Progressive Palaeontology, Cambridge 2012

The last three days were the Progressive Palaeontology conference in Cambridge, which I attended. As a first conference, it’s a great one to go to. It’s designed mainly for graduate students, meaning the pressure is taken off a bit. It’s mainly attended by students from the UK, but there were a few from Europe as well (Poland and Germany). ProgPal started out on Wednesday with a nice reception in the Sedgwick Museum, followed by the presentations and posters on Thursday, and a field trip to some fossil localities on Friday.

Presentation day started out with a talk from Professor Simon Conway-Morris which was pretty interesting. He discussed his belief that palaeontology is not a dying science, but is in fact just at the beginning of it’s “life”. Good news for us young’uns! The presentations consisted of a wide variety of topics ranging from the possible first biomineraliser in the Ediacaran (by one of my fellow Bristol MSc student Peter Adamson), to fish, to dinosaurs and biomechanics to climate change. Surprisingly, not a single talk on anything related to mammal palaeontology, but most other groups were touched upon. All of the talks were amazing, but a few stood out to me. I was impressed by the undergraduate student from the University of Glasgow who had the guts to get up in front of everyone and talk about her dissertation project on identifying some possible theropod limb bones from Africa. Definitely give her props for showing up to a conference among a bunch of grad students. My favourite presentation was “Ichthyosaur ontogeny and sexual dimorphism”, if not because it was started with “One thing I’ve learned is that if you put sex in the title of a talk, people will show up”, but because it was really interesting (Sam Bennett – Royal Holloway). Top presentation went to a talk on Teleost superiority (John Clarke – University of Oxford), while the runners up were “Surface ocean productivity across the Eocene/Oligocene transition” (Katy Prentice – Imperial College London) and “The Jurassic beetroot stone: an old pink and white puzzle revisited” (Holly Barden – University of Manchester). Top poster went to Edine Pape (University of Bristol represent!) on the Evolution of the actinopterygian dermal skeleton, while the runner up was Alex Dunhill (also UoB) on the Phanerozoic of Great Britain. Some interesting stats showed that UoB made up about a quarter of the entire delegation, even more than Cambridge. Slowly starting to realise how big UoB is in terms of UK palaeontology.

Something that isn’t really clear to me is how the judging was done for both the posters and presentations. I was told that it’s at least somewhat random by people other than the organisers, but then the organisers said that they read through each poster and they were discussed. I think that Edine’s poster was awesome and it should have won, but I was curious about the judging since I didn’t speak to anyone from the committee about my poster. I’m still a bit confused about how it worked, but oh well!

Next ProgPal will be next year, and it might be in Portsmouth, which would be cool since there are a bunch of pterosaur workers there. Next up on the conference list is SVPCA, which I’m hoping to present some of my findings at. That would be my first ever presentation and I’m nervous already!

Edit: I forgot to talk about the field trip in my first post! In the morning, we went to a working quarry called Kings Dyke, which is a Jurassic marine deposit. It is kind of shaley/clay, very fine grained and very fragile fossils mostly. In it there are tons and tons of belemnites, some ammonites, and bivalves. We did find one pretty nice fish scale, but that was about it. The belemnites were best preserved while the ammonites kind of crumbled in your hand… After lunch, we headed off to a reservoir near Yaxley where we could collect fossils from the water bank. More marine fossils, but here we found crinoids, some more shells, and really tiny ammonites that were preserved really well. Pretty cool!

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