the last edition, in 2019 [1]. In recent years, various movements have developed that promote a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions associated with research activities: first aware of climate change, researchers must adapt their practices to be consistent and follow an energy-saving approach [2]. One of the positive points of this year’s meeting is that without all the flights to Vienna, its carbon imprint was much lower. Last April, the EGU estimated that by organizing a fully virtual conference with 18,000 participants, greenhouse gas emissions of the assembly would be equivalent to less than 0.1% of the same conference in person (despite the video stream) [3]

Virtual vEGU21 hall (credit: EGU blogs, https://blogs.egu.eu/divisions/g/)

Normally, the conference hosts a large number of presentations including posters, 10-minute talks, and “PICOs” (Presenting Interactive COntent®), a format for short digital presentations, specific to the EGU. To give an idea, in 2019, the assembly counted 5531 orals, 9432 posters and 1287 PICOs [1]. In order to give everyone the opportunity to present results to a broad audience, the majority of this year’s presentations were in the form of PICOs, i.e. small 2-min-talks with a single slide! This was the case for my presentation. Fortunately, the EGU website also allowed presenters to add more content, so I also made a 20-minute video to present my work to the most interested speakers. What an exercise! Let’s face it, even if we like challenges, summarizing several months of work in 120 seconds is still a bit frustrating. But with hindsight, I think it was very interesting, reminding me of the 3 minutes thesis competitions, 3MT (these are really nice to see, if you never tried check here [4]).  

First of all, presenting your work in 2 minutes requires a lot of work to be done beforehand. How can I share the problematic and the interest of my work with my audience without presenting the different notions in detail? What are my main results? What is the take-home message? I think being used to talking about your research with your non-academic friends and family may really help. The conference offered the possibility to make this presentation live or to pre-record it. I choose the second option to make mine more accessible, by adding subtitles and to be able to archive it online after the conference. As a non-native speaker, I know that it can sometimes be difficult to follow a whole session of presentations, especially if they are not totally in our research topic, and depending on speakers’ accent. So, it was also an opportunity to make sure that this 2-minute message would get through to as many people as possible who came to listen. Finally, this format was also very interesting for the diffusion of the work. I now have a fairly simple 2-minute video associated with my in-progress publication. It’s still additional work to do, but I think I’ll practice this exercise again next time before I start writing an article, and then why not for its dissemination afterward! In spite of this particular format, moments of exchange were allowed in each session, through dedicated video conference rooms for each presenter. I had the pleasure to meet new researchers, saw friends and colleagues. Like in big music festivals, many sessions are held in parallel at EGU General Assemblies. With shorter, though dense, sessions, I think I was able to see more and a greater diversity of studies.

Part II – Thinking more 

In parallel to sessions on my research theme (paleoclimates), which always teach a lot, the EGU offers the possibility to attend special (and longer), oral presentation, the Medal lectures, which allowed me to attend presentations by the eminent (paleo)climatologists Valérie Masson-Delmotte and Kim Cobb, and small courses (useful to nice to refresh one’s geology basics for example). What I really like about the EGU is that the conference also has great sessions (presentations, lectures or debates) about research in general and how to do it, for example: about the role of geosciences in the evolution of the world / about education and communication of science / or about diversity, equity and inclusion in science. This year, I was particularly impressed by two of them: 

