Palaeontological Association 2023 conference comes to Cambridge

Annabel Hunt is a second year PhD student studying the evolution of the theropod palate in the Field Palaeobiology Research Group at the Department of Earth Sciences. Here, Annabel reports back on attending the 2023 Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting.

This September, the Palaeontological Association (PalAss) annual meeting was held here at the University of Cambridge. This was a fortunate coincidence for me, given that it was my first in-person conference! PalAss provided me with an excellent opportunity to present the results of the first chapter of my PhD as a poster.

The conference kicked off with a half day early career researcher (ECR) event, which was run by Liz Hide from the Sedgwick Museum and Stephen Pates from Cambridge Zoology. I got to hone my ‘elevator pitch’ through a dedicated activity, as well as expand my network and make new contacts ahead of the main conference.

Stephen Pates from Cambridge Zoology (left) and Liz Hide from the Sedgwick Museum (right) hosted an early career workshop. Credit: Nicola Vuolo.
Working on our elevator pitches (that’s me next to the red water bottle!) Credit: Nicola Vuolo.

On the Tuesday morning, various workshops and collections tours took place simultaneously across Cambridge.  I was particularly excited to attend the ‘Photogrammetry’ workshop, which was held in the Museum of Zoology.  We learnt how to construct a digital 3D model of an object by taking multiple images at different orientations and stitching those images together using specialist software. This workshop has given me the skills to confidently use photogrammetry in my PhD.

Other workshops included ‘Palaeoart’, where attendees could develop their observational drawing skills, and a ‘Pop-up Palaeo Museum’ where attendees had the chance to build their own exhibit showcasing their inspiration for studying palaeontology.

On Tuesday afternoon, the symposium, ‘Ecosystem engineering through deep time’ took place. It was chaired by Cambridge’s Professor Nick Butterfield, and included talks from other Cambridge speakers.

In the evening, there was an icebreaker reception at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences; under the dramatic backdrop of illuminated exhibits in the museum. My personal favourite was the illuminated Tyrannosaurus rex skull, which provided a spectacular welcome to delegates as they entered the museum! We also had the chance to see the new museum exhibit created during the ‘Pop-up Palaeo Museum’ workshop (and readied for display in just a few hours by museum staff!)

At the evening reception, delegates got a chance to explore the new ECR exhibit, ‘So you want to be a palaeontologist’. Credit: Erin Martin-Jones.

The scientific sessions of the conference took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with talks ranging from reconstructing fossil myriapod 3D anatomy to the repeated evolution of sabre-tooth morphology in certain mammals. I presented my research at the dedicated poster session on Wednesday afternoon, and was excited to have the opportunity to speak to delegates about my research.

The PalAss annual dinner took place at Girton College. The evening began with a reception in the beautiful grounds of the college, where conversation was filled with the excitement of the day’s scientific sessions. A fun, palaeontology-themed quiz followed the meal, after which attendees headed to the bar to enjoy the remainder of the evening.

The conference dinner at Girton College. Credit: Nicola Vuolo.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of an in-person conference. I formed lots of new connections with other palaeontologists and I am very excited about the prospect of future collaborations with researchers that I met at the PalAss 2023 conference!

Thank you to all of the PalAss organising committee for organising a fantastic conference!

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