Saturday, 30 January 2016

PhD of travelling! Holy moly

I've been living in the UK now for 4.5 years. The first year and a bit was on a student visa (very restrictive, not fun), but for 3 years now I've been on an Ancestry Visa which is much better. This means that at the end of my 5 year visa, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain to settle here in the UK if I choose to. I've been looking up the requirements and eligibility, and stumbled across some fun things.

One of the requirements is that I cannot have been out of the country for 180 days or more in any year. Looking back at my passport, I got a bit worried about that requirement. It seems like so much, but when I'm constantly going to museums, and conferences for work, plus the occasional vacation, it's not that much. This is how I discovered just how much travelling I've done since moving.

Growing up in Canada I didn't fly all that much. I did a few trips, but considering how far away everything was, it was typically for few long trips rather than any short ones. Since starting my PhD, I have been on no fewer than 14 international trips. The majority of those were work related in some way with conferences, field work and museum visits often being tacked onto or followed by a bit of vacation. My PhD has taken me to Germany (several museum visits and SVP conference), Italy (EAVP conference), Romania (field work), Switzerland (PalAss conference), Norway (museum), Canada (museum and field work), and the US (museum), and wanted to reflect on some of this.


I have spent by far most of my work-related travel going to and from Germany. German museums are full of pterosaur specimens from all over the world, partly because of a lot of German fossil sites like the Solnhofen, but also because of some significant German fossil collectors, and one of the first main resurrectors of pterosaur palaeontology - Peter Wellnhofer. I had a great time in Munich at the Bavarian collection where I got to work with some of the material Wellnhofer originally described, which is some of the best material for understanding pterosaur articulation and bone morphology. Also in this collection are some very famous specimens, and you can read more about it here, along with some material I saw in Stuttgart. I also spent some time in Tübingen, which is a lovely town, and Karlsruhe, where they graciously loaned me a large amount of material that I spent a year CT scanning. Returning the material was fun as we took the train down the day after the Paris attacks with an IKEA bag and a duffle bag full of fossils - 7 trains, 2 nights, and much stress later we managed to hand deliver the fossils to the museum on the 'Incredible Fossil Journey'. And of course we can't forget SVP 2014 in Berlin - my first SVP! 
The dejected bags of fossils after arriving in their final destination in Karlsruhe. Photo by Josh Silverstone.


I've managed to spend some time at 2 different American museums. First, I went to LA to visit one of my supervisors, Mike Habib, and spent a week talking about pterosaurs and looking at some Pteranodon and Nyctosaurus material they have in the museum. They have a few neat specimens that were fun to look at. At the beginning of 2015, however, I got to spend 2 weeks in the collections at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which was great. They don't have a lot of pterosaur material, but there's an amazing Anhanguera, and some pretty nice Pteranodon bits. While I was there was just at the tail end of the pterosaur exhibition as well, which was pretty cool. 


Last time I was home I managed to make it down to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta to check out the material there. In particular, I wanted to see a partial, 3D preserved azhdarchid specimen that is famous for being partially scavenged. Some of this material has been CT scanned, and I wanted to take a look. I had some time to check out the other pterosaur material, which is plentiful, but not particularly well preserved. However, there's some great azhdarchid material which I haven't found much of elsewhere, so that's great. Plus I like to keep my ties to Canada open, so any data I can get from Canadian museums is a plus, especially when it's so close to home!

I've also got to check out a specimen at a museum in Oslo, Norway which was a lot of fun, have made it to Romania on field work twice, done some field work in Canada (even if that was a bit like a vacation!), and gone to conferences in Switzerland and Italy. 

I'm now in the "buckling down" stage of my PhD where I am heavy into analysis and paper writing, which means most of my travel is done. No more museum visits for me (except in London)! However, I still have some conferences I'd like to make it to, and maybe do some more field work. I've just submitted an abstract to go to the International Congress on Vertebrate Morphology in Washington, DC this June/July, which I'm really excited about. Then in October is SVP in Salt Lake City, which I'd really like to make it to again after missing last year. I'm hoping to submit sometime during the summer of 2017 (or earlier?), and then will definitely be heading to SVP in Calgary in August. I can't not do it when it's so close to home! 

I guess this reflecting has made me realise two things:
  1. I am pretty lucky to be able to do this during my PhD. I have been very fortunate that I've manage to get enough funding to do most of what I wanted to do and the visits I needed to. For this, I am eternally grateful to my grad school, NSERC, the Geological Society, and PalAss for helping out with this. Funding is not always easy to come by (believe me, I know), and I'm so thankful I've been able to scrounge up enough to get it don. 
  2. Palaeontology is pretty awesome. There aren't a lot of sciences that allow you to do this much travel. My husband is a physicist, and sure he travels for conferences, but he doesn't get to spend a week in Germany in a museum collecting data. He sits in his lab in Bristol collecting data for most of the year, then gets to go somewhere else to present it. We are so lucky in palaeontology, and other natural/environmental type sciences (if we can get the funding of course) to be able to do field work and travel as part of our work. Of course it isn't for everyone, and it can get tiring after a while, but it's something I wouldn't trade for the world. I love doing this, and hope I can keep it going!