First, “A Climate and Ecological Emergency: Can a pandemic help save us…?”, with the passionating and super-positive intervention of the climatologist Katharine Hayhoe (see her website which gives a lot of tools to understand and raise awareness about climate change [5,6]), who compared the rapidity of action on a global scale in response to COVID to the persistent lack of action of governments in the face of the ongoing climate crisis, trying to understand the origin of this crisis (ex. The phenomena of psychological distancing: COVID showed us that we could react quickly and limit our emissions, how can we do the same in the face of climate change? I was also particularly interested in the session, “Promoting diversity in geosciences“, which took stock of the lack of diversity and neo-colonial practices within geosciences, and exposed concrete means to set up an anti-racism laboratory [7,8]. Budiman Minasny’s presentation introduced me to the concept of parachute science (aka helicopter research) which is “when researchers from wealthier countries go to a developing country, collect information, travel back to their country, analyze the data and samples, and publish the results with no or little involvement of local researchers[9]. One can imagine that perhaps some unscrupulous researchers take advantage of local researchers to do unrecognized research assistance work in the field, somewhere far away… There are people with a poor morality in all fields. However, I had never realized (in fact I had never asked myself), that there was a whole grey area with indirect and less obvious ways of misconducting. A striking example was for instance that by working on research questions centered on other countries, without involving local universities, we may grab potential research to local research communities… In my future research, I would like to address questions of macro-evolution on a global scale, although brief, this presentation would clearly have helped me thinking about my future collaborations. As a non-minoritized (although) woman, I am not the best person to talk about this topic, and I certainly still have tons of things to learn to be up to speed, but it is thanks to conferences like these that one learns little by little how to conduct fair science at the scale of one’s lab and internationally, so these should be promoted.

Prof. Katharine Hayhoe presenting the different psychological mechanisms associated to climate change inaction.

Short conclusion – 

As already explained on this blog [9], attending conferences is very important, especially for young researchers. Thanks to this meeting, I was able to see many presentations, meet researchers in my field, but also question the way I present my work and create materials to share it with more people. The development of this digital format also makes it possible to hold more conferences, especially since some of the smaller ones can be free. Yet, like most researchers, I think, I am looking forward to the experience of real conferences. This experience calls for questioning our practices: since we can do 100% virtual and low carbon conference, how far do we find it acceptable to travel to a conference? 

To go further – small list of references 

  1. EGU General Assembly 2019 – Country statistics. (2019). European Geosciences Union. https://www.egu2019.eu/#CountryStatistics
  2. Langin, K. (2019). Why some climate scientists are saying no to flying. Science Careers. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.caredit.aay0230
    As an example, and for more information on why we should fly less, see the website of No Fly Climate Sci and their “Resources” section. https://noflyclimatesci.org/.  
  3. vEGU21 Carbon tracker (2021). European Geosciences Union. https://egu21.eu/about/green_egu.html
  4. Three-minute Thesis website: https://threeminutethesis.uq.edu.au/
  5. Katharine Hayhoe website FAQ (a mine of gold to better understand and talk about climate change): http://www.katharinehayhoe.com/wp2016/faqs/
    See also her youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/kathhayhoe/playlists
  6. Hayhoe, K. (2018). The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: Talk about it. TEDWomen 2018 conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/katharine_hayhoe_the_most_important_thing_you_can_do_to_fight_climate_change_talk_about_it
  7. Chaudhary, V. B., & Berhe, A. A. (2020). Ten simple rules for building an antiracist lab. PLOS Computational Biology, 16(10), e1008210. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008210
    See the also the associated press article of the Chicago tribune (2020): https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-life-how-to-build-an-anti-racist-stem-lab-tt-1022-20201023-wxv35r73mnhstb6ed7hw72iqp4-story.html
  8. Neo-colonial science. (2021). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-colonial_science
  9. Impact of Attending Conferences. (2020). Time Scavengers. https://timescavengers.blog/tilly-edinger-travel-grant/impact-of-attending-conferences/

Meet the Museum: The Paleontological Research Institution and Museum of the Earth

Whitney here – 

Here I am posing with Cecil, the Coelophysis, and the Museum of the Earth’s Mascot! The silhouette of a Coelophysis can be seen in the PRI and Museum of the Earth’s logo.

During the summer of 2017, I was an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, NY. The PRI works in conjunction with the Museum of the Earth and neighboring Cayuga Nature Center. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where they share updates on exhibits and virtual events like Science in the Virtual Pub. The Museum of the Earth’s social media also features takeovers from guest scientists and live updates from the prep lab. The museum is currently on a modified schedule during the Covid-19 Pandemic, but you can check their updated hours here. Additionally, the Museum of the Earth has recently started a new initiative in an effort to increase the accessibility of their museum to the community. During Pay-What-You-Wish Weekends, which take place during the first weekend of each month, guests may choose from a range for their admissions cost in place of traditional ticket costs. 

