Each year the Palaeontographical Society contributes funding towards Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal), a student-led conference that for many prospective palaeontologists provides an essential transition from undergraduate research into academia. ProgPal also helps students to gain skills in conference organisation, and it often leads the way in aspects like accessibility and inclusivity. In this blog we hear from Shane Wheatley, member of the organising committee for ProgPal 2022, about this year’s successful conference, and how they adapted post-covid.
ProgPal 2022 ran from Tuesday 14th to Thursday 16th of June. Given the challenges that we face in a post-pandemic world, we prioritised a hybrid approach, ensuring delegates could both attend virtually or in person and still receive a great experience. This had never been attempted at ProgPal before, but despite the additional organisational burden for the committee, we felt it was our responsibility to make these accommodations, as minority researchers are disproportionately disadvantaged by solely in-person conferences. Virtual attendance also widens the pool of people brought together by the conference, and we feel this should always be offered by future committees.
Tuesday was a day for our panels, workshops and the Icebreaker, so that delegates could mingle and get to know each other before delivering their presentations. It allowed people to chat and meet their peers, forming networks that will allow delegates to collaborate on new projects, driving science forward. One of the highlights of the day was the wonderful workshops. Two workshops were held at ProgPal 2022: one by Dr Manabu Sakamoto on phylogenetic comparative methods, and a science communication workshop held by Elspeth Sinclair. The SciComm workshop encouraged delegates to think about how they present their work to broader audiences, and as part of this workshop, delegates needed to communicate their own research by drawing or memes for their peers!
To cap off Tuesday, we held an icebreaker and quiz. This allowed delegates to form teams and compete against each other, both online and in-person, getting to know each other in the process. This was supplemented by nibbles and drinks with plenty of options to accommodate those with dietary requirements and those who don’t drink.
The second day, Wednesday, was the main day of the conference with all the research and presentations. The day started off with the keynote speaker, Charlie Woodrow, detailing reproducing the sounds of Triassic insects. Actually hearing the sounds of long since extinct insects was a stark reminder of the amazing work that palaeontologists do to bring the past to life. This was followed by a day of excellent scientific talks and posters on a multitude of palaeontology related subjects!
On Thursday there was a subsidised field trip along the Yorkshire coast, to allow delegates to get the precious field trip experience that many were unable to experience due to the pandemic. We travelled to the famous locality of Whitby, starting at Saltwick Bay and walking along the incredibly fossiliferous coastline. Delegates found plenty of belemnites and ammonites on the trip among other fossil material. We also put together a virtual fieldtrip to accommodate those who were unable to attend in-person!
Progressive Palaeontology 2022 was a huge success that met the important goal of being an inclusive conference, and I am incredibly proud of this. It wouldn’t have been possible without the committee, volunteers, sponsors and contributors that made this conference such a roaring success – thank you to everyone who supported us!
Blog written and all photos provided by Shane Wheatley.