Monday, 17 September 2012

SVPCA Experience!

Well the Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA) was last week: my first ever conference, and of course, first ever oral presentation. The conference was great. I had a fantastic week meeting people, learning about palaeontology, and getting ideas for my PhD. I got to meet some people I had had lots of email/social media contact with, which was nice, as well as some new people I had never talked to before.

My talk was on Wednesday, with pterosaurs being sandwiched between marine reptiles/crocodiles and dinosaurs: it was basically Mesozoic Wednesday. I went right before lunch, the first talk of the pterosaurs. It seemed to go well, although I was a bit terrified when I looked up to see several hands in the air after I finished. Fortunately, people were just very curious in what I did, asking good methodological questions, and being curious about what exactly I found. I had several people approach me afterwards asking me about my data, what I had found, and with ideas for future projects. All-in-all, I think my first talk was a success. Now I can start thinking about my next one, which will hopefully be at Rio Ptero 2013, the pterosaur conference in Brazil.

Most of the talks were excellent, with some bad ones and some great ones spread throughout. Most entertaining talk definitely goes to Jeff Liston, which had most of us laughing throughout his description of some fish fossils (followed up of course by the best auctioneer I've ever seen as he ran the auction Thursday night). As for my favourite talk in terms of content, I would probably say that Dave Hone's Protoceratops aggregation, which was very cool.

The conference in all was very interesting, but I was possibly more interested in the difference between men and women. The first day it became apparent to me that there weren't many women, so I started to investigate, and came up with some interesting numbers. I decided it was worthy of some investigation, so bear with me and my many graphs!

So this is interesting. Although 31% of the total people at the conference were female, only about 25% of presenters were female and males seemed to be much more willing to present their work than women were. Where are all the women? Well it's also interesting if you break it down into multiple author talks and posters. 

Of talks given with multiple authors, the presentations with females as an author increased as the number of authors increased, with few presentations being dominated by female authors. Of 13 talks with more than 5 authors, only 3 had 50% or more authors as females. Similar information is seen in posters with more than one author, although there were few posters to compare. 

What I was also interested in is the breakdown by area of study. I didn't go through everything, but for talks with the primary author being the one looked at, the numbers of female:male for each topic are as follows:
Fish 3:4
Palaeozoic tetrapods 1:2
Marine reptiles and crocodiles 0:8 (although one was presented by Lorna Steel, although the first author was male)
Pterosaurs 1:2
Dinosaurs 1:7
Birds 2:3
Mammals 6:8
I'm especially amazed by the difference between males and females in the marine reptiles and crocodiles, and dinosaur studies. Most other groups aren't statistically significant, while mammals has almost as many females as males. I know that there is a lot of discussion about getting women involved in science, and this was some definite evidence that this field is dominated by men. 

Come on girls! Start doing some science! I want the next conference to be more than 25% female! 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Thesis complete! Now SVPCA ahhh

Today, I submitted my MSc thesis. What a huge weight off my shoulders! Of course, shortly after I printed it, I discovered a mistake. Don't worry, it was minor. I had to resist the urge to re-print it. But now it is handed in and complete. No more work until... next week. Dammit.

On Monday, I'm off to the SVPCA annual meeting in Oxford, where I will do my first ever conference presentation titled "A novel approach to measuring pterosaur bone mass using CT scans". I will be presenting the results of my MSc research, co-authored by my supervisor Colin Palmer. I'm also hoping to get the first publication submitted shortly, but we'll see. Sadly, there are only 3 pterosaur oral presentations, and mine is first (how'd that happen?!). I'm really looking forward to the other pterosaur talks, which involve one on the really awesome Darwinopterus by David Unwin et al, and a small azhdarchoid from the Isle of Wight by Darren Naish et al. There are also a few posters on pterosaurs: a re-appraisal of Istiodactylus latidens from Calum Davies, a re-appraisal of British Jurassic pterosaurs by Michael O'Sullivan, pterosaur tooth anatomy by Steven Vidovic, and azhdarchid relationships by Mark Witton. Apparently no one from outside of the University of Portsmouth decided to submit a poster on pterosaurs since 3 are by UoP PhD students, and one is a staff member. What the heck? Share the love, guys! Speaking of guys, they are also all male... Interesting. Where are the females? I just noticed I'm also the only female pterosaur presenter.

I have to admit, I'm terrified to present next week. I have talked in front of a large number of people once in my life, and that was at my Mom's funeral. This is a little bit different. In that case, I was talking about my Mom. Who could tell me I'm wrong? Now, I have to get up in front of a room full of experts, where lots of people could tell me I'm wrong. AND it's right before lunch, when I'm sure most people would rather be eating. On the plus side, that may mean that no one will ask me questions. This isn't helped by the fact that there are a number of experts in my particular field in the room, including ones that I contradict in my talk. Mark Witton already gave me a heart attack by telling me I couldn't use his results in my presentation because I disagreed with him. He had me convinced that he was serious. (I'll get you back for that, Mark... you have been warned). Wednesday can stay away for now I think... But seriously, does anyone have any suggestions of what to do/not do at a scientific conference? Specifically while giving a talk? Have I mentioned that I've never even been to a real conference? Geez, whose idea was it to give a talk at a conference before going to one. Clearly that was a bad idea.

I've practiced my talk in front of a group of people once, and had some positive response. Plus, Colin took a look at it and gave me some suggestions. I'm hoping it goes well. But lets just say that I will be extremely happy once Wednesday is over.

Now that I'm done my thesis, you might ask what I am going to do with myself? Well immediately, I will start applying for scholarships. I have a PhD position at Bristol starting in January, but it's unfunded, so I'm in need of some way of paying for this. Most of the deadlines are from October-December, so that's what I'll be doing. At the end of October, I go home for a few months to spend with my family. My Mom passed away in January, so I'd like to go home and spend time with my family through that tough time (like her birthday, Christmas, and 1 year from her death). It won't be a happy few months, but at least I'll be with family. Then in January, I'll come back to Bristol and start my PhD. That's the plan anyways. If there's something I've learned this year, it's that nothing goes according to plan...

I'll post my thoughts on the conference when I get back next week!