The PRI and Museum of the Earth typically host one or two Saturday day trips each summer to local outcrops where the public can participate in the fossil hunting experience.

As an intern at the PRI, my time in the museum was limited, however, I was sure to take a self guided tour through their exhibits before I was to start next door in the research labs at the PRI. Since that summer, the Museum of the Earth has expanded its collection of in person and online exhibits which you can see the availability of here. These online exhibits and videos are great educational tools while remaining remote. There are many exhibits currently on display at the Museum of the Earth, so I will do my best to highlight a few of my favorites!

During the field trips, you are almost guaranteed to see some great fossils and maybe even find a few of your own!

The museum as a whole is set up so that the guest experiences a Journey Through Time – an exhibit which comprises the majority of the museum displays. The Museum of the Earth displays fossils ranging from microfossils to the Hyde Park mastodon and those from early life on Earth to present day organisms. These exhibits include the 1.5 meter heteromorph ammonite, Diplomoceras maximum, which was discovered on Seymour Island, Antarctica, and the North Atlantic Right Whale skeleton. Upon entering the museum, guests are greeted by a 44 ft long whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling between the two floors of the museum. North Atlantic Right Whale #2030 passed away in Cape May, New Jersey in 1999 and PRI employees assisted in recovering and cleaning the skeleton, where it was added to the museum in 2002. The skeleton was so big that during construction of the museum, part of the building was left open so that the whale could be brought in via a crane. Guests wrap up their journey through time with the coral reef exhibit, where they can learn about reef ecosystems and discover the importance of the diversity of fish and invertebrates that live within them, and the glaciers exhibit, where they can explore the history of glaciers in the Finger Lakes region.

Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology is the most recent exhibit at the Museum of the Earth and is permanently available online!

The Museum of the Earth has a new exhibit that opened in late March – Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology. Not only is this an in-person exhibit on display at the museum until Fall 2021, but it has become permanently available online for those unable to visit Ithaca. This exhibit works to both highlight the achievements and discoveries made by women in paleontology as well as introduce the public to trailblazers and modern voices. This exhibit works in tandem with the recently published children’s book, Daring to Dig: Adventures of Women in American Paleontology, to demonstrate to children and students that science is for everyone. You can learn more about the Daring to Dig Project here

During non-pandemic times, the museum and PRI host the occasional field trip to local outcrops in upstate New York. As an intern at the PRI, I was able to tag along on these great opportunities. These field trips are open to the public for a fee which provides access to basic supplies that you may need while out at the site as well as the educational experience provided by local experts at the PRI. Be sure to keep an eye on their events page where you can be kept up to date on both virtual and in-person events and activities going on!

 

Building Canada’s Ocean Acidification Community

Kristina here–

When you think of carbon dioxide emissions, what comes to mind? For most people, that is probably something along the lines of fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and global warming. But for me, I think about ocean acidification. Often referred to as “the other carbon dioxide problem”, ocean acidification, or OA for short, is a lesser-known by-product of excess carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Between 25 – 30 % of the carbon dioxide produced since the Industrial Revolution has been absorbed by our oceans. This buffering capacity of the ocean has actually helped reduce some impacts of global warming and greenhouse gases, but, as we’ve discovered in the last decade or two, it has come at a great cost to our oceans.

