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

Ibrahim here – 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin’s 2021 American Geophysical Union Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Brittany’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2021 Recap

Brittany here – 

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

AGU 2021 logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brittany’s AGU Fall Meeting 2021 Experience

Brittany here – 

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

The AGU Fall Meeting banner, which reads 'AGU Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA & Online everywhere 13-17 December 2021'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patty’s Experience Attending Virtual AGU 2021

Patty here – 

I recently attended the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting virtually Dec 13-17, 2021, thanks to the generous support of the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant, so this post is a wrap-up about my experience presenting at and attending the conference.

If you have never attended AGU before, it can be very overwhelming. The first time I attended was in 2018 when I was an undergrad, and I was presenting a poster on the Marine Geology and Geophysics Field Course I participated in that summer. It was my first scientific conference, and I definitely felt overwhelmed. There are so many people from different disciplines that present at AGU every year, it is almost impossible to see everything you want to see, but there is great potential for interdisciplinary collaboration. This experience exposed me to research I was not even aware was possible. I did not attend AGU in 2019 or 2020, so this was my first time back at the conference in several years, and I had high hopes for generating collaborations and expanding my network to include different scientists.

I wish I could say that these new connections with people happened during my virtual attendance, but I think it is particularly difficult to achieve in a virtual setting, and especially when half of the conference attendees are in-person and may not be looking at virtual poster presentations. I think it is likely that my expectations for networking in this hybrid environment were a little unrealistic, so this was a good learning experience for me regarding pandemic-era conference presentations. 

My poster presentation was part of the Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology General Poster session on 13 Dec 2021, and I was presenting some very preliminary data on my PhD research project investigating deep-ocean circulation changes in the southern Gulf of Mexico during the Eocene-Oligocene Transition. (The poster is still viewable on AGU’s iPoster website, by the way.) As a virtual attendee you can schedule video and chat sessions for your poster presentation on whichever platform you prefer. So, I scheduled zoom and chat times during the poster session, hoping people would have time to drop in and chat about my research and the preliminary data I was presenting. I even advertised my poster and zoom/chat sessions on Twitter.

Large format poster that Patty presented virtually at AGIU 2021. The poster includes maps, climate plots, core sections and the chemistry pulled from the core. Work is summarized at the end and future directions are stated.
AGU Poster, Deep-Water Circulation in the Southern Gulf of Mexico at Eocene-Oligoene Transition

Unfortunately, that did not happen. According to AGU’s poster statistics, by the end of the conference there were 17 people who viewed my poster, but no one contacted me during or after the chat sessions. My dreams of collaboration at AGU 2021 died fairly quickly by Monday evening, but I do not want it to discourage me from participating in and presenting at conferences in the future. This just was not a great way to generate those connections I was looking for, and it is something I will keep in mind as the pandemic continues.

I do not want to give the impression that my entire AGU experience was negative because it was a great opportunity for me to look for research outside of what I was working on, and to get updates on diversity and inclusion initiatives taking place within the AGU community. Although the lack of engagement at my poster and technical issues on the morning of the first day, which admittedly may have contributed to the limited engagement, made me feel somewhat discouraged attending talks and townhalls for the rest of the week, there were a few sessions that I found interesting and useful. I liked that I was able to view recordings of the talks and could elect to participate in the discussion or not and that I could view any of the virtual posters at any time. I think that AGU set up a very functional hybrid format. Their new Q&A format was also very successful because it limited unnecessary and unhelpful comments and highlighted questions that the entire audience wanted to hear through upvoting on the platform.

Due to the limited engagement at my poster, I made an effort to look at virtual posters, especially posters that are outside my discipline. This is something I tend to do at in-person conferences, anyway. Wandering around the poster hall and randomly reading a poster can be enlightening and reveal unexpected research paths in subjects I was not previously aware of. I think my favorite “random” posters I found were the ones on the probability of bolide impacts (very timely #DontLookUp).

