Reflections on NAPC 2019: A New Perspective

By Eleanor Gardner (@egardner)

NAPC 2019 in Riverside, CA, was my third NAPC conference and it was by far my favorite.  My first NAPC, back in 2009 in Cincinnati, was the first international conference I had ever attended and I recall being very nervous.  It was fun and extremely educational, but I was so focused on memorizing the names of the famous paleontologists my graduate advisor was introducing me to that I was stressing myself out!  When I went to NAPC 2014 in Gainesville, I was a faculty member at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and I remember feeling more at ease because I was slightly established within the field of paleontology.  Who would’ve predicted that a little over one year later, I’d be moving to Gainesville to work at the FLMNH on the FOSSIL Project?!  It’s funny how life works out sometimes.  Prior to NAPC 2019, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to attend the conference due to budget cuts at the University of Kansas (my current employer).  I was honored and very thankful to be invited to present as part of a panel in the “Past, Present, and Future of the FOSSIL Project” symposium at NAPC 2019.  To me, the whole conference felt like coming home in a way: spending time with old friends, reconnecting with old colleagues and acquaintances, learning about new research and projects, and networking with (and even dancing with!) some of my paleontological heroes and future project collaborators.

Group photo of UGA graduates and professors at NAPC 2019. Photo courtesy of Kristopher Kusnerik.

It was inspiring and eye-opening to listen to the many fantastic talks in the “Engaging Diverse Communities in Paleontology: Innovative educational initiatives that connect culture to natural history” symposium.  It is heartening to see the way the paleontological community has evolved to embrace these inventive and inclusive educational endeavors and projects.  I walked away with lots of excellent notes about ways to improve engagement with the audiences we serve here at the KU Natural History Museum.  Equally fun and informative was the “Broadening horizons of broader impacts” symposium the next day.  It was motivating to hear about the ways that others have utilized various forms of media to improve their paleontological outreach.  I hope to convince my colleagues at the KU NHM to incorporate the ‘Taphonomy: Dead and Fossilized’ board game into our social events!  And in terms of research talks, my favorite was by Dr. Karen Chin on mutualistic relationships as evidenced through fossil coprolite (and other excretory) deposits.

Slide from Dr. Chin’s talk on interpreting coprophagous behavior from ichnofossils.

And, of course, I had a blast sneaking away for a day during the conference to visit the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum in LA!  I truly enjoyed spending the day there, and I loved how prominently avian taphonomy was featured throughout the exhibits.

Taphonomically-altered epiphysis from a condor that died in the La Brea Tar Pits

Posing in front of the entrance of the La Brea Tar Pits.

My sincere thanks to my old bosses, colleagues, and friends at the FOSSIL Project for funding my trip to NAPC 2019.  It is certainly a conference I will always remember.

Cooperation between amateur and professional paleontologists at NAPC

by Bill Heim (@bill-heim)

Even though my presentation was only about 5 minutes long, I found the entire conference not only informative but entertaining as well.  I attended many of the presentations.  I also spent a lot of time with the posters, talking with the presenters about their research.  In the majority of both cases, I usually had little background knowledge of the subjects.  This opened up new areas of interest to me and even gave me ideas about my own chosen area of study.
I found that one of most useful subject areas was the FOSSIL presentations.  It is heartwarming to finally see the walls between the amateurs and professionals start to come down. Too often in the past there was suspicion and sometimes hostility between the two groups. Cooperation will benefit both groups.  Amateurs will become more professional in their approach and professionals will have access to material they would previously not see.  A win-win for both groups.
Given the opportunity, I would gladly attend another such conference.
Bill Heim presenting during the FOSSIL Symposium on successful collaborations between professional and amateur paleontologists. Photo by Sadie Mills.