Figure 1. Schematic diagram of ocean acidification. Image credit: Kristina Barclay
Figure 2. Sustainable Development Goal 14.3 – Reduce Ocean Acidification. Image Credit: United Nations

When carbon dioxide (CO2) enters the ocean, it reacts with seawater to form excess hydrogen (H+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3). Increases in hydrogen ions are what makes liquids more acidic and reduces their pH, hence the term “ocean acidification”. But the main consequence of increases in hydrogen ions in seawater is that hydrogen ions bond readily with the carbonate ions (CO32-). Carbonate is naturally occurring in seawater, and it is a crucial building block for organisms that build calcium carbonate hard parts, like clams, oysters, lobsters, corals, and even the tiny plankton that serve as the base of the ocean’s food chain. The less carbonate ions available in seawater, the harder it is for organisms to make their hard parts. In the past 15 years or so, there has been considerable research demonstrating the negative effects of OA on calcifying organisms. These calcified structures can take more energy for organisms to form, grow smaller, slower, and/or weaker, or even start to dissolve! Increased seawater acidity can also affect organism survival, particularly in early life stages. On the west coast of the U.S., there have already been several seasonal mass die-offs events of oyster crops that have caused significant and repeated financial losses to the aquaculture industry, most likely attributed to OA.

As most societies, particularly coastal communities, depend on the oceans for both food and livelihoods, monitoring and mitigating OA has become a global priority. The UN has declared the next decade (2021 – 2030) the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Many countries, including Canada, have committed to the Ocean Decade and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). OA is directly addressed in the Ocean Decade plan under SDG 14.3 – to “minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels”. To this end, the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) has created a database where researchers can make sure their data adheres to SDG 14.3.1 methodologies and then contribute their data to this global OA database. There are also many other national and international OA groups that have been created in recent years to help create and share OA knowledge and research.

Canada and Ocean Acidification

Figure 3. Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water. Image Credit: United Nations

Canada faces several unique challenges with respect to OA. First, we have the largest coastline of any country in the world. Second, Canada is more vulnerable to OA given our latitude and colder ocean temperatures, as carbonates are naturally more soluble in colder waters. Thirdly, Canada is surrounded by three connected ocean basins, each with unique properties that make them vulnerable to the effects of OA. In the Pacific, OA is exacerbated by seasonal upwelling, where deep, naturally acidic ocean waters are forced to the surface by wind patterns. The Arctic is vulnerable due to rapidly increasing freshwater input from melting sea ice and glaciers from warming temperatures (freshwater is more acidic than seawater). In the Atlantic, OA is exacerbated by ocean mixing patterns and freshwater input from the Arctic. Finally, Canada’s coastal communities, of which there are many given our extensive coastline, are socioeconomically vulnerable to OA.

As a country, Canada is contributing to regional, national, and global OA research efforts through several means, such as independent research projects, local community action plans, and through our federal Fisheries and Oceans department (DFO), just to name a few. But Canada is a big country, and it can be hard to connect across such a wide geographical area. This is where our Ocean Acidification Community of Practice (OA CoP) comes into play. Funded by Canada’s Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response network (MEOPAR), the OA CoP is one of several MEOPAR Communities of Practice. The goal of MEOPAR CoPs is to facilitate knowledge mobilization and integration by uniting groups with shared concerns on particular topics (in our case, OA).

Figure 4. Canada’s Ocean Acidification Community of Practice Logo

Our community was initiated in 2018, and is comprised of two Co-Leads from academia and government science, a coordinator (me), and an interdisciplinary Steering Committee consisting of experts from industry (aquaculture and fisheries), academia, DFO, and NGOs at all career stages (student representative to senior-level management) and from all across the country. Our goals as Canada’s OA community are to coordinate across all sectors and disciplines to share OA expertise and data (particularly to end-users), identify pressing needs for OA research/knowledge in Canada, and foster a collaborative and supportive environment for groups affected by OA. We also act as the Canadian leads for international collaborations and OA research efforts, such as GOA-ON, the OA Alliance, and the OA Information Exchange.

Anyone who is interested in or affected by OA in Canada is welcome to join our community. We currently have over 170 members, including individuals from aquaculture, fisheries, and NGOs, academics, federal and provincial government scientists, Indigenous community leaders, graduate students, and members of other international OA organizations. Members receive our quarterly newsletters, and updates on any upcoming events that might be of interest. We also encourage our members to join Team Canada and participate in the OA Info Exchange, an international forum that is a great place to discuss and share new ideas, research, and see what experts from around the world are doing to address and learn about OA.

What do we do?