Some of the best sessions I attended focused on advances in paleoceanography and understanding climate changes in the past, such as PP23A: Advances in Understanding the Deep-Time ‘Greenhouse Climates’ and the Hyperthermal Events, PP22A: Paleoceanographic Insights From Biomineralizers: Advancing Proxy Applications via Process-Based Understanding, and PP34A: Evolution of the Earth System. These sessions are directly related to my research, and I enjoyed seeing all of the great new research being done. I felt encouraged being able to connect my research to the work being done by other scientists. Although I was virtual, it helped me feel connected to the community in a small way.

I also attended sessions from the Ocean Sciences division on Advances in Understanding Global Meridional Overturning Circulation From Past to Future, Ocean Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico, Interaction of Tropical Basins, and Outstanding Problems in Caribbean and Central American Tectonics, which are topics that are tangentially related to my research. These sessions helped me to look at my research from different perspectives and see how it might inform other disciplines. Due to overlap of many sessions, there were some sessions that I was not able to attend live. However, I was able to watch the talk recordings and AGU has an On Demand feature that shows the recording of each session, so you can go back and catch up on talks and discussions that you missed. 

In addition to science sessions, I also attended two townhalls TH15H: How Is Science Doing in Washington? The State of U.S. Science Policy One Year Into the Biden Administration and Where We Go From Here and TH33G: Reciprocity in AGU: The Beginnings of an Indigenous Action Committee, both of which I found very encouraging. I felt grateful to be able to attend these townhalls virtually, and I think that is a feature AGU should absolutely continue to use in future conferences because of increased accessibility. 

Overall, I appreciated AGU’s hybrid format, and despite technical hiccups on the first day, I think the platform was successful for the rest of the conference. As we consider a future where we need to decrease carbon footprints through airplane travel, the impact that traveling to conferences can have on people’s lives, and, most importantly, accessibility for people who are unable to travel for health or financial reasons, the hybrid conference format is probably the best option we have. I think that AGU has a good start in developing an engaging format, but there needs to be a willingness by all attendees (in-person and virtual) to deliberately engage with each other (myself included), especially for early career scientists. That being said, it’s been a really long two years and the pandemic is not over, so I think we all deserve a little grace for what we are able to contribute to and get out of scientific conferences right now. 

 

Conference of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology – SVP Virtual 2021

Hi! Blandine here.

Thanks to the Tilly Edinger Grant, I was able to attend the 2021 SVP (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology) annual meeting. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the event was fully held online, with four days of live broadcasting and meetings on a dedicated platform from the 1st to the 5th of November.

Logo for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 2021 Annual (Virtual) Meeting. Image from the SVP Conference Booklet.

As it was my first time attending a conference, I honestly didn’t know what to expect before taking part in it, apart from getting the chance to learn more on my topics of interest in paleontology (taphonomy, preparation, bone histology, and dinosaur related research) and science communication in an interactive way. I first received via email the abstract list and schedule of the conference, which allowed me to already think about which meetings I wanted to take part in, and what topics interested me the most. Then, I got access to the online platform, made available one week prior to the live conference to give attendees the time to watch, study, and read pre-recorded or uploaded speeches, papers, presentations and posters. In order to make the content available to a wider audience, it was strongly advised by the SVP that presenters provide a script of their presentation/speech, which they almost all did (all live sessions were automatically subtitled as well!). The conference’s website was set up in a similar way as a forum, with each presenter and attendee having a personal profile where they could share their content, research interests and links. It was possible to follow other scientists profiles, in order to get notifications whenever they would post additional content, and everyone could also interact via private messages. The thematic live sessions were organised as the following: one host would introduce each talk/poster one after the other, and anyone could ask questions about them and get direct answers from the author of the presentation or poster. Unfortunately, it felt from time to time that some attendees were not aware they were meant to check out the pre-recorded presentation before the live sessions, and thus very few comments or questions would be asked about some of them.