(Micro)Fossil Bonanza at NAPC 2019!

by Adriane Lam (@adriane-lam)

Vertebrates: let’s face it, they tend to steal the show when it comes to paleontology. They’ve enraptured the imaginations of children and adults for decades with their large teeth, ferocious portrayals, and dramatic dioramas featured in many a museum. Regardless of having a much less complete fossil record than invertebrates or microfossils, vertebrate fossils have a huge following at conferences, on social media, and in the entertainment industry. At NAPC, I was thrilled to find this common theme becoming, well, more uncommon! My experience at NAPC was littered with intense talks, posters, and discussions on invertebrate evolutionary patterns, conservation practices gleamed from the fossil record, and using the fossil record to tell time. Most importantly, there were TONS of data sets using microfossils to answer regional and large-scale macro- and microevolutionary questions through geologic time. I myself am a microfossil paleontologist and was thrilled to learn what new projects my friends, collaborators, and colleagues were up to.

Adriane discussing how planktic foraminifera are used to tell time in the sedimentary record at the educators workshop.

Through generous funds from the FOSSIL Project, I was able to connect with people I had only interacted with on social media platforms, meet new friends and collaborators, and touch base with current collaborators. I gave two presentation at NAPC: the first was a poster presentation of my dissertation chapters on planktic foraminiferal biogeography and received wonderful encouragement and feedback from other scientists in my field. The second was a talk in an educational session on how my and my colleague’s education website, specifically posts written by avocational scientists, reaches a global audience. This latter presentation was given in the Two to Tango session, and as I watched the talks, I was amazed at all the great science avocational paleontologists are up to! But one of the coolest things I participated in at NAPC was the K-12 Teacher STEM Workshop. I gave an overview of foraminifera to the teachers, where I waxed and waned about the beauty and utility of the calcareous tests created by single-celled protists. My colleague and collaborator, Jen Bauer, then showed the teachers how they could use 3D scans of foraminifera in the classroom to teach students about evolution and paleoceanography. My time at NAPC was amazing, and I owe this experience to the FOSSIL Project; so thank you to all who made my trip possible, and for letting me bring the plankton power to the educator’s workshop!

UF graduate student presents final research results at NAPC

by Isaac Magallanes (@imagallanes)

My experience at NAPC 2019 was extremely positive and enriching. As a native southern Californian, I was looking forward to returning to my home state for the summer to present my master’s research which I had just finished defending about 2 weeks prior. On June 27, I gave a presentation titled “Stable carbon and oxygen isotopes provide new insights on climate and paleoecology during the Miocene of northern New Mexico” that summarized the findings of my master’s thesis research.

Isaac explaining the different photosynthetic pathways that plants use during cellular respiration and the factors that influence this process during his research presentation.

In addition, I also participated as a moderator for the symposium titled “Engaging Diverse Communities in Paleontology: Innovative educational initiatives that connect culture to natural history” alongside my fellow colleagues and FOSSIL project members Sadie Mills and Gabriel Santos. In this symposium, I saw many amazing education and outreach projects and initiatives that left me feeling encouraged and excited for the future of our field. There was a true feeling of community and camaraderie amongst all who attended and showed their support for not only the projects but the presenters and their vision.

As both a graduate student at the University of Florida and member of the FOSSIL project I received funding that gave me the opportunity to attend NAPC 2019. Having now graduated with my Masters I am thankful for having had the support from both the project and my fellow members throughout my time at UF.

Citizen Scientist attends 11th North American Paleontological Convention

by Cindy Lockner (@cindy-lockner)

Wonder what it’s like to be around hundreds of paleontologists from all over the world? I had the pleasure of finding out by attending the 11th North American Paleontological Convention in Riverside, CA.  I am so thankful that I was asked by FOSSIL to represent a citizen scientist’s point of view in amateur-professional interactions in advancing paleontological knowledge, and experiences in working with the FOSSIL community.

This event was incredible. The welcome session was inspiring, and the symposiums were very informative. As you may know, I love dinosaurs, so I really enjoyed the symposium titled The Evolutionary Transition from Non-Avian Dinosaurs to Birds.  It was exciting to see information and research on this subject matter, and yet there is so much more to discover – how exciting for future scientists.

Determining the ancestral integumentary state in Dinosauria by T Holtz. Image taken by Cindy Lockner.