Figure 5. A graphic I made (using Canva) to advertise our new Map of Canada’s OA Resources

As the OA CoP Coordinator, my job is to keep growing our community, seek new research and community-building opportunities, facilitate our involvement in the broader global OA community, provide, maintain, and create new resources for our members, and stay updated on the latest OA research and news. Here are some of the things I’ve been working on for Canada’s OA Community.

Canada’s OA Website

One of our biggest activities has been to create a website that acts as a central hub for all of the resources we’ve gathered for Canada’s OA community. The website, oceanacidification.ca, is always growing, and we regularly add new OA resources and materials. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all the importance of online resources, so a large part of my focus over the past year has been to develop new online content for our community that will allow us to connect, even if we are unable to gather in person for regional workshops. The goals of these new resources are to help increase awareness and engagement with our community, and further our CoP objectives.

Our Map of Canada’s OA Resources

On the International OA Day of Action (January 8, or 8.1, the current pH of our oceans) this year, we launched an exciting new resource, an interactive map of Canada’s OA Resources, where visitors can search for OA projects, experts, and resources from across Canada, or browse the resources available in their area. We update the map regularly to make sure our community has all the latest information.

Our New Blog Series

Figure 6. Examples of our social media posts. Made by Kristina using Canva.

In December, we launched four new blog series aimed to increase engagement and awareness, and provide new resources for our community. The first blog series, OA News (You Could Use), is a weekly snapshot of OA news and activities happening around the world. Posts contain 3 – 5 OA-related news items, including upcoming events, news stories, recent publications, and new resources. The second series is called Research Recaps, where we interview researchers, particularly early career researchers, to get an inside perspective on their recent publications. The posts are written in accessible language, allowing a wide audience to get a glimpse of how the scientific process works, and how researchers create new OA knowledge. The third blog series is called Scientist Spotlights, where we interview individuals to learn more about their research backgrounds and interests in OA. These posts allow the average person to learn more about why researchers are interested or motivated to study OA-related subjects. Our fourth series, Meet the CoP, is similar to our Scientist Spotlight series, but we interview our leadership team to learn more about why they are motivated to lead Canada’s OA community. The goal of the Meet the CoP series is to inspire and help us understand why the OA research and our community matters to Canada. A lot of my inspiration in creating these four blog series came from working with Time Scavengers.

Social Media

I’ve been working to increase our online social media presence since October, 2020, posting at least 3 – 4 times a week on Twitter, and 1 – 2 times a week on Facebook and Instagram. Using some of the things I’ve learned volunteering with Time Scavengers, I’ve started to try out different visual graphics to go along with our posts to see what is appealing to viewers. An interesting trend I’ve noticed so far is that while we get the most engagement on our Instagram posts (likes), Twitter is the predominant source of our social media web traffic, and is our third most common source of web traffic (behind direct visits and google searches).

Figure 7. Growth in our social media followers since October, 2020. Twitter appears to be our most useful platform.

Ongoing and Future Projects

One of our biggest projects that we are hoping to start working on this summer (funding and COVID dependent) is our Critical Ocean Acidification Sensor Technologies for Coastal Industries and Communities (COAST to Coast) OA sensor package. The plan is to partner with aquaculture operators to deploy OA sensors that will not only allow us to contribute to larger OA monitoring efforts, but might also allow operators to determine and predict OA events. Another goal of the sensor package is to assess the viability of newer, lower cost sensors, as most of the well-established OA sensors are very expensive, which is cost-prohibitive for individual aquaculture operators. We are also working on a couple of research papers, including meta-data analyses of OA research in Canada, and regional OA vulnerability assessments in partnership with both DFO and NOAA’s joint OA Working Groups, that will include biological, physical, and socio-economic data. I’ve been collecting and using the meta-data I gather to make a database of Canada’s OA publications as well that we hope to release in the coming months.

