Scavenging the fossil record for clues to Earth's climate and life
Education & Outreach
Here we will explore how Adriane and Jen reach out to the public to explore geology, paleontology, evolution, and climate! We are very involved with getting young minds engaged in science – enjoy a peek inside the outreach aspect of our careers.
This year we participated in Science-A-Thon. Science-A-Thon is a five day celebration of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and everyone who identifies as a scientist is welcome to participate. Each day you share your science goings-on, including conducting research, data crunching, or any major discoveries you made. The goal of Science-A-Thon is to show the public what scientists do in any given day, and also what a scientist looks like! Posts from Science-A-Thon are tagged with #DayOfScience so anyone can find them on social media platforms.
In addition to a global sharing of science, the organization also does a fundraiser to contribute to support women in science. They raised over $14,000 in 2019; check out the fundraiser here: Science-A-Thon 2019. This year, the money went to three major charities: Earth Science Women’s Network, Girls Who Code, and Society of Women Engineers.
I was particularly interested in sharing aspects of my new job as Research Museum Collection Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. Many people don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes in museums. Many of us have visited natural history museums but this is only what is on display. The display specimens are usually a very small number (<1%) of the actual holdings of a museum. I work at a research museum, so we share specimens with our public facing museum but my job includes helping to facilitate research. So my visitors are usually scientists wanting to look at very specific specimens. These specimens are very important and are not put on display because their scientific value is more important.
I shared pieces of my day on my Twitter (@paleoJB), Instagram (@jenebauer), and Tumblr (phylojenny.tumblr.com). The whole goal being to bring folks into the collection that is not really as accessible as the public museum. My job can be pretty variable. Some days I spend a lot of time on the computer doing paperwork, entering data into our database, or checking specimens against our database. Other days we get a donation and I am helping organize the new specimens that came in or I am putting away miscellaneous specimens that had been misplaced or were hiding out in my office.
Like most of the end of 2019, I was working on my dissertation during Science-A-Thon. But I think it’s important to show that sometimes, the path to becoming a doctor isn’t all classes and science experiments. Much of my science journey is sitting alone in front of my computer, trying to write up the results of those experiments and data generating and collecting I did years ago. It’s not glorious, but it’s an essential part of what a scientist does. All of those fancy papers we publish all begin as crappy drafts (well, at least mine begin that way) that require lots of time editing, polishing, and re-writing.
Anyway, I showcased a bit of this writing process (without going into too many details) and some posts about what I do as a scientist during my Science-A-Thon posts. I only posted on Twitter (you can find my posts by searching ‘@ForamWhisperer #DayOfScience’) as this was my first year participating and I was still getting the hang of Instagram. Overall, I think it went well but I will definitely do more posts next year! More than anything, I also enjoyed following along with other scientists’ posts to see what they do in a typical day, and learn more about my friend’s and colleague’s research. So Science-A-Thon isn’t just for the public, but rather a fun annual event that allows me some insight into other scientists’ worlds as well!
Keep an eye out for next year’s event by following Science-A-Thon on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or checking their website, it will occur annually in October!
This summer I attended the FORCE11 Scholarly Communication Institute. This was a cool opportunity because I have been to many research-focused conferences and workshops, but I’ve not yet been to one that focused on scholarly communications. Scholarly communications refers to the process of publishing and communicating research, from arts and sciences to humanities. FSCI is unique because it brings together students, researchers, librarians, and publishers. Some of the sessions during the week were about new methods for making your research reproducible, from research methods to repositories for code and data. Others were on aspects of the publishing industry and how we can make research more accessible across the divides of language barriers and paywalls (when a paper is only accessible if you or your institution has a subscription to the journal it is in).
The workshop was set up so that each participant would choose three courses throughout the week, one in the mornings and two in the afternoons. The course that I enjoyed the most and felt gave me the most practical knowledge to bring back was called “The Scientific Paper of the Future”. This course talked about various aspects of the research and publishing process in the context of open science. I was familiar with data management plans and depositing data in repositories, but there were some aspects that were new to me. For example, there is now a trend of also depositing code and software packages developed as part of research in repositories, and also writing journal articles to document and describe them. Another is documenting your workflow. There are a few websites to do this now, which involves writing up a plan for who on your team is going to do which aspects of research, and then documenting this as you go. Workflow documenting also includes writing down every detail of your method and even the experiments and workflows that did not work, to help people avoid repeating your mistakes and instead building on your work.
