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

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