What I’ve Learned

It has been a great experience getting to work with such an interdisciplinary group to learn more about the many disciplines involved in OA research. While a lot of my Ph.D. research involved the effects of ocean acidification on molluscs and their shells, as a palaeontologist, I typically think about OA from a deep-time, biological perspective. In this role, I’ve thrown myself into the modern world of OA, and learned about everything from government and interagency science, to policy, oceanography, chemistry, aquaculture, fisheries, social science, and more. I’ve been able to meet and listen to OA experts from around the world, including and Mexico and the U.S., as well as countries in Europe, Africa, South America, and Central America. The international OA community is really welcoming and collaborative. I’ve also learned a lot about chemical oceanography and carbon cycles in the Arctic from the lab where I am a postdoc.

I’ve been able to apply and grow my skills in science communication by getting to interview and interact with so many people who all think about OA so differently. I’ve had a lot of fun interviewing researchers and writing blog pieces, as well as facilitating conversations with groups from all different sectors. It has helped me become a more well-rounded scientist and science communicator. As someone who is interested in conservation palaeobiology and the implications of the fossil record for modern conservation and climate change issues, being able to “speak the language” of a wide range of modern scientists and stakeholders is also a valuable skill when trying to identify research priorities, build collaborations, or seek funding opportunities. My experiences working with Time Scavengers have also helped me think of new and creative ways to help grow our OA Community in Canada.

If you are interested in learning more about Canada’s Ocean Acidification Community of Practice, please visit our website, and consider becoming a member.

To learn more about the science of OA and ocean chemistry, Check out this Time Scavengers webpage.

Acknowledgements:
Thank you to OA CoP Co-leads, Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith and Dr. Brent Else for reviewing this blog post.

Virtual Paleontology Outreach

Adriane here–

The past year has been extremely hard for all of us, and has really stifled our abilities to do the things we love most. For me, one activity that I love doing but haven’t been able to do is outreach with K–12 students and the public. However, that all changed last week when I received an email from a second-grade teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School in Manhattan, New York.

An example of some brachiopod and trilobite fossils that I showed the students. All of these fossils were also found in New York!

These second-graders were learning about fossils and paleontology, and the teacher was reaching out to ask if I would speak to the students. I was thrilled, and quickly agreed. The teacher and I chatted over the phone before the Zoom talk with the students to be certain we were on the same page about what the students had learned and some topics that would be interesting and fun to touch on. From this chat, I made a quick PowerPoint with some images of topics that we wanted to touch on for the students.

The day of the chat with the students, I gathered a bunch of tools that geologists and paleontologists use in the field and in the lab. These tools included rock hammers, chisels, picks, a Brunton compass (a special compass that geoscientists use in the field), and of course the tools I most commonly use for my research, paintbrushes and a microscope. I also gathered some of my flashier, attention-grabbing fossils to show the students, such as an ammonite cast, a modern coral, an ancient coral for comparison to the modern, and my Mammoth tooth. I also gathered some smaller fossils, like brachiopods, trilobites, and shark teeth, to showcase some other commonly found fossils in New York and along the eastern coast.

When I logged into the Zoom chat, the teachers and I chatted while the students filtered in. While waiting, the teacher played the song ‘I Am A Paleontologist‘ (seriously, if you haven’t heard this song yet, check it out!). Once we began the short introduction, there were over 100 students and teachers on the Zoom call! This was incredibly cool, to be able to reach so many students at once.

I began by just introducing myself and telling the students about different types of fossils that paleontologists work on, and showcasing some of the fossils I had with me. I then showed them 3D models of the plankton fossils I work with, and explained how we get these tiny fossils. I quickly went over scientific ocean drilling, showing the students pictures of the drillship JOIDES Resolution, and explaining simply how drilling at sea works. I also discussed what type of research I did and where, and what I had learned from this research.

Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaur fossil, which is now displayed at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Image from https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/mary-annings-ichthyosaur.

