Friday, December 22, 2017

PalAss 2017

Capping off this year for me (at least academically speaking) was my first annual meeting of the Palaeontological Association (PalAss). (For those snickering at the abbreviation, I didn't hear a single delegate make a crack about it. I imagine the joke was run into the ground a long time ago.)

This year's PalAss was held at Imperial College in London. I'd only just arrived at the venue when I was recognized by one of the conference organizers, Alessandro Chiarenza. Name-tag given to me before I had a chance to say my name! That's a first for a conference of this scale. There were some interesting items in the goody bag, too, notably these Time Bites chocolate trilobites.

There were many other familiar faces at the conference, especially my peers and former instructors from Bristol. As daunting as it can be to attend a conference where you don't know anyone, knowing a substantial number of other delegates poses its own challenges. There isn't enough time to talk with everyone!

As for the conference presentations, a selection of personal highlights:
  • Michael Pittman's talk on paravian phylogeny and evolution
  • Jacqueline Lungmus's talk on humeral disparity in therapsids
  • The annual address, Mark Purnell's talk on soft tissue taphonomy
  • Emily Rayfield's talk on cranial biomechanics across the evolution of the mammalian ear
  • Four successive talks on phylogenetic methods!
    • Roland Sookias's talk on increasing the accuracy of phylogenetic inference from morphological data
    • Selina Groh's talk on the influence of continuous characters on phylogenetic inference
    • Joseph Keating's talk comparing the accuracy and congruence of different phylogenetic methods
    • Martin Smith's talk on incorporating inapplicable data in phylogenetic analysis

Most personally significant, however, was the fact that I got to give my first oral conference presentation! I talked about the research I did during my Master's, combining molecular and morphological data to infer the phylogeny of pancrustacean arthropods. We do have plans to get some of our findings published, so with luck I'll discuss them on here in the near future. One of my former supervisors, Jesus Lozano Fernandez, gave his own talk (on arachnid phylogeny and evolution) shortly before mine in the same session, so as usual the Bristol contingent was very well-represented.

Yes, I used that title.
Yes, I used this slide.

My talk went well, I think. Several attendees came up to me afterward to tell me that they enjoyed it. I also got to meet arthropod paleontologists Jo Wolfe and Javier Ortega-Hernández, who shared with me their thoughts on the subject of my presentation, giving me some points to chew on while I prepare this study for publication.

All in all, PalAss was fun, packed with content from a wide variety of paleontological topics while being moderate in size and duration. I look forward to attending future meetings.