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.

Sinjini’s Geological Society of America Connects 2021 Experience

Sinjini here–

The Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting is one of the biggest geology conferences, which is attended by over 5000 geologists every year. GSA is full of opportunities for everyone – students, academics, early career researchers, K-12 teachers as well as industry professionals. Despite the international travel restrictions, researchers located outside of the USA including students could participate in the meeting this year due to the hybrid mode of the conference. International researchers recorded and uploaded their talks and were present over the zoom platform to answer questions from the audience during their presentation timeslot. With the valuable assistance from Time Scavengers, GSA, Jackson School of Geosciences, and my Ph.D. supervisor, I could attend and present a poster on my preliminary research results at GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon. The poster was about taxonomic assessment of macrofaunal communities from the Early Jurassic of Morocco. It was my first GSA poster presentation, and I received a lot of constructive feedback on my poster. It was also good to discuss science with fellow researchers who stopped by my poster; sometimes I learned about their research, and at other times I received intriguing interdisciplinary ideas. I realized posters are an extremely effective way to receive feedback when presenting preliminary results and there is ample scope to interact with other researchers, while showcasing my research. 

Poster session during GSA 2021

Apart from my poster presentation, I attended several talks. In the evenings, I visited the exhibit halls and attended receptions, which were organized by the different GSA divisions and communities within the broader GSA. My day one at GSA 2021 started with the mass extinction technical session. My research focuses on triggers and kill mechanisms associated with mass extinctions, and hence, the mass extinction session was perfect to start the conference with. I attended several other paleontology and paleoecology sessions the same day. In the evening, I explored the different booths in the exhibit halls and then attended the Geology and Society division’s social event called, “New Terranes” (formerly known as Rocks and Hops). I was the student representative of the Geology and Society division from 2018-2020, where I worked with an excellent group of geoscientists dedicated in integrating the science to the society. I met the board members with whom I worked previously, while making new connections at the reception. 

I started my day two with a geochemistry session, specifically about applications of isotopes in carbon cycle and their correlation with mass extinctions. After the geochemistry session, I went to another session on trace fossils. In the afternoon, I attended a technical session on geoscience education. It was an interactive session, where there was active audience participation, for example, for one of the talks we (the audience) were divided into small groups to answer how a mountain belt evolved tectonically. During another presentation, we interacted with people sitting next to us to understand the survival and extinction of reef ecosystems. By collaboratively working through each of the 15 minutes presentations, I could effectively learn about topics outside of my research area by applying the hands-on techniques as demonstrated by the speakers. After the technical sessions, I attended the “GSA International” reception. The GSA international division works to establish collaborative relationships with GSA and other scientific societies worldwide. Anyone could be a member of the division, including international researchers who work worldwide or in the US as well as US researchers who work internationally. There were delegates from Nepal, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Colombia, and from different US universities at the reception. Apart from scientific knowledge, I also got an opportunity to learn about the work and social cultures of the different countries. There were delegates from the GSA foundation and Fulbright Scholarship Commission as well. It was great to know about the amazing geoscience work the division does such as holding conferences, workshops, and lecture sessions globally. In addition to the GSA Geology and Society and the GSA international reception, I attended the Jackson School of Geosciences friends and alumni event. It was my department’s reception, where I interacted with recent graduates and alumni of my department. 

GSA international reception (photo credits: Dr. Nazrul Khandaker)

In addition to the paleontology and geoscience education sessions, I attended the Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE) session, where representatives from different organizations participating in the URGE program presented about their institute pods and their plan forward. Overall, although the number of people were comparatively lower than other years, it was a successful meeting. There were plenty of technical sessions to stay updated on the state-of-the-art research, as well as ample opportunities to meet new scientists to enhance one’s professional network.

Charlotte Hohman’s GSA Connects Experience

Charlotte holding conference name tag for GSA

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

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

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

Charlotte preparing a Lake Elsinore specimen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haley Boles, Undergraduate Student and Astrobiologist

This is a picture of me at the Stennis C. Space Center on Feb. 21, 2018. I’m standing in front of the A-1 test stand where I had the opportunity to watch a hot fire test of one of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) engines (RS-25) where the engine reached up to 113 percent thrust level.

Hi!  My name is Haley and I’m an undergraduate researcher at the University of Florida (UF) pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Cell Science.  Before transferring to UF, I received my A.A. from Santa Fe College. 

What do you do? I perform research in the field of astrobiology, the study of whether extraterrestrial life exists, and if it does, how might humans detect it. A common strategy for determining whether a planet used to, or currently does, contain extraterrestrial life is to look for biosignatures.  A biosignature is anything that provides scientific evidence of past or present life.  Rocks on Earth are commonly used for testing and validating biosignature detection strategies.  However, rocks on Earth don’t perfectly match up to the rocks we would see on other planets, specifically Mars.  One of the differences between the rocks on Earth and the rocks on Mars is that the rocks on Mars’ surface are much older (> 3.5 Ga) than those on Earth’s surface.  This major age difference brings into question how accurate our Earth-sourced Martian analogs are.  In order to address this question, my research focuses on how effective a specific biosignature detection strategy called tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) thermochemolysis is at detecting organic molecules in rocks ranging from 1.1-3.2 Ga. 

An average day in lab for me. Running a sample through the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) and analyzing the resulting chromatographs.

My research directly supports multiple NASA astrobiology missions; however, its biggest impact is seen when interpreting the data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012.  Curiosity has performed TMAH thermochemolysis on Martian rocks and the data from this experiment has been downlinked back to Earth.  My research directly helps the scientists at NASA interpret this TMAH thermochemolysis data. 