For the second half of the presentation, we opened the Zoom room to the students for questions. All of the questions were very good and thoughtful, and fun to answer! The students asked such questions like ‘What is your favorite fossil?’, ‘How many fossils do I have?’ (a hard one to answer, considering I have hundreds of jars of sediment samples that each contain thousands of fossil!), and ‘Tell me about one of your friends you sailed with’ (in which I talked about my friends I sailed with on the JOIDES Resolution in 2017). Someone also asked about marine dinosaurs, so I mentioned Ichthyosaurs, which were marine reptiles. I also alluded that the first skeleton of this ancient animal was found by a woman in the 1800’s, who lived in Europe. It turns out that the students knew exactly who I was talking about: Mary Anning!

All in all, this chat with so many bright young students over Zoom was so uplifting and refreshing. The experience really highlighted that even in a pandemic, we can successfully conduct outreach, with a major plus being able to talk to so many students at one time!

 

Building and Establishing the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant

Linda, Adriane, Kristina, Andy, and Jen here-

Dr. Otilie “Tilly” Edinger, Unknown author, sourced from trowelblazers.

Over the past year, members of the Time Scavengers team created a new travel grant for students and avocational/amateur scientists. These groups often lack funding to attend conferences, which are valuable experiences. Conferences not only provide the opportunity for students to receive feedback by experts other than their advisor or supervisor. Conferences are important networking opportunities as such many fruitful scientific collaborations started with two cups of coffee and a chat next to a student’s poster in a crowded conference venue. We hope that by sharing our motivation and structure, other organizations will consider funding opportunities similar to ours.

The travel grant is named after Dr. Otilie “Tilly” Edinger, a female, Jewish, deaf paleontologist. Dr. Edinger’s work started an entire subdiscipline: paleoneurology, a discipline that focuses on understand ancient brains. To learn more about Dr. Edinger’s history, work, and more head to the Time Scavengers page: Who is Dr. Tilly Edinger

The Motivation for a Grant

Studies show that the Geosciences are among the least diverse scientific disciplines in the US (Bernard & Cooperdock, 2018). In addition, we, as geoscientists, still don’t have a complete picture of how lacking we are with respect to diversity, as major surveys (e.g., through the National Science Foundation and Natural Environmental Research Council) do not capture LGBTQIA+, disability, neurodiversity, and other identities. Previous studies have shown that retention rate from student to professional membership in societies is quite low in terms of gender diversity (Plotnick et al. 2014), this likely spans across historically excluded groups. People with such underrepresented identities are less likely to participate in events, such as professional meetings, that require time and especially money, as financial strains can limit such participation. This inability to attend professional events thus hinders those students in the long-term. The motivation for establishing the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant was to support and encourage the participation of historically excluded individuals by helping to reduce the financial burden of conferences.

The current reimbursement system used by universities around the world is ill-suited to the situation faced by real students. There are currently several travel grants for geoscience students available through different societies, foundations, and organizations. However, the problem arises in that students are asked to pay for such conference costs up-front, and then are reimbursed at a later date for the conference travel. More often than not, reimbursement for conference expenses can take months to process, meaning if students paid for expenses on their credit card, they are accruing interest on those expenses. This reimbursement system greatly disadvantages students, especially those who are low-income and/or first generation, and do not have a steady stream of income. 

Avocational/amateur scientists are valuable contributors to science, but currently there are very few places where they can seek financial help to attend professional meetings and conferences, places where they too can share their science and meet new collaborators. Additionally, some of these scientists are retired or self employed, and just like students, may have a limited or unstable source of income to spend on such expensive networking opportunities. 

We therefore decided that all students and avocational scientists working in a relevant discipline are eligible to apply for the travel grant. Additionally, we would provide people who hold underrepresented identities priority. 

Establishing a Committee

The TETG committee in a virtual meeting. Clockwise from top left: Linda, Adriane, Jen, Kristina, Andy

Once we knew we wanted to create a new travel grant, the Time Scavengers team established the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant Committee. The job of the committee was to hammer out details related to the grant itself, who is eligible, who would get priority, creating a system for choosing awardees, fundraising for the grant, and creating impactful social media posts (on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to garner support for the grant. As you can likely tell from that long list, there was a lot for us to do!