This was a new type of workshop for me, but it was really great to get out of my comfort zone of interacting mostly with fellow scientists to meet librarians and publishing experts who are also interested in open science for everyone.
Recently, we were able to participate in the 11th North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC), held in Riverside California. This meeting is hosted every 4-5 years somewhere in North America. In comparison, we are usually able to attend the annual Geological Society of America (GSA) Meeting. These meetings have many differences and here, we explain the importance and differences of each meeting.
Geological Society of America
The Geological Society of America meeting is held every year in a major city, with smaller regional meetings held each year as well. For example, I (Adriane) am currently in New York, so I am part of the Northeast Section of GSA. The Northeast Section includes Washington D.C., Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont in the United States, as well as the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and parts of Ontario in Canada. Find what section you are in by clicking here.
But here, we’ll just focus on the larger national GSA meetings that are held yearly. The mission of GSA is to “advance geoscience research and discovery, service to society, stewardship of Earth, and the geoscience profession”. The vision of the society is to “be the premier geological society supporting the global community in scientific discovery, communication, and application of geoscience knowledge”. The GSA meetings embody the vision and mission of the society by bringing geoscientists together from all subfields to share their recent research, discuss new initiatives and goals for their specific fields, and to support students. These meetings are also a wonderful place to network, catch up with friends and colleagues, and make new friends and colleagues.
Generally, GSA is held in a large convention center in a well-known city. This year (2019), the meeting was held in Phoenix, Arizona. The year before that (2018), it was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Next year (2020), the meeting will be held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The meeting location changes every year (except for every 2-3 years, the meeting is held back in Denver, Colorado) to be close to the society’s headquarters.
When registering for GSA, the only thing that our registration covers is access to the meeting and an evening beverage (soft drinks, wine, or beer) during the poster sessions. GSA has different ‘tiers’ for membership, so not everyone pays the same registration costs. For K-12 teachers, registration is only $50; however for professionals (such as professors) the cost is $430. There are additional activities we can sign up for, such as breakfasts, dinners, workshops, and even field trips to check out the local geology. Many of these additional events are at a fee. For example, this year I (Jen) attended the Paleontological Society Business Meeting ($45 for professionals; $15 for students), Association for Women Geoscientists breakfast ($42 for professionals; $15 for students), and the GSA Education Division Awards Luncheon ($54 for everyone). Separately, they aren’t a big deal but they really add up quickly. Click here to read about all the add-ons for this year’s conference.
GSA is structured with a day that is full of talks. These talks are split into different subsections, which are held in different rooms. We call each room with themed talks a session. There are usually tens of sessions going on at any one time, usually scheduled from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm. Poster presentations are hung up in the poster hall all day long for people to view at their leisure, but the poster presenters do not have to be there all day, just for about 2 hours in the evening. The poster presentations overlap with beer, wine, and soda offerings at GSA every afternoon. After about 6:30, the poster hall shuts down and folks go off to other evening events and meetings, to dinner, or sometimes just call it a day and go back to their hotels to rest. I, Adriane, generally try to get back to the hotel early (I’m an introvert and get pretty tired quickly), but that usually never happens as I always run into friends or have plans and just have too much fun to go home early.
North American Paleontological Convention
The North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) is held every 4-5 years somewhere in North America. This year it was held in Riverside, California. The previous event was held in 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. Unlike GSA, NAPC is not a proper organization or society – those in charge rotate out and there are not set staff that are continually helping plan and execute these events. In other words, we cannot become a member of NAPC like we can GSA, as NAPC just refers to the name of a conference and not an entire structured organization.
Similar to GSA, the NAPC meetings have a few goals for the meetings. Namely, the purpose of NAPC is “to exchange research findings, define future directions, and be a forum for extended and relaxed interactions between professionals and early career scientists, most particularly graduate and undergraduate students.” Since NAPC was sponsored by the Paleontological Society (the major society for American paleontologists) the convention embodied many aspects of that society, including their recently revised code of conduct:
This is PS. The Paleontological Society is committed to safe and inclusive events and meetings for all attendees. The Code of Conduct applies to all members of the Society and to all participants of NAPC2019. The Paleontological Society is implementing “This IS PS” (Inclusive and Safe Paleontological Society) to help ensure adherence to the Code of Conduct at Society-sponsored events, including NAPC.