On the main page of the event were listed the main topics tackled by all presenters. I focused on the content belonging to the following categories: Dinosaur Systematics, Diversity and Biology; Education & Outreach; Non-Avian Theropod Systematics, Biology & Evolution; Preparator’s sessions; Paleohistology & Paleopathology; Biomechanics & Functional Morphology; Taphonomy, Paleoenvironments & Stratigraphy. My favorite talk was by Jasmina Wiemann about how “Molecular composition determines biases in the fossil record of vertebrate soft tissues”, explaining the interactions between mineral phases and organic components during fossilization. Too many times, people focus either on biology or geology, but as this talk reminded the audience, paleontology is a mixture of both!

A Coffee Lounge was included on the platform, allowing attendees to have breaks together and enjoy some time off between live sessions. Unfortunately, due professional schedule conflicts, I could not take part in those breaks.

One section of the main menu was about awards in various categories, one of them being paleoart! I was really happy to see this part of paleontology represented at the conference, because paleoart is definitely helpful when it comes to visualise “in the flesh” animals we study the remnants of, as well as their environment. As many artists study papers before working on their pieces, the representations they make of extinct species are not pure fantasy, but more interpretations of scientific facts.

Regarding the content I could benefit from over the conference, the first day was dedicated to workshops; I attended to the live Zoom-meeting about “Inclusive Science Communication” by Sara Elshafie (@sci_story on Twitter). The presenter taught us through her presentation and small, interactive exercises in breakout rooms how to reflect on inclusivity when it comes to scientific communication. Indeed, it is crucial to consider the public’s struggles, priorities and interests, in order to make information easier to grasp and not exclude anyone from the scientific discourse. Adapting a narrative to the person in front of you should not be a struggle but more of a natural thing, because it takes two to share a story.  She also put great emphasis on storytelling, for which she actually does coaching, and how much easier it is to convey a complex idea when it is turned in a small tale/story. I learned a lot through this workshop, and Sara shared with us all documents and resources after the meeting.

Main page of the SVP virtual platform. Image from https://vertpaleo.org/svp-annual-meeting/

Another workshop I watched, related to scientific communication (this time, on record) was about “Optimizing Gathertown for interactive science education”  by David Levering. The presenter was giving tips and tricks on how to use and optimize the Gathertown platform in order to create engagement with students and help them learn about geology/paleontology at their own pace in an entertaining way. He explained how his students enjoyed the learning process as they were using the website, and made significant progress while interacting with each other about the content they had to study for.

I think the two workshops definitely were up to date with what our field needs: more inclusivity, more interactive resources and creative ways of sharing science with any audience.

On the next days, from the 2nd to the 5th of November, the live sessions I attended included talks related to dinosaurs, but I specifically enjoyed the preparator’s sessions, in which preparators would explain and share their newly discovered techniques for fossil cleaning/preservation/restauration.

Overall, I enjoyed the SVP virtual conference, and it felt good to see so many people passionate about the same topics and excited about paleontological research. My interactions with the other attendees were quite limited apart from a few private or public questions as I couldn’t attend the networking sessions/coffee breaks due to time difference with the USA and my professional schedule, but I could definitely get to know about people who share the same research interests as me, and learn about so many recent and exciting scientific discoveries!

I would like to thank the Time Scavengers for having allowed me to take part in my first conference ever through the Tilly Edinger travel grant. Hopefully, I’ll be able to attend to one in person soon!

Noel’s Experience at Geological Society of America Conference of 2021

Noel here – 

This year, I got the honor to attend the annual conference for the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Portland, Oregon. This conference is dedicated to all corners of the geosciences, and hosts professionals and students alike from all over the world to present their research to the scientific community either through presentations or poster boards. It is also an amazing opportunity for any undergraduate student who is just starting their journey into their field and seeking for further education opportunities, such as myself. I attended along with my professor and another member of my lab group, representing the University of South Florida (USF).

Last year’s GSA conference was held entirely online do to the COVID-19 outbreak, so this year was a return to the in-person format, while still having online accessibility to all participants who either couldn’t make it or didn’t feel comfortable being around crowds of people still. 

