Saturday 5 September 2015

Flugsaurier and SVPCA

The last 2 weeks have been crazy busy and stressful for me, and I'm glad that I can now sit down and relax, and get back to some blog posts! The reason for the stress has been that I attended, and was on the organising committees, of 2 separate conferences: Flugsaurier, a conference for pterosaur research held every 2-3 years; and the Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, a yearly conference for mostly UK-based (but all are welcome) researchers.


Flugsaurier 2015 took place in Portsmouth, UK, and was an exceptional conference. For pterosaur researchers like me, this conference was just great. Typically when I go to conferences there are 3-4 talks on pterosaurs (if I'm lucky), and the rest of the conference is more indirectly relevant to my work. Flugsaurier meant that I had 2 full days of pterosaur talks to listen to, and a day with workshops. I have to say that the talks were great. As most of the research presented is not published, I won't describe the research in detail. If you're interested in finding out what was presented, the titles of the talks and posters can be found here. Talks included topics like functional morphology, muscular reconstruction, pterosaur trackways, new specimens (including a new 3D Triassic pterosaur!), limits of biomechanics, aerodynamics, and much much more. I quite enjoyed Rachel Frigot's talk on the pelvic musculature of a small pterosaur from the Isle of Wight, Vectidraco, mostly because I also happened to be talking about this specimen. We're looking at different aspects of the same specimen, and I think that we will be able to say some interesting things about it in the end, doing completely different things. But that's all I'll say as it's still very much in it's infancy (at least I know it is for me). I also was interested in Alex Kellner's talk on pterosaur reproduction, which was recently published and I will try to post about sometime soon. I somehow managed to get my name on 4 abstracts at the conference, including my talk on spinal nerve foramina in pterosaurs (using Vectidraco), a poster co-authored with Dave Hone and others on rhamphorhynchine bone thickness, a talk by Darren Naish on azhdarchids from Romania, and my former student Charlie Navarro's talk on pterosaur jaw evolution.

I think the highlight for many people came on the 3rd day in the workshops. The second workshop was put on by Colin Palmer and Mike Habib, two of my supervisors, on pterosaur aerodynamics and biomechanics. While it was scheduled for 1.5 hours, we had a marathon 4-hour session, with a few breaks in between. As workshop coordinator, and obviously interested in the topics, I thought this was fantastic, and apparently other people agreed. We worked through several problems or questions related to pterosaur flight, and what kind of tests or methods could be used to answer these questions. Thanks so much to Mike and Colin for this stellar performance.

As always, I was interested in the ratio between males and females at the conference, particularly because it seemed to not have so many speakers that were female. Turned out that I was right in suspecting that. Of 30 scheduled talks, only 28 were actually given, of which 5 were presented by women. That's just 18%. Seems quite sad really. Of total delegates, only 23% were female as well. It seems that pterosaur palaeontology needs more women! From what I can think of, the majority of women that work on pterosaurs were at the conference and presented, so it's not just because of missing people. So terrible... But well done to the 5 ladies who presented - Rachel Frigot, Taissa Rodrigues, Maria Leal, Fabiana Costa, and yours truly. Interestingly, 3/5 of the women are Brazilian... even more to ponder!

Anyways, I loved the conference. Most of the big pterosaur names were there and it was good to meet everyone. Can't wait for the next one, tentatively in LA!


This year's Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy was held at my home university, the University of Southampton, in the National Oceanography Centre. The 63rd annual SVPCA was extremely successful, breaking records of attendance (about 160 delegates), and the auction fundraising (over £1900 raised for the student fund). We had a team of awesome Southampton people on the committee, mostly run by Gareth Dyke, Jessica Lawrence Wujek, Aubrey Roberts, and I. We had more talks than ever, in a large number of topics from fish, to birds, to mammals, to dinosaurs, and everything in between. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to many talks, so I won't talk about them... but what I did see was great. If you want to see the programme, it can be found here.

Again, I was interested in the breakdown between males and females. SVPCA fared better than Flugsaurier in terms of equality, but it's still not great. Of 64 talks, 15 of them (24%) were presented by a woman. However, 35% of the total delegates were female. And interestingly enough, 34% of the posters were lead by women, which matches the total percentage. This follows what other people have said and reported before - women are not giving talks as much as men. I know that in this case it is not due to women's talks being rejected as SVPCA rejects very few (if any) abstracts. Therefore, women just aren't submitting abstracts for talks as much as they are for posters. While the general numbers are consistent with what was seen at my 2012 SVPCA, on the plus side, there were more female-lead posters this time than previously. Let's hope we can keep this trend on the up!

Next year, SVPCA will kindly be hosted by Peter Falkingham at Liverpool John Moore's University. Can't wait to hear what he plans for it!

Thanks again to everyone who came to both conferences and making them so awesome. See you all soon! Now I need to get back to my this thing called my PhD...