Round Up the Paleontologists! We're Going to the SVP Annual Meeting!

Last week, vertebrate paleontologists from all over the world met in Dallas, Texas for the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. I’ve had the pleasure of attending many since my first in 1994 (in Seattle). I’ve enjoyed watching the science change over the last 20 years, all for the better.

These meetings are a ‘big deal’ in world of vertebrate paleontology. It’s one of the few times that you’re guaranteed to be in the presence of all the big names in paleontology - the ones you’ve (probably) heard of even if you’re not a paleontologist, and the ones that are on the leading edge of the science.

What’s a meeting like where there are over 1000 vertebrate paleontologists all in one place? What do they talk about? What’s expected?

I’ve been to a lot of science meetings over the years. Some are quite formal. Others, like SVP are very relaxed. This speaks well to the motivations, interests, and backgrounds of people who attend the SVP annual meeting. There are plenty of Ph.D.-toting scientists, and their students, who work in academia on the cutting edge of paleontology. Many presentations include proprietary data and methods. In this aspect, SVP is like any other scientific meeting.

However, the science of paleontology benefits greatly from amateurs, those rock-hounds who often are the ones making incredible discoveries and sharing them with scientists. Paleontology welcomes people who simply think dinosaurs are really, really cool. Whatever level of scientific experience, amateurs are always welcomed with open arms.

There are also the preparators, those artists of the airscribe who skillfully remove the rock from the bone in laboratories associated with nearly every museum. Preparators may or may not have advanced degrees in paleontology. It doesn’t matter. They’re artists, upon whom others depend in order to understand the fossils. Preparators are so highly respected that there is always at least one full session dedicated to their art at the SVP annual meeting, and often many other presentations. There are special awards for preparators.

Paleontology draws other types of artists as well. The meetings are full of painters and sculptors, using physical or digital media, enabling the rest of the paleontology community to better visualize the fossil organisms that they study. SVP has a special series of awards specifically for paleo-art.

To put it more plainly, vertebrate paleontology is perhaps the most inclusive science in which I participate. When people ask me if they could go, even though they’re not a paleontologist, I tell them there’s not a quiz. If you want to go (and can afford to do so), then they won’t be turned away, and they’ll be welcomed by the community.

So what’s it like to go to the SVP annual meeting? It’s like a huge family reunion where everyone gets along. You wear your most comfortable clothing (yes, flip-flops and t-shirts are acceptable, though the meeting rooms do tend to be cold), grab a notebook and settle in. You can stroll through the poster sessions and chat with the big names. You can have long conversations with people who share oddly specific interests with you, like microwear of teeth, histology of bones, and microCT scanning. Evenings are filled with fun social events like the annual auction and the awards banquet. There are special events for students to help get them moving forward in their careers.

The SVP annual meeting is that one time of year for many of us when we can truly express our passion for the science. It’s when we remember why we pursued paleontology in the first place. Attending the SVP annual meeting is among the most important things I do every year.

Posted: 10/23/2015 12:00:00 AM by host | with 0 comments
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