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!