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!
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