Registration for NAPC allowed you to stay at on campus dorms that were a convenient walk to and from the conference center. They also provided golf cart transportation to those that needed it. The dorms were four single rooms with two shared bathrooms, a living space, and a kitchen. This could be purchased alongside your conference registration and was $360 for five days, a steal in terms of lodging expenses (for reference, a hotel close to the convention center at GSA cost about $150 per night in Phoenix, Arizona). Those staying in these dorms were also offered breakfast in the nearby cafeteria.
Every day there was a catered lunch in a large open area outside where you could grab a sandwich and chat with new or old friends during a break. This meant everyone was on a break during this time so you weren’t rushing to eat between sessions and everyone was in a unified space. This was one of my (Jen’s) favorite parts of the event. There was always someone new to sit with and catch up with. The conference also offered dinner almost every evening, some in the same location as lunch, another more formal banquet, and a more casual finger food event.
There is something that inherently feels like bonding when you are sharing meals with collaborators and friends. I (Jen) think this was a really meaningful and well thought out aspect of the conference. Usually at large conferences such as GSA, everyone is scrambling to find food nearby and you don’t get to really have meaningful discussions. One thing that also really differs from GSA is that NAPC holds a banquet for everyone at the meeting. At this year’s banquet, there were string lights hung in trees, music playing, and very nice tables set up for us all. Later in the evening, we had a dance party which was a ton of fun! There was also a night where we had a raffle, with beer, wine, and food. It was great fun as well!
NAPC is structured similar to GSA, in that there are several talks that are going on in different sessions simultaneously throughout the day. However because NAPC is generally smaller than GSA, the number of sessions going on at any one time was on the range of 4 to 8. Also similar to GSA was the poster hall and session. At NAPC, the poster hall is much smaller, but the posters are left up all day, and presenters are required to be at them during the afternoon hours. Jen and I also chatted with folks at our NAPC posters throughout the day, as they are great places to talk about your research, tell friends what you’ve been up to, and get ideas about research you may want to conduct in the future. The poster sessions and daily meeting ended when it was time for dinner.
I love to educate the public on how important geology and paleontology are. Two Saturdays every month I volunteering my time at my local science center to set up of table of samples of fossils and other geological. I started volunteering for the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia back in 2016. Rick Spears who is a paleoartist and the designer for the science center invited me to give a talk for Earth Science Week.
I gave two main talks, one on trilobites and the other on crinoids. Everyone seemed to really enjoy looking at specimens. I find it very important that everyone has a chance to touch and pick up a fossil. Some fossils in museum are behind glass and in storage tucked away. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make sure that children and even adults have the chance to touch and hold fossil specimens. Children are natural born scientists; they love to touch and interact with things in their environment. For example, that could be a child picking up a rock off the ground or catching and freeing lizards.
I switch up my exhibits a lot. I love to teach about deep time and how vast the fossil record is. I do this by setting my fossil specimens in chronological order. Each specimen has its own label card and the period in which that fossil is from. This is gives visitors a perspective of old our planet is and the various geological events that happened during that time the fossil plants and animals were alive at the time. People are blown away when they learn that a stromatolite fossil that I have on display is 3.4 billion years old! Not a lot of people have the opportunity to hold the oldest fossil on earth. Each Saturday I switch from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. I could also lay out the entire 4 billion years of earth on the same table at once as well!
I don’t just feature fossils as well. I exhibit rock and mineral specimens as well. In fact, that will be my next exhibit coming up in a few weeks! Adults and parents learn about the various rocks and minerals that are found in Georgia. They get to touch the oldest rock in Georgia which is 1.2 billion years old! Again, not a lot of people have the opportunity to interact with the oldest rock in Georgia. They even get to hold the oldest crustal rock on earth which is the Acasta Gneiss. This rock is 4.2 billion years old. It is always a pleasure to see a person walk away with a smile knowing that were able to hold the oldest rock on earth. It makes me feel that I am making a difference with 1 fossil or rock sample at a time.
Please welcome Ryan, a new guest blogger here at Time Scavengers!
Ryan here –
This June I attended the North American Paleontological Conference in Riverside, California. In the middle of the conference we had a field trip day and I opted for the museum trip with guided tours of collections and work areas. It was nice to have someone else deal with the traffic for us on our way into Los Angeles to see the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is open daily from 9:30 AM – 5 PM. Admission is $14/adult, $6/child (3-12), $11/senior (62+), and $11/student (with ID). Follow the museum on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) for updates, news, and events!