Jen and Adriane had already created an outline for the grant before the committee was formed, early in 2020. Therefore the first thing the committee did was refine this grant text, refine the grant example document, and create web pages on the Time Scavengers site for the grant and about Dr. Edinger. 

We held biweekly meetings to work through various aspects of the grant — primarily the application and rubric. Each meeting was about 1 hour in duration and coordinated across 4 time zones. We were really mindful to make a simple application that gathered the data we needed to properly evaluate and fund those that needed the support. We came up with a ranking system that does not rank people based on their prior scientific experience and success. Instead, this ranking system is based on the applicant’s need for financial support to a conference and historically excluded identities that they hold. 

The grant committee also discussed award amounts, as most grants provide a static monetary value (e.g. $500). However, no two conferences possess the same fee structure and a static amount is not equitable. We decided that the award amount will be flexible and we will support as many individuals as we can per application cycle. The first year we fundraised enough to support 3–5 individuals, depending on the conference expenses. As this is the first year of this grant, we decided that the goal would be to support only conference registration and abstract fees, with the hope to expand to broader support in the future.

Data Regarding the Impact of Conferences

Did attending your first conference spark any collaborations or extensions of your network?

Before we began a targeted campaign to raise funds we wanted to survey the community about the impact of attending conferences on their careers. This informal anonymous survey was disseminated via social media. In total, 64 people responded and 56.3% said that associated fees and lack of funding prevented conference attendance and a similar percentage paid for some amount of their first conference out of their own pocket. 57.8% of respondents suggested that there are not enough ample funding opportunities for students to help attend conferences. 64.1% of respondents indicated that being reimbursed for conference fees had a negative impact on their financial situation. Regardless of these hardships, 65.6% of respondents said that attending their first scientific conference extended their scientific network and/or led to collaborations. This clearly indicates conferences are both a financial burden and critical to progressing your career. 

You can read the full results and quotes from respondents here: Impact of Attending Conferences.

Crowdsourcing Funding for the Grant

We outlined a two week marketing campaign to promote and encourage donations to the travel fund. Each day we would release a social media post on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with facts about Dr. Edinger, the grant details, why folks should donate, and data from the survey mentioned above. Our goal was to be as transparent as possible with our motivations behind the grant, while also demonstrating the need for such a grant to our potential donors with the survey data we had just collected. Committee members helped create graphics and text for the marketing campaign. 

Example graphics from our social media fundraising campaign.

Once we had a solid marketing outline, we started a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to gather the financial resources needed to start the grant. An advantage of crowdsourcing is that small donations from the community can add up quickly. Our average donation was $51.48 USD, with individual donations ranging from $1 – $200, with 55 separate donors. We surpassed our goal within just two weeks’ time! See all of our Tilly Edinger Grant Donations. The grant committee is blown away by the support and encouragement we received from the scientific community. We therefore launched the grant in November and have already received the first applications. The travel grant committee will meet again in February to assess the applications and announce the awardees shortly after.

Requirements of Awardees

Most grant awardees have some small requirements from the granting organization. We will ask all people who receive the travel grant to write a short blog post about their conference experience and a Meet the Scientist post so stay tuned for their reports! We will collect them all under the tag TravelWithTilly on the Time Scavengers website. 

Reflection

As this was our first round of fundraising, we expected that some adjustments might be needed for future fundraising cycles. Our initial focus of this pilot year was to cover the costs of registration and abstract fees for conferences. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, all conferences switched to a virtual format for the foreseeable future. We hope to continue to grow our fundraising capabilities so we are able to fund as many people as possible when in-person conferences resume. Other areas of growth including improving our application, such as asking applicants for cost breakdowns of the conference they plan to attend, and incorporating community feedback. In the future, we hope to expand to cover airfare and other travel expenses.

References

Bernard, R. E., and Cooperdock, E. H. G. 2018. No progress on diversity in 40 years. Nature Geosciences , 11, 292–295. 

Plotnick, R. E., Stigall, A. L., & Stefanescu, I. 2014. Evolution of paleontology: Long-term gender trends in an earth-science discipline. GSA Today, 24(11).