As this was my first time attending a conference, my focus was on meeting as many people in the field of paleontology as possible. I will be graduating from USF at the end of 2021, so I wanted to explore my options for possible grad school programs and professors that I could work with. During the four-day event, I got to talk to a wide variety of paleontologists, this included students of all levels, and professionals looking for students. There was only a handful of undergrad students since it’s not common practice for students at this level to attend conferences unless they are very passionate about their field and want to get ahead of the game. I would personally recommend any student who is interested in higher education to consider attending such events in general, but GSA is a good experience specifically because it is a very wide-reaching event and gives many more opportunities than smaller conferences.

I did not have any research material to present this time around, but a graduate student from our lab, Stephen Hill, did present his current research on the feeding mechanisms of diploporan echinoderms. He used computer models based on the morphology of these animals to run mathematical simulations on how water currents would have interacted with them. Watching students present made me feel better about the idea of someday presenting myself at these kinds of event, which is a huge benefit of going with a lab group or colleagues, specially when you are new to the conference experience.

Stephen Hill presenting his research on diploporan feeding and respiratory systems modeling.

There was also a large poster exhibition hall at the conference, here you get to have a more one-to-one experience with the people who are actually heading these research projects and get to ask questions. These posters are not only an interactive way of find out about the latest active fields of research, but you also get great networking opportunities. This is where I got to talk with the many great professionals and their students to get a better idea of how graduate school works and what I should expect for the application process.

From the perspective of an undergrad, attending GSA was definitely a worthwhile experience that gave me ample opportunity for networking and broadening my perspective on relevant topics in my field. Even though my preferred area of study is paleontology, there is definitely something for everyone in geology. As stated previously, I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass, and neither should you.

Allison’s Experience at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference

Allison here-

Every fall, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) holds a conference. This year (2021) was the eighty-first conference, second online conference, and the second year I have attended. Although the membership of SVP has some overlap with the Geological Society of America, this conference is much more specialized – focusing only on vertebrates. Vertebrate focused education, preservation, and trace fossils (e.g. tracks, burrows, scat) are included along with research of specimens.

Due to issues with private collecting of fossils, SVP has strict ethics guidelines on specimens included in research. Fossils in private collections or currently for sale cannot be included in abstracts or presented research. Research specimens referred to must be “destined to be made available in full at the time of publication”.

I wanted to attend the SVP conference again so I could learn about cutting edge research, research methods, and attend virtual networking sessions. I presented my research as a poster last year but did not present this year. Hopefully, I will present research next year.

Online conferences make networking difficult, but SVP hosted zoom roundtable discussion sessions and daily coffee hours. These allowed for a casual networking atmosphere. The roundtable events were fresh and informative, focusing on issues such as mental health, LGBTQ+ scientists, disability, and  diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

I was part of a workshop entitled “Inclusive Science Communication”. There, I learned about website and figure accessibility (e.g. maps can be difficult for those with colorblindness), use of inclusive language and awareness of assumptions, and the importance of considering the intended audience.

One of the events SVP holds is the Romer prize, a prestigious prize awarded to a recent or soon-to-be PhD graduate for the best presentation. I was able to watch the majority of the Romer prize talks. I learned about a variety of fascinating research, from bone histology to fossil primates. These presentations also demonstrate ways to structure talks, visually structure slides, and present research. I find it helpful to learn from other’s examples with skills like presenting.

One of the best parts about attending conferences is learning about cutting-edge research. For instance, I learned that many paleontologists are using isotope geochemistry to answer really interesting research questions. This has inspired me to sign up for an isotope geochemistry course next semester.

Besides being exposed to new research, I was able to watch presentations and see posters of research similar to my master’s thesis project. I study speciation in wolves using geometric morphometrics and was able to learn about other’s research methods for handling the immense amounts of hybridization between wolf species and coyotes, such as mitochondrial DNA. It’s refreshing to see different approaches to a problem I’m focused on.

I look forward to attending future SVPs, hopefully in person.

Kelsey Jenkins’s Geological Society of America 2021 Meeting Experience

Kels here – 

Group photo of Yale students at GSA conference.