At the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum (one of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County) there is plenty to take in. The museum sits within a city park and even before you go inside the building there is plenty to see. The pond in an old mined out asphalt pit at the main entrance bubbles with gases and looks dark enough to be actual tar. Here an ancient scene is set at the edge of the pond as a statue of a mammoth appears to be trapped and what could be its mate and offspring call from the edge of the shore. The sense of desperation is real.
Walking around the park leaf littered tar seeps are fenced off, and whiffs of volatile gases took my mind between memories of a road construction site, recent roof repair efforts back at home, and imagined scenes of natural history that produced all of the fossils I was about to see. It is clear how deceiving the tar pits would have been to animals, and I felt a rising anxiety as I imagined getting stuck in the viscous material.
We saw where museum volunteers, interns, and researchers cleaned out fossils from a pit where the asphalt has been – and continues to be – pumped out. The workers were focused within a squared section of the grid laid out in the pit, and were busy measuring the location of items they were removing. Lower in the pit tar-bathed fossils lay partially exposed awaiting their turn to be collected. Near the open pit, crates of material collected during a nearby parking garage construction project were being processed by another group of interns. This material has hardened and required some chemical processing to be cleaned off and release the bones. In both the pits and the covered work spaces of the crates, plenty of fresh air was fanned in and foul air vented out.
Inside the museum I was privy to one of many storage areas for the enormous quantity of material that has been collected from the tar pits. I walked down a few hundred feet of cabinet lined corridors with slide out trays from floor to ceiling and shelves with padded boxes that were only interrupted by an occasional workstation and computer. Our guide pointed down one row and indicated it would all be herbivores, then another that would be all carnivores.
Later we were led to the “Fish Bowl Lab” where as many as a dozen volunteers clean and repair specimens and gather microfossils from the tar that coats other fossils. The entire work space curves out into the main display area of the museum and affords museum patrons the opportunity to observe their work. This is a site common at many museums today, but was new and novel when put in place at this museum, and is still one of the best executions of such a space that I have seen.
There are so many fossils (well over three million at this point) that when I finally made my way out to the public display my favorite turned out to be the wall that was covered in hundreds of dire wolf skulls. It gives a sense of how much information is being discovered at La Brea. The exhibits showcase the fauna both in fossil form and in fleshed out full size models. The history of the museum itself is shown through photos and documents, and one of the prettiest murals depicting deep time graces a wall near the 3D theater. The interactive activity with metal rods and tar was informative, and while straining to lift the thick rod from the tar I more fully appreciated the the terrible, repeated events that made all of these fossils and the amount of effort currently being done at La Brea to uncover so many fossils.
I was bad about writing down the names of everyone who gave us the behind the scenes tour, but they were so gracious in taking time out of their day to show us around and allow our group to take up an entire 3D movie time slot.
After a picnic at the park around La Brea I went to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at the Webb School in Claremont. I’ll share about that part of the NAPC museum field trip in my next installment.
As part of the North American Paleontological Convention, there was a teacher workshop all about sharing digital resources in paleontology. This was hosted by the FOSSIL Project (which employs Jen) and iDigBio with many participating partners. We advertised the workshop about two months in advance and had a webpage with information for the applicants – we were targeting local California teachers. The primary goals were to (1) Raise awareness of resources available for teachers associated with digitized paleontological collections; (2) Connect teachers with a network of professionals, to help them develop and implement collections-based curricula; and (3) Increase confidence in teaching about global change and evolution using fossils.
The day was structured in seven hour blocks. Each presenter had ~20-30 minutes to introduce the platform, provide background content, and explain the utility of the resource. This was then followed by a ~30 minute activity using the resource. We wanted the workshop to allow educators to immediately take content back to their classroom to employ but it’s always best to do a test run so the educators and facilitators can brainstorm modifications or limitations within their own classrooms. You can see a full agenda for the day by clicking here.
We were specifically involved with the presentation on the Digital Atlases of Ancient Life. When we were working on our MS degrees with Alycia Stigall we were both employed as an RA on this project for one year. Jon Hendricks led off our hour block with a presentation explaining the atlases that are available, the Digital Encyclopedia of Life (DEAL, a free online textbook), and the Virtual Teaching Collection. Alycia followed with a short presentation on Paleozoic life and assessing ancient ecosystems. And then we used the Virtual Teaching Collection to work to identify some of the major animal groups that were around during the Paleozoic. We helped facilitate the lesson and answered any questions the educators had.
