Looking Back at Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal) 2022

Written by Sean Smart, co-chair of ProgPal 2022 and Zoology master’s student at the University of Lincoln.

Progressive Palaeontology 2022 logo, featuring Lincoln Cathedral atop the remains of a plesiosaur. © Progressive Palaeontology 2022.

Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal) 2022 has been and gone, and when asked if I would write a small article about the conference, I happily agreed and decided to take a retrospective look at the successes (and hiccups) of the first conference any of the committee had run!

The Progressive Palaeontology conference was created by the Palaeontological Association to provide a lower-pressure environment where students and early-career researchers (ECRs) can meet other people within the field, make friends, discuss their research, and network, without the pressure of more senior academics. ProgPal is not only run for students, but also by students, allowing the committee to develop the events management and problem-solving skills that are highly valued across all industries. ProgPal has continued to grow year on year, initially taking place over a single day, now spanning 3 days and including a field trip! Despite it no longer being a small conference, one of the aspects that have repeatedly stood out is adaptability. ProgPal quickly pivoted to being online-only due to COVID back in 2020, and before this year, hadn’t been in person for 3 years. We were eager to provide an in person experience, but there were many aspects of digital conferences that we felt were beneficial and shouldn’t just be abandoned, therefore decided on a hybrid approach. This did significantly increase the complexity of organising the event, but the option for virtual attendance from across the world and embedding the spirit of global cooperation essential to our global discipline was deemed worth it. We hope future organisers of ProgPal seriously consider preserving a hybrid conference approach.

ProgPal 2022 was hosted at the University of Lincoln, nestled next to the Brayford Waterfront with a view of the iconic Lincoln Cathedral. The conference ran from Tuesday 14th to Thursday 16th of June. After people had settled in, had a chance to chat and set up their posters in the main hall, delegates attended one of two workshops. The first option was a workshop given by Dr Manabu Sakamoto on Phylogenetic Comparative Methods and their application using R, due to the nature of this workshop we were able to integrate virtual delegates! The second workshop option was a science communication (SciComm) workshop led by Elspeth Sinclair. The workshop spotlighted identifying different audiences, how communication strategies differ between them, and how to present your research as a compelling story. Attendees were even asked to make a meme describing their research. The first day drew to a close with our icebreaker, featuring a palaeoart showcase of art created by delegates for the event, and the annual ProgPal quiz allowing people to mingle in teams (both online and in-person) and engage in friendly competition for prizes. This was an especially popular aspect of the conference, and we received a huge amount of really positive feedback, which made carrying the fridge up to the top floor worth all the hassle.

Delegates discussing their research at the poster session. © Progressive Palaeontology 2022.

The following day, with everyone having had a chance to get to know each other, we held all of the research talks and the poster presentations. The keynote speech opened the day, Charlie Woodrow presented an engaging narrative about the process of reconstructing the sounds produced by Triassic insects based on their body structure, complete with audio recreations and props! The remainder of the talks were divided between standard length and shorter “lightning” talks, each with time for a Q&A. The topics and groups appearing in talks were wonderfully varied – I distinctly remember a few whoops of solidarity when researchers presented about under-studied taxa or subjects. Presenters were asked to prerecord their talks so they could be hosted on the YouTube channel, both for virtual delegates to see the talks, and for anyone to catch a talk they may have missed. The poster session followed the talks and had a more relaxed atmosphere. Delegates chatted about their research, asked any follow-up questions to presenters and discussed the field. That night we held the conference dinner at Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant close to Lincoln’s city centre.

The committee strived to present ProgPal as an event that celebrates diversity of all kinds within our field of palaeontology. To this end, across the first and second day, we hosted a number of diversity panels and meet-ups, these included meet-ups for LGBTQIA+ delegates, racial and ethnic minority delegates, and their allies. The ‘Neurodiversity and Accessibility’ panel saw a great turnout and engagement from attendees. These sessions were well-received and we hope that similar sessions nurture a sense of unity between palaeontologists of all backgrounds and experiences.

Delegates enjoying the LGBTQIA+ meet-up. © Progressive Palaeontology 2022.

We ended the conference with a field trip to Whitby, Yorkshire. A marine fossil locality offering specimens of ammonites and belemnites (if you know what to look for!). After giving a brief discussion about collecting best practices and the site – it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so hammers could not be used on the bedrock – delegates were able to spend hours progressing along the coast. After we had moved from Saltwick Bay to Whitby itself, attendees were able to spend a few hours in the town before catching the coach back to Lincoln. ProgPal 2022 was the first time many of the committee had a major hand in running a conference, but we were delighted that it ran so smoothly and delegates were able to discuss the work they are so passionate about with equally excited colleagues.

Such an event would not be possible without our sponsors, including the GCG, to whom we are very grateful for continued support of ProgPal. I’d also like to give a huge thanks to my fellow co-chairs Emily Green and Shane Wheatley, the committee, the lecturers, and all our student volunteers, it really was a team effort with all hands on deck, thank you.

Field trip attendees after hunting for fossils. © Progressive Palaeontology 2022.

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