Spinal nerves, the immune system and evolution of the avian tail by Dana Rashid. Image taken by Cindy Lockner.

Illuminating the Evolution of Birds Using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence Imaging by M Pittman. Image taken by Cindy Lockner.

An all female Mariachi band at dinner – they were awesome! Image taken by Cindy Lockner.

What really impressed me was that I felt welcomed by every professional that I met, and I was very pleased to see so many female professionals. The speakers, paleontologists I met at lunch and dinner, and of course members from the FOSSIL community; all willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me. This event was definitely educational, but it was also more than that. It was about fostering relationships and inclusiveness. Isn’t that when we are at our greatest – when we work together and share information for a common cause? To paraphrase an African proverb by one of the opening speakers, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others”.

FOSSIL has helped to build collaboration and camaraderie between the professional and amateur communities, sharing research and helping to educate and participate at outreach events, resulting in a synergy that will help paleontology grow well into to the future.

A special “thank you” to Dr. Bruce MacFadden, Jeanette Pirlo, Sadie Mills, Eleanor Gardner, Jennifer Bauer, and FOSSIL for the opportunity to be a part of this event.

Cindy presenting her talk during the FOSSIL Symposium. Image taken by Sadie Mills.

Cindy discussing the aspects of being a citizen scientist in the world of paleontology. Image taken by Sadie Mills.

NAPC and a Family of Paleontologists

by Jeanette Pirlo (@jeanette-pirlo)

I can say with full confidence that the North American Paleontological Convention at UC Riverside is hands down my favorite conference that I’ve attended. Now that’s saying a lot as I’ve been lucky and have attended quite a few conferences in my short time with the FOSSIL Project.  What made NAPC so special was that it felt like I was at home, and by home, I mean the paleontology range at UF.  Unlike GSA, which is massive, and SVP, which is hyper-specialized, NAPC incorporated all of paleontology, from plants to invertebrates to vertebrates, and so much more.

It was also wonderful seeing the interactions of the attendees, those that don’t often see each other at conferences because of different specialties, but also those that only get to catch up during conferences.  The sense of family was prevalent through the conference. All of the participants were welcoming and approachable, so much so that I felt brave enough to introduce myself (for the second time after a disastrous first attempt) to one of my she-roes, Dr. Kay Behrensmeyer. Luckily, this second introduction went better than I could have hoped, and we discussed my PhD project at length.

Another important aspect about NAPC was that all of the talks were easy to understand, and I did not feel out of place attending talks about topics I knew very little about.  The only negative thing I can say about the talks is that many of the ones of was interested in overlapped with other interesting talks (the best kind of problem you can have really).

Apart from attending talks, I was involved with the conference is several manners.  I helped facilitate a workshop for K-12 educators focusing on digital resources to teach paleontological topics.  This workshop was co-hosted by the FOSSIL Project and iDigBio. Each one of our speakers prepared their talks to include hands-on activities for our participants.  Participating educators went home with a wealth of resources that they can now incorporate into their lessons.  I also gave a talk on the importance of our volunteer program at the Montbrook Dig Site.  I gave this talk during a session focused on the important contributions that amateur and avocational paleontologists have made for the field.  Unlike research project presentations, this talk was incredibly rewarding because I had a chance to thank our volunteers in a public manner, and show off the hard work that they have put in to the project.  I also participated in the FOSSIL Symposium towards the end of the conference.  This was a chance for us as a project to discuss what we had accomplished since the beginning of the project and to invite the greater community to join us.  I greatly enjoyed sharing how the FOSSIL Project has enhanced my understanding of paleontology, as well as the opportunities and experiences I have garnered from my time with the project.

Perhaps the most inspirational portion of the conference was hearing from other non-professional paleontologists.  Hearing their stories, contributions, and experiences through both the FOSSIL Project, but other projects across the country, reinforced my beliefs that we must continue collaborating with the avocational and educational communities.