We also led our own presentation later on using myFOSSIL tools in the classroom. Sadie Mills led off with an overview of myFOSSIL and all of the capabilities of the website and mobile app. Adriane followed with a presentation on how foraminifera are the most awesome creatures to ever float on Earth. And then we walked through a lesson on using foraminifera as a tool to think about morphological shape and how they may have lived in different environments, and we provided other lessons for the teachers to think about forams as a tool for understanding climate change.
Overall, the workshop was a huge success and the participants really learned a lot and got to have lots of in depth conversations with facilitators! All the materials from the workshop can be found on the myFOSSIL website.
This blog post is the second in our series on how to reduce your carbon footprint! Find our first post by Sarah by clicking here.
Sometimes, you can’t reduce your footprint in all areas and that’s OK!
Many of our advances as a society have made life much better for people with a range of needs. A good example of this is plastic straws. Plastic straws, of course, contribute to our overall plastic waste, but there are many disabled people who rely on plastic straws as a safe and hygienic way to eat and drink. Alternatives like paper or metal straws aren’t always viable options for several reasons. Plastic straw bans can often hurt people who rely on straws for basic survival, so always make sure that while advocating for reducing waste, you’re not creating disadvantages for other groups of people. Advances in society have helped us live longer and better lives- some plastic waste is an inevitability. Do your best to reduce your footprint where you can, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t reduce it in every aspect of your life. And if you can cut out plastic straws, do so- but don’t take it away from people who need it!
This series is meant to be a series of ideas that you may or may not be able to employ in your daily lives but getting a better understanding and awareness is an excellent first step.
Jen & Jillian here –
Transportation can be a difficult area of your life to cut your carbon footprint. Not everyone, including us, can purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle, or choose to travel by train instead of plane, even knowing that transportation accounts for over a quarter of US carbon emissions (data from 2016). But there are other ways to reduce your carbon footprint while commuting or running errands. While not everyone lives somewhere where these are viable options, or is physically able to travel in certain ways, we encourage you to take an in-depth look at what’s in your area! In addition to reducing carbon emissions and working toward a more green future, many of these suggestions have the potential to improve your health by getting you moving, instead of a car.
Take public transportation more: Not only do gasoline vehicles emit greenhouse gases, they also are a major source of air pollution, which is linked to premature death and a myriad of systemic health problems. This is particularly important in areas that are prone to at-risk air conditions, like cities, or areas with climatic and geographic characteristics that lead to smog (like Los Angeles).
Riding public transit is easier than ever – many public transit systems utilize Transit App, which makes it very simple to find routes, plan trips, and in some cases, see real-time data on where vehicles are, or have their own in-house apps. Google Maps also offers transit instructions for a lot of cities too. Worried about getting stranded or needing your car in case of emergency? Many metropolitan planning commissions offer an emergency or guaranteed ride home program, like this one. Take a look at what’s in your area!
Riding public transit allows you to use your time for something else, be it napping, reading, or just relaxing, instead of paying attention to the road and dealing with the stress of traffic. More and more systems offer Wi-Fi and outlets or charging stations on their vehicles. Additionally, riding public transit will save you money over the long term. Data from 2016 indicates that money saved by commuting by public transit for a two-worker household is over $6000 annually – approximately the same amount spent on groceries (How public transit can (and must) help reduce carbon pollution). Additionally, many workplaces have pre-tax commuter benefits that can be used to pay for transit passes and many schools and universities have agreements that let students and/or staff ride for free with an appropriate ID.
Public transit also increases the efficiency of traffic, fewer vehicles promote fewer traffic jams and reduces fuel waste. In 2011, the American Public Transportation Association provided evidence that the use of public transportation ‘saved 865 million hours of travel time and 450 million gallons of fuel in 498 urban areas’ (Why is public transportation good for the environment?).
Jillian, before moving within walking distance of her job, commuted to work nearly every day by bus. She enjoyed letting the bus drivers deal with traffic and other drivers, zoning out instead of stressing out, and walking a little extra each day to get to and from the stops.