I had been up since 2 am Saturday morning in order to travel from Connecticut to New York in order to make a 7:35 am flight. I was sleep-deprived, but so extremely excited to attend my first in-person conference since 2019. GSA doesn’t typically attract the largest cohort of vertebrate paleontologists, but this year promised larger attendance. Everyone is eager to see each other in person again since the pandemic stole so much time away from us.

At 7:34 am, a flight attendant announced, “This morning’s flight has been canceled due to no pilot.”

I’m not kidding. This happened. Was this some sort of ironic joke? My lab mates and I had been planning this trip for months! We had meetings to schedule flights together, book the Airbnb, practice our presentations…

All our flights were scattered to new times that day, but between the rebookings and confusion between airlines, our rag-tag crew of grad students made it to Portland more-or-less in one piece.

VooDoo Doughnut

Again, we were up by 7 am the next morning to go straight to the conference. Portland’s convention center where the conference was held is massive, and I found myself running back-and-forth to catch all the brilliant talks and posters. GSA even held poster and talk sessions on the topic of virtual paleontology, where my own poster on digital fossil reconstruction was featured. Listening to so many clever scientists discuss how they tackle issues related digital methods revealed to me just how quickly paleontology is propelling into state-of-the-art techniques. It felt good to be surrounded by all the science. It felt even better to hug my friends for the first time in years.

There were so many other highlights of the meeting. First, I met people I had only previously met in video calls and Twitter. Turns out they’re pretty amazing people, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to discuss our interests over lunches and dinners. Second, I received amazing feedback on my own poster, and I’m thrilled by the collaborations that the presentation sparked. Third, I have to admit I stepped away from the convention center to visit the Oregon Zoo, Powell’s Books (the largest independent bookstore in the world), and VooDoo Doughnut. What’s the point in holding conferences in fun places if you don’t explore just a little, right?

Lamprey from the Oregon Zoo

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure I’d care much for GSA beforehand. I thought it might not be the best fit for my research interests. GSA and the many wonderful people who attended proved me wrong. I anticipate attending this conference many more times in the future, and I’m so honored that the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant offered me the opportunity to do so.

Me holding a 3D printed reptile skull to use at my poster presentation

Blandine Hautier, Vertebrate Paleontology Master’s graduate

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Blandine, and I am a master’s graduate in vertebrate paleontology. I specialise on dinosaurs (taphonomy, histology). I did my geology bachelor’s degree in Lille (France) with an Erasmus+ mobility in Tomsk (Russia), followed by a master’s degree in paleontology done in Lille for the first year, and an Erasmus mobility in Bonn (Germany) for the second, with my master’s thesis. Outside of paleontology, I am interested in modern Japanese literature, gothic fiction, taking care of plants and animals. But to be honest, I’m having the most fun when I’m in a museum! 

Posing in front of (from the left to the right) Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Edmontosaurus skull casts, on display at the “Big, Bigger, Dinosaurs” exhibition in Bonn (Museum Koenig).

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My career is only beginning, and I like to try out everything related to paleontology. 

For my master’s thesis, I had a research project on green-colored dinosaur bones from Utah (USA). The remains belonged to several diplodocines (large long-necked dinosaurs), and an unusual fossilization turned them green. Histology (study of bones microstructures) is a technique which has many uses, one of them being the determination of the age of an animal by the observation of its bone tissues. This method is particularly useful in bonebeds where dinosaur remains have been mixed because of river flows (for example). Through the observation of bone sections under the microscope, I could determine that the diplodocine remains came from animals of different ages, which meant several dinosaurs’ carcasses were mixed in the quarry.

Before that, during my bachelor’s, I learned dinosaur bone preparation in the vertebrate paleontology laboratory of the Tomsk State University. It’s a tedious work, but you really learn a lot by preparing the fossils by yourself. There are so many details you can miss when you observe a bone taken out of its context! The surrounding sediments, the geometry of the deposition, the state of preservation of the remains… all those clues are very important when doing a paleontological investigation! I see things in this way: a vertebrate paleontologist is often like a medical examiner in a murder case. When the body is removed from the crime scene, they are able to tell the cause of death, but not who killed the victim. To get the whole picture, we need the crime scene as well. For paleontologists, this corresponds to the quarry/bonebed, or at least the sediments around the bones. This is what field excursions, and thorough documentation on excavations are for!