Another fantastic involvement was a last-minute assignment by my advisor.  I was tasked with speaking to the other attending graduate students and inquiring what types of professional development the Paleontological Society (PS) could host for them.  It was clear that my colleagues appreciated being heard and have their ideas validated as important.  Top among the requests for training included science communication, jobs outside of academia, as well as how to give an effective elevator speech and writing fundable grants. All of the ideas provided during this session were provided to the PS, and I look forward to the activities they hold to support the next generation of professionals.

All in all, I cannot wait until the next NAPC meeting!

The Florida Museum of Natural History group at the NAPC evening banquet.

Journey to the Center of myFOSSIL: One Graduate Student’s Perspective

By Lisa Lundgren (@llundgren)

NAPC 2019 was the culmination of all my experiences with the FOSSIL Project. At NAPC 2014, I started as Lisa Lundgren, a project assistant with the FOSSIL Project. At that time, I had no idea that the FOSSIL project would be a pillar of my life for the next five years. I knew the project was the start of something huge: studying the collaboration and learning of paleontologists from across the continuum of expertise (amateurs! Museum paleontologists! Fossil prep lab volunteers! Grad students!), but I was an absolute novice in regards to all things paleontology. 

At NAPC 2014,  started live tweeting talks using the FOSSIL project’s twitter handle (@projectFOSSIL), which I have since used as a technique to summarize every conference I’ve attended since. I emailed people setting up their reimbursements, which helped me gain a sense of the community involved in paleontology. I furiously took notes, which the FOSSIL project research team used to find pathways forward for our research. 

At NAPC 2019, I was Dr. Lisa Lundgren, who had just finished her doctoral dissertation which was funded by the FOSSIL Project. I was still live tweeting, but instead of taking notes in the audience, I presented alongside previous FOSSIL project coordinators, describing how the FOSSIL project centered social media to engage with the paleontological community as well as presented findings from my dissertation, which looked learning on the myFOSSIL website. I listened to presentations by paleontologists across the continuum of expertise whose myFOSSIL website postings I had read and who I had connected with over the past five years. At NAPC 2019, I felt like I was a part of the paleontological community, which was diverse, welcoming, and chock-full of expertise. I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of it!

I was also fortunate to meet up with some of my online collaborators in person!

Graduate Student Reflection of NAPC

by Victor Perez (@vperez)

I had the privilege to present at the 2019 NAPC conference on public-professional collaborations in paleontology research. My presentation was one among many funded by the FOSSIL Project and highlighted the role the public has played in my own personal research, while offering suggestions for how the myFOSSIL website could facilitate similar collaborations for others. I was thrilled to hear so many others sharing similar experiences of successful partnerships between the public and professionals. The conference provided a great platform for networking and meeting new like-minded people.


Presenting my talk at NAPC in Jack Kallmeyer’s session. Photo by Sadie Mills.

Presenting my talk at NAPC in Jack Kallmeyer’s session. Photo by Sadie Mills.


In fact, one of the conversations that began at NAPC is now leading to a new research project to describe a new species of fossil dogfish from California. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the entire conference was the sense of community that has been built by the FOSSIL Project. As funding for the FOSSIL Project is ending, I found hope from conversations at NAPC that the community will come together to help sustain the mission of the FOSSIL Project and continue to expand this community to others that share a love for paleontology!

Collecting at Shark Tooth Hill in Bakersfield, CA with Lee Cone and Jayson Kowinsky prior to NAPC. Photo by Victor Perez.

Sadie Mills sharing accomplishments of the FOSSIL Project at NAPC. Photo by Victor Perez.

Lee Cone presenting to a captivated audience at NAPC. Photo by Victor Perez.

Opportunities for New Collaborations with Professional and Avocational Paleontologists at NAPC

by Sarah Sheffield (@sarah-sheffield)

Conferences are always an excellent chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, learn about novel research in the field, and make new connections to take your research into exciting, new directions. NAPC was no exception, but because of support from the FOSSIL Project, I used the opportunity to communicate with a broad range of collaborators not typically present at scientific meetings, especially those collaborators from the avocational community. I presented in the Two to Tango session- my talk (which you can watch on my YouTube channel) was focused on the numerous avocational/professional collaborations from which echinoderm paleobiology has benefitted. I was able to connect with more people, who knew something I didn’t know about their local echinoderm fossils and I am positive that more scientific knowledge will come from these meetings. I was able to plan out papers to write in the near future with coauthors, meet established faculty in paleobiology to give advice on research and teaching methods, and meet with a huge number of undergraduate and graduate students, who will drive new research and teaching methods for decades to come.