If you live in a bike/pedestrian-friendly area, start biking or walking more frequently! Not only are these activities good methods of exercise but they can reduce emissions from traffic congestion and fuel use (Reducing your Transportation Footprint). If you are concerned about safety, head to your local bicycle shop or bicycle advocacy organization to talk with people in the community. If there isn’t a local shop or organization by you, REI often offers bike classes. There are likely local resources to help you get started and give you ideas for safety precautions during your commute.
Check out TrailLink, a non-profit dedicated to developing trail networks across the United States. Another great resource is Google Maps. There is an option to include a layer with bike routes (head to the three horizontal bar dropdown in your browser to add it to your maps). This is an excellent planning tool and you can use street view to confirm your route before heading to the street or path. Many bus and train systems have bike racks in or on vehicles so you can become an expert multi-modal commuter!
This is Jen’s favorite method of commuting. She feels like she gets to work feeling fresh and a clear head to start the day. It takes time to really feel comfortable on the bike and the road but it is worth the effort. Make sure you have a helmet and proper lights/reflectors so that you stay visible. Also, it’s likely other people at your office are bike commuters, ask them for tips or see if they would ride with you the first few times. It’s always helpful to have someone guiding you.
There are bicycle collectives, cooperatives (co-ops), and communities all over the world. BikeCollectives has a comprehensive list of community bicycle organizations around the globe so you can look up your state or country to get more details on your local areas. In many cases, this will result in low-costs for transportation on your end and new friends and hobbies. Bike communities are very invested in sharing knowledge of bike maintenance and safety.
Carpool with coworkers or colleagues: Maybe you don’t live in a location that has good public transit or allows you to safely be a cyclist or walking pedestrian. Carpools or multiple occupancy-vehicles are an excellent way to reduce the number of cars/vehicles on the road and in turn minimize levels of pollution. This mode of transportation also saves money in terms of gas, vehicle maintenance, and parking fees. Many highways are adopting carpool lanes as an incentive for reducing the amount of vehicles on the road.
Larger workplaces often have carpool programs, and many metropolitan area planning commissions have programs to help commuters find a carpool buddy. Try searching for “find carpool [city name]” – here’s a program in Indianapolis.
Scooter and bicycle share programs: Many cities now have various programs that allow pedestrians to rent scooters or bicycles. These programs have an app that allows you to unlock and purchase a scooter or bike for a period of time for a fee. Some of these programs have docking stations scattered throughout the city for you to pick up or return the vehicle. Wikipedia has a description of bike-share systems and a detailed history, which you can read about by clicking here and a list of programs (click here). This can be an excellent mode of transportation for quick trips or recreation but make sure you return the vehicles to an appropriate spot, they can really clutter sidewalks and make things difficult for other pedestrians.
Fly less: Jet fuel is a high-carbon energy source so reducing the amount of flights you take per year can greatly reduce your impact. This also means that booking direct flights reduces your impact. The larger and heavier the aircraft, the more fuel is consumed. This means that even packing efficiently and light will have an impact (Reducing your Transportation Footprint). Some are deciding to completely abstain from flying (a task that is definitely easier in Europe, which has a strong passenger rail infrastructure).
Regulating the environmental impact of air travel is quite complicated. It’s difficult to have an excellent, green alternative for shuttling millions of people around the world every day. Click here to read a comprehensive article that explores some of the major issues. This article also highlights that the complexity should not deter us from working to learn more.
Last December I got a chance to do two things I have never done before: Visit Washington D.C. and attend the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting. The AGU fall meeting is one of the biggest geology conferences and is held every year in December. This year they broke records with 26,000+ attendees and 28,000+ abstracts submitted!
My advisor was working on a project which required surveying attendees of the meeting and he was able to pay for me to come as well to help out with that. While I had to spend much of my time there at the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Data Help Desk in the exhibit hall, I was able to get away and attend some talks and poster sessions. The project I was helping with was asking scientists who came for help at the Help Desk about their experiences, so we can figure out how to make the Help Desk more relevant and helpful for scientists at future meetings.
I flew in a whole day early so I could explore around D.C., because I knew once the conference started there would be so much going on it would be hard to get away. It was quite cold out so I bundled up in my jacket, hat, and scarf and headed out to see what I could find. I headed toward the National Mall, excited to finally visit the Smithsonian and all the memorials. I walked all the way to the far end of the mall first so I could see the various memorials. I visited the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials. As a geologist, my favorite was the WWII memorial because of the variety of rocks used in cool ways. I also learned that besides the regular Vietnam War memorial wall, there is a memorial to the women who served the country and made great contributions during that time.