Sitting on the left of a Titanosaurus vertebra (circled in orange) we discovered with my friend Lisa Garbé (on the right) in Russia with the paleontological laboratory from the Tomsk State University

During the bachelor years I had in Lille, I worked as a curating assistant for the geology department of the Museum of Natural History, and helped organising several public outreach events, giving talks on the need of paleontology in our societies to understand today’s climate emergency.

A few months ago, I helped dismantling the “Big, Bigger, Dinosaurs” exhibition at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, and returning to this kind of environment after a 3 years break felt really good. Since then, I occasionally help setting up and dismantling exhibitions around dinosaurs, and it is so much fun! (PS: I created an instagram account to try to share the behind the scenes of dinosaur research and exhibitions… @dinosaurs_forensics 😉 )

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? When I was a child, I developed an interest for bones early on. I would collect bones and skulls from diverse animals I would find in the fields, clean and sort them in different categories. As my mother thought this was a horrible hobby for a little girl, she got rid of my collection as soon as she found out it was not a short-lived interest. I then moved on to snail shells, but this collection was really stinky, and ended up in the trash like the former one. To me, keeping those bones and shells were like preserving memories of what once was. I wanted to understand what had happened to those animals, and their remains were a way to find out. One day, a friend of my parents showed them a plant fossil. It was a trace of a thing that lived in the past, it was beautiful, did not stink.. and my parents liked it? From that moment on, I started asking questions about fossils and collecting them. My dad brought me to the Museum of Natural History in Lille, and there I could show my treasures, get answers about them, and see which stories could be uncovered through fossil remains. I decided I would become a paleontologist one day. Growing up, I received a great support from my dad, one museum curator, and three school teachers who encouraged me to follow my passion, despite everyone around saying that I would “never make it” in paleontology.

My favorite parts about being a scientist are to question the current knowledge, go on field excursions to look for fossils in places where nature has been untouched, and also try to close the gap between scientists and the public. In the same way older people made me want to do paleontology and pushed me to follow my dreams, I want to transmit the knowledge and will to understand our world to younger generations. I love speaking to kids, grandparents, families who want to know about what was, and what  extinct forms of life can tell us about our present and future.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Dinosaurs make kids and adults dream and wonder, and even if this field of paleontology can be considered as “less meaningful” regarding climate change than micropaleontology as an example, I like researching about them just for the sake of knowledge. Why did they look this way? What were their habits? Why were they so big?

Holding a real piece of a limb bone of the “Arapahoe” sauropod during the dismantling of the Museum Koenig’s exhibition

I believe there is nothing wrong in trying to answer questions which do not appear as  “useful” for today’s societies. All questions deserve to be answered. On the other hand, understanding dinosaur’s ecology, biology, environment and habits definitely help us refine the knowledge we have about evolution and other aspects of the living.

Dinosaurs are also useful in another way: as they are part of the worldwide pop-culture, they are very often the first step into paleontology for many people. Through dinosaurs, it is possible to speak to people about fossils, geology, evolution, extinction events. As a result, for public outreach, scientists (including me) use them as an introduction to topics such as climate change. That’s why so many scientific articles use “dinosaur” in their title, even when those animals are not involved in the paper.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?  “Do or do not. There is no try.” if you want to do science, go for it. Do your best, always, and if it does not work, you won’t have any regrets because you did all you could to make it happen. And when obstacles will come along the way, never forget that for each problem there is a solution. If you have passion, you will get to meet similar-minded persons who will help you reach your goals, and you will end up finding your spot in this field. 

If you are a LGBTQ+, disabled, POC or woman-identifying person: there is space for you in science. Together, we should and will make this environment a safer place, where we all can grow equally. We need diversity, please don’t give up on your dreams. 

Follow Blandine’s updates on Research Gate and Instagram.

Taking a break to observe the landscape during a field excursion in Siberia.