My talk’s title slide at NAPC. Photo taken by Jen Bauer.

My summary slide that detailed out the benefits of collaborations such as these between professional and avocational paleontologists. Photo by Jen Bauer.

As a new assistant professor, starting in Fall 2019, I was especially grateful to have the opportunity to make these connections, as I will be looking for talented students to work with me in the near future. I want to thank the FOSSIL Project, sincerely, for making sure that attending this meeting was a possibility to so many of us who may not have been able to attend without this support. 

While at NAPC, I was able to catch up with my lab group from graduate school! Here is, from left to right, Jennifer Bauer (currently a postdoc at The University of Florida, but transitioning to collections manager at The University of Michigan), Ryan Roney (curator at the Tellus Science Museum in Georgia), myself (assistant professor at the University of South Florida), and Rene Shroat-Lewis (assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock).


NAPC Embraces Amateur Paleontology

by Bill Heimbrock, Cincinnati Dry Dredgers (@bheimbrock)

Amateur paleontologists are welcome and encouraged to give talks at the North American Paleontological Convention. NAPC is held every 4 or 5 years. I’ve been attending them since it was hosted in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009. So this one is my third NAPC attending as an amateur paleontologist and the first time I’ve given a talk. I have been to other paleo conferences as well. They all have basically the same format: technical sessions, poster sessions, society meetings, field trips, exhibits, social gatherings and other events.

My title slide for my presentation at NAPC. Photo credit: Linda McCall

One of the most striking aspects of these conferences is the technical sessions. Almost every attending researcher gets their 15 minutes of fame, quite literally, to describe their current project before an audience of peers who are roaming from conference room to conference room, picking the talks they want to see from a thick program guide. This goes on usually for about 4 days. Many of these presenters talk really fast and show slides filled with charts of crunched data, cross-sectioning obscure variables. Others give insightful perspectives at a digestible and enjoyable pace and still seem to fit within their 15 minute allotment.

I prefer NAPC because this conference embraces amateurs and students in the field of paleontology.  This spirit of inclusiveness allows the science of paleontology to tap into new methods from diverse minds, cultures and disciplines.  So you may imagine that I was excited when I was asked by our Dry Dredgers club president, Jack Kallmeyer, to speak at his and Dr. Dave Meyer’s symposium on amateur/professional collaborations at NAPC 2019. This “technical session” did not need to be particularly technical. I would be able to provide my experiences in collaborating with professional paleontologists while having a chance to describe my ongoing paleo research. A professional might take an interest in my ongoing research and we can begin a new collaboration.

I didn’t spawn any new collaborations. But I gained some experience with these technical sessions that might help you with your first talk at NAPC.

  1. While amateurs are welcome to give technical talks, be sure to choose an appropriate symposium or topical session and stay within their topic.
  2. If you’ve been given 15 minutes to talk, try to keep your talk to 12 minutes so there is time for questions. I rehearsed mine at 13 minutes and it turned out to be 14 minutes when I gave it. The next speaker will begin exactly 15 minutes after yours starts so make sure your talk is well under 15 minutes.
  3. Your abstract is due at least 3 months before your talk, so get started early. The abstract is important because it is permanently archived while the talk itself will only be seen by those in your audience. Your abstract can be much longer than a journal paper abstract and can say almost everything that your talk does. Do a good job with it. Your title is the most important part because most conference attendees will decide to see your talk based solely on the title.
  4. If you were thinking of giving two talks at NAPC, think again. You only get one technical session as the presenter. You can be a co-author on another or do a poster. There are still plenty of options.

Most of all, HAVE  FUN. You are among friends at NAPC.

The take home messages from my talk. Photo credit: Dr. Michael Vendrasco