Next I visited the National Museum of Natural History. I had seen it in movies, but I was excited to see all the exhibits in person. This being AGU week, the most packed section was the rock and mineral exhibit. There was a line to even get in, and once in the excitement in the room was quite noticeable. It was so fun to see everyone excitedly discussing the different minerals, where they came from, and why they looked the way they did. These are the things we do for fun when you get a bunch of geologists together!
At the conference, while I did spend most of my time working in the exhibit hall, I had picked a few sessions of science talks to attend. The cool thing about conferences like these is that there are many simultaneous sessions in multiple fields of geology, so I could go see talks on anything I want. I often hop around to talks in fields other than what I work on, but since I had limited time to see talks this time I picked a few planetary science sessions to go see, and a few in areas that are important to me, like promoting equity and inclusion and dealing with sexual harassment in the geosciences. One of my favorite sessions was a lunchtime special session on the last day. AGU held a session celebrating the start of their 100th year, where they had speakers from many of their 25 sections give talks on how our scientific understanding has changed in the last 100 years in their field.
One of the coolest things I got to do was on the last day, right before we left D.C. My advisor knows someone who works at the Library of Congress (LOC) with the map collection, so we got to go and get a behind the scenes tour at the LOC. I loved seeing all the old and unusual maps they have there. The room where they store the maps is as long as 3 football fields! As a geologist it was especially exciting to see their collection of notes and maps from Marie Tharp, who used data from instruments on research ships to produce the first scientific map of the seafloor. This map was important because it showed us where the seafloor was spreading and gave us more evidence for plate tectonics.
I am so glad I was able to go to AGU in D.C. for the start of their Centennial celebrations, and I look forward to going again!
I recently attended the annual meeting for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC). This meeting is where museum staff from around the world come together–mainly those that work in some regard with natural history collections. This can be zoological collections, herbaria, paleontological, or geological and there are many different aspects of collections care. Some attendees were curators, others collections managers, and many faculty that had smaller collections that they were working to organize and make available.
I was attending as representative of the FOSSIL Project. Over the past year I have been working with web-developers to modify the current upload process on the myFOSSIL web-platform. Anyone can upload their fossil collections to this site but we want to make the data that are really high quality available for anyone to see – this is done by sending the data to data aggregators like iDigBio and GBIF. These are portals that anyone can use to search for organism data. iDigBio is primarily the home for museum collections data and is a great tool for finding where specimens are located that you may want to do research on.
These aggregators are very powerful. Are you interested in when and where a certain animal lived? This is something you can easily determine with the data input into the portal. In many cases the data are not complete, but it is an excellent way to start thinking about really big questions about biogeography, ecology, evolutionary history, and biodiversity through time.
So, this conference was an opportunity for me to present the work that we have been doing to make the myFOSSIL platform set up in a way to easily send the data to these aggregators. I participated in a full day workshop on the Natural History Collections Club Network, a relatively recent project to create a network of student led organizations associated with natural history collections. This was a lot of fun getting to learn about how people had set up these clubs at their universities and to listen to what worked and didn’t work as they aged.
The second day of the conference was rather short and focused on the keynote speakers of the event. For the majority of the day we were all in one large room listening to these talks. The first was by someone at GBIF and he spoke about all of the available data and how things operate on their end. It was really interesting, especially since I am so interested in data mobilization (through making specimen data available online). The next talk was by the in-house artist at the Field Museum. She spoke about how she goes about her work and the different processes and timelines that go into large projects. It was incredibly fun to listen to her talk about art, natural history, and all of the connections. The third and final talk was by the author of The Feather Thief, a book about a young man stealing exotic birds from the Natural History Museum in London to sell to people to make fishing flies. Read more about the plenary talks by clicking here.
Although we sat in the same room for most of the day, I was able to connect with some really interesting people from all over the country. I tend to not be incredibly social, I’m a quiet introverted person for the most part. But when things got too loud, I would simply walk off and find a quiet spot – often, it wasn’t just me doing this, so I was able to chat with other introverts as well =]
The third and fourth days of the conference were filled with 15-minute talks by many different people. These talks were organized by themes, so you had to decide what sort of theme you were most interested at each point in the day. There was also a special session called ‘Specimen Spotlight”. Where you had 5 minutes and 1 slide to discuss an important and impactful specimen from your collection. I did not participate in this session but did sit in for almost an hour of specimens! It was really fun and an exciting way to learn about lots of different things very quickly. Check out a few that I was able to tweet about by clicking here.