What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? Understand and accept that science requires perseverance.  Nothing about science is easy, but if you can persist in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success, you will go a long way

This is me in front of the biosafety cabinet where I inject internal standards into my samples before running them through the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS).

Annual Meeting of the German Geological Society

Iris here –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noel Hernandez Gomez, Paleontologist in Training

A photo of Noel Hernandez sitting on top next to a river coming from a waterfall in the middle of a valley in Mackay Idaho during a field work excursion.

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, I am an aspiring scientist from birth who loves the outdoors and hopes to make a difference in the world. When I’m not doing research, I prefer to spend my time going out and seeing new things, whether that’d be a new nature trail, or a fun night with friends, there is always something to enjoy about life, which is why I have a strong passion for helping the world and all its beauty.

I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida, on my senior year for a Geology B.S., I have plans to go to Grad school in the future, and hopefully attaining a PhD as my career progresses. My focus is paleontology, and all the research I have done so far is on invertebrate animals, more specifically on crinoid evolution and echinoderms. I am currently performing research on a growth series of eight samples of Erisocrinus typus lead by Whitney Lapic and with the help of Dr. Sarah Sheffield and a previous study of hers. We mostly focus on reading past studies from many authors that talk about the species we are dealing with and examining samples to understand how these animals used to grow. Our goal is to have a publication on this by the end of the year. My goal is to keep doing research such as this for the foreseeable future and perhaps focus on other part of paleontology as well, not just confined to invertebrates.

As discussed previously, my main goal as a scientist is to make a difference in the world, and I chose to do so by studying our past. Growing up, I was surrounded by a country drowned in conflict and turmoil, I took these experiences as motivation to change this, not just for my country, but for the entire world. The change that needs to occur for a better tomorrow, starts with the right information, and science is the pursuit of this information, all facets of science are bound by this uniting principal. My work does not have obvious major implications for our society, but understanding the development of ocean creatures, even those of hundreds of millions of years ago can have contextual importance to our understanding of the oceans today and how global climates have changed in the past. Paleontology focuses on gaining an understanding of the past so that we can have an idea of what our future holds.

A contribution that I hope to make to the scientific community is to facilitate the exchange of information between English speaking scientists and Spanish speaking ones, since my native language is Spanish, and I am fluent in it, my hope is to broaden the range in which paleontology can be talked about and end the age of Eurocentrism for science.

For any up-and-coming scientist, whether they are paleontologists, or any other kind of scientist, I would strongly advise to never limit yourself due to your expectations of what you should be. Scientists are talked about as these unreachable and mighty individuals that hold the infinite knowledge of everything, and this notion can make it difficult sometimes to get in contact with professors or mentors, but the reality is that scientists are just humans, who aren’t perfect, and are just as capable as anyone else, don’t have reservations about reaching out to the members of your college or the faculty of your university, there is always a need for bright minds.

Brittany N. Price, Paleoclimatologist

Brittany, a brown-haired woman, wearing PPE while working on a gas bench in Northern Illinois Universities Stable Isotope Laboratory.
Brittany wearing personal protective equipment while working on a gas bench in Northern Illinois University’s Stable Isotope Laboratory

Similar to many children, I was always fascinated by volcanos! The dynamic way in which they change the landscape inspired me to pursue a degree in geology. While this interest and appreciation of volcanoes has never faded, a new specialty piqued my interest in my second year at university – Paleoclimatology. The idea that the past climate history of the earth could be reconstructed over millions of years by analyzing the chemical makeup of microfossils preserved in oceanic sediments quickly made me alter my focus, and subsequently my entire career trajectory! I spent the next three years working in the Paleoclimatology and Stable Isotope Geochemistry labs at the University of Miami to prepare forams (microfossils) from the Gulf of Papua (off the coast of Papua New Guinee) for stable oxygen and carbon analysis to better understand the influence of sea level, as well as variability in the East Asian Monsoon system in the western Tropical Pacific.

Fast forward almost 15 years and I am nearing the completion of my PhD. I now focus on terrestrial records that I use to assess variability in hydroclimate dynamics (i.e. rainfall) over the Holocene around the Pacific Ocean Basin. My current projects include a wide variety of locations and proxy data, from establishing chronologies of glacial advancement and recession in the South-Central Chilean Andes, to carbonate isotope reconstructions from small lake basins in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Moving forward I hope to work on better constraining the roles that aridity and convection play in the global hydroclimate system through the use of stable isotopes, as well as to reconstruct better land-based temperature proxy records. It is truly amazing to witness the analytical advances that have been made even during my relatively short career as a geoscientist!

Brittany, wearing full PPE including a face shield, working to decant hydrofluoric acid from samples used for cosmogenic chlorine-36 dating.

If I were to give one piece of advice to aspiring geologists it would be that no two paths look that same, so it is best not to compare yourself to others! There are so many interesting careers in our discipline, and it is alright to explore them. After I completed my undergraduate education, I continued on for my Masters in Geology. While I had wanted to work on terrestrial sediment cores, I ended up working on a basin analysis project using seismic reflection data. Having this skill set opened avenues that I hadn’t originally considered for myself, and led to a job offer and a career working in the oil and gas industry for 8 years. However, I realized that I was still truly inspired and passionate about Paleoclimatology, and that I still had so much more I wanted to learn. I decided to leave the workforce, and as a more mature student (at least 10 years older than the average age of my cohort) I entered the PhD program at Northern Illinois University. Returning to the world of Paleoclimatology has been one of the best and most fulfilling experiences of my adult life, even if the path I took to get here was a bit longer than most.

Brittany, woman in a wide-brimmed hat and fleece jacket, on a snow-covered field in front of a small cirque glacier
Brittany on a snow-covered field in front of a small cirque glacier.