I gave a talk on the fourth afternoon about our work and it was pretty well attended considering it was 4 PM!!! Everyone gets pretty tired that late in the day. I had a few good questions and then stayed for the group discussion at the end of the session. It was really productive and exciting hearing about how we can better serve and support small collections. I also participated in an education share fair on Friday morning. This was two 30-minute sessions where presenters shared information on an activity, lesson, or resource that may be of interest to others in the community. I walked through the myFOSSIL website and asked questions to the group about involving amateur paleontologists in the collections, how they could use the platform in their classrooms, or even when training their volunteers as a database management example before setting people loose on their own system.
Overall this was a hugely fun and rewarding experience. I learned an immense amount about museum collections and networked with many different people. I never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome and everyone was very kind to me. As my first SPNHC meeting I say it was a huge success!!!
Check out #SPNHC2019 on Twitter for all the updates!
This past March we attended the Southeastern Geological Society of America Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Adriane and Jen set up a GoFundMe account to help raise money to support Cam’s travel to the event. This endeavor resulted in a fully funded conference for Cam – and his first professional geology conference experience. If you are interested in reading the abstract we submitted click here.
Cam presented a poster on our use of the #FossilFriday hash tag on social media. His poster was on Thursday morning and he was constantly busy! The data we collected to assess the success of the hash tag was from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Analytics. We looked at how many people the Fossil Friday posts reach and then how many people interacted with the posts – this includes shares, reactions, comments, and clicks on the post. The metrics are slightly different for each social media platform. We also wanted to see if these posts were increasing traffic to the site or if the engagement was mostly constrained to the social media platforms.
These posts are often our highest performing posts – meaning they reach a large amount of people and many of these people interact with the content. So we gathered all of the social media data, calculated a rate of engagement for each post on each platform, and then compared this to our overall site traffic data from Google Analytics. We found that this hashtag did not bring more traffic to our website, even though they are reaching many people outside of our normal community.
This was the very first scientific conference I (Cam) was able to have the pleasure of attending. It was also the first time I did a poster presentation. At the beginning I was quite nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from SE GSA. It wasn’t until I met Jen Bauer that I become comfortable. I did practice sessions with Adriane and Jen many times via Google Hangouts, but I still had a difficult time explaining the information on the poster. When the day for me to present my poster came, I was excited and yet still nervous. I did a practice session with Jen early in the morning and I finally felt confident and motivated. While at GSA I met so many paleontologists. Many of the paleontologists I met already knew me from my constant activity on social media. This just shows how many positives outcomes can come from social media and networking. I didn’t feel out of place at GSA either. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. It was like a big family. There was also a good amount of diversity as well. There was a great amount of scientists with so many different research backgrounds. I received many encouraging words and advice as well.
On the last day at SE GSA I was invited by my good friends and paleontologists Bobby and Sarah Boessenecker to the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History which is part of the Charleston College to check out the fossil preparation lab and the vertebrate fossil collections. The cetacean (whale, dolphin, and porpoises) fossils were absolutely stunning. I was able to see Dr. Boessenecker clean a whale skull still encased in matrix (rock or sediment that the fossil was found in) that has not yet been published. I was told that the whale was not only a new species but it probably belonged to a new group as well. It’s not everyday you get to see a new species of fossil organism being cleaned right in front of you. Overall, my first GSA trip was great and I can’t wait to embark on other scientific conferences in the future.
Check out Cam talking more about his experience here:
We (Jen and Adriane) hope that one day we can provide more opportunities like this for up-and-coming geologists and paleontologists through Time Scavengers! It was a whirlwind of a few days but Cam greatly benefited from the experience of engaging and networking with so many professionals. He has a wide network of friends on Facebook and many people were very excited to see him in person! One Facebook friend even brought him supplies for his outreach work.
Jen recorded herself describing the poster, check it out here:
A few of our shark friends came up with us too from the department you can read their abstracts here and here.
It was really great getting to see some old friends from the University of Tennessee at the meeting. I got to catch up with a lot of close geology friends. These small meetings are so excellent and I really enjoy helping prepare students for their first academic conference!