Tuesday, November 08, 2011

SVP Annual Meeting - Thoughts and Reflections

I got back from the SVP (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology) conference Sunday night and I feel like I have a few things to say about it. This was my first SVP ever, even though I did my Master Thesis on vertebrate paleontology, and I must admit I wasn't really sure what to expect. I have been to multiple GSA's (both annual and regional) and over the summer I went to a smaller international workshop for ichnologists (trace fossil workers) and I assumed it would be similar to the annual GSA meetings.

I was wrong.

I also assumed that the meeting with a bunch of vertebrate paleontologists would be similar to a conversation I had back in 2009 at GSA. The unnamed paleontologist from the interaction was at this meeting as well, as well as several others that I knew to have a similar attitude. So, in general I did not put my hopes too high for this convention. I looked forward to meeting old friends and maybe learning some new information but I wasn't looking forward to spending time with a group of people that seemed to me, at least in my limited experience, to contain a bunch of arrogant bastards.

I was proved even further to be wrong.

In a nutshell, the conference was great. I spent time with a lot of old friends, even one I hadn't seen in 13 years. I met a lot of really cool new people. I spent time with some famous paleontologists who actually turned out to be really cool, laid back people. The conference was also large enough that I could avoid the said arrogant bastards. Because you know they are there. Everyone knows who they are. I think they even know it and just don't care. But they are a much, much smaller subset of the vertebrate paleontology world than I gave it credit for. And the conference was small enough that you could find someone you were looking for. Unlike GSA, where there is no chance in hell you're going to find anyone without prior arrangements, most people here just hung out in the exhibit hall until the someone they were looking for passed by.

This meeting has left a good impression on me about vertebrate paleontology and has created an urge to get back into the field. I still love what I am doing now (behavioral evolution using trace fossils) but I feel an old door has been reopened. I was also urged by several people to publish my Masters Thesis, so that will be my springboard back into the world of VP, hopefully relatively soon.

I did have some complaints though that I feel need to be voiced. The fact that a meeting this size did not include internet is beyond me. The hotel apparently offered it for $25 a day for the whole hotel or $15 for in the room but it was schoddy at best. So the one day my roommate got it he cancelled it. The second thing is the poster session. There was no reason to have such little space between rows of posters. There was plenty of room in the convention center to be able to expand it a little. It was to the point that during the poster session you couldn't walk up and down the rows of posters because there was so many other people there. There was even space on the one end of the poster boards to expand into and release the tension a little but it never happened.

Other than that, SVP went pretty well. There was a slew of talks, both good and bad. I saw a couple of memorable ones for both reasons. I thought the venue was good. There were plenty of things do in Vegas outside of the convention. Although the second hand smoke was a killer, as I am still coughing it up 3 days later. And I made a lot of new friends. Both those that I was "friends" on facebook before and never actually met and new people that I just met for the first time in Vegas.

Overall, I give it an A- and it has been ranked above GSA in my mind as a must-do event.


  1. SVP is--and always will be--my main conference, but I've been to enough non-paleo geological and evolutionary biology ones to know that there is an (as you discovered) unfair portrayal of the community as more douche-y than it is. Yes, we have our less-than-personable members, but it has always been my experience that the friendly supportive ones outnumber them greatly. Glad you enjoyed it.

    And I, too, and suffering from the effects of secondhand smoke. Blargh...

  2. The problem I think is that the "more douche-y" members are some of the louder ones so they give an unfair representation of the community. It's kind of like politics, the loudest ones are always the ones that have the least in common with the majority.

  3. The fact that a meeting this size did not include internet is beyond me.

    It probably could have...at the expense of an increased registration fee. I understand the host committee tried to get this included, but the hotel simply wouldn't have it--it's too big a cash cow for them (as it is for every other hotel in Vegas).

    There was no reason to have such little space between rows of posters.

    This complaint is popular after every single SVP conference, and I've been to most of them since 1994. Again, we could have expanded the space, or put the posters in another room, but it would have increased the cost of the conference, and that would get passed down to registrants. The problem is only partly one of space--the other is that, to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of presenters, more and more submissions have to be shunted to posters because the talk slots get filled quickly. Rather than reject huge crops outright, more people are given the opportunities to do poster presentations rather than nothing, so the number of poster presentations has really gone up a lot--in the '90's (and, presumably, before that), there was only ONE poster session for the whole meeting; now there is one every day. Decisions that balance space, cost, and attendees are difficult to make, and every year SVP does its best, but this complaint always crops up. This year was actually better than some past ones on this front--believe me!

  4. My point with the space is that I could see space they could have expanded into and yet still didn't. Also the spacing between the rows was uneven. I think spending a little more time to measure them out evenly would have helped.

    That was just a pet peeve though. I don't think it detracted much from the conference and the fact that I am harping on that and not something else goes to show how well the conference went overall.

    And I saw your origami at the museum. Very nice stuff although I was disappointed there wasn't a tutorial on how to do those instead of cranes. :-)

  5. No worries--I myself tend to avoid the poster sessions (at least, during the allotted poster session time slots) because of the crowds. It's a bit disappointing, because I would undoubtedly like to see more of the posters and even talk to their presenters, but yeah, the crowds are off-putting. I figure anything worth seeing will probably be published in the not-too-distant future anyway (small consolation, but...).

    Glad you liked the origami! Yeah, I often hear that people want to learn how to make the ones on display, but they generally have little, if any, idea on how complex they are! (Often the ones that tackle the crane find that out in short order, though...!)

  6. I clicked over to your 2009 post and find myself wondering if the person in question was not merely embarrassed. Necessary though it may be, choosing one grad student over another isn't pleasant. You know you're disappointing someone. And I would be mortified to then not remember that person's name when introduced to them! Yeah, I could imagine the urge to get the heck out of there, even if I haven't ever done that.

  7. I've gotta agree on the lack of space in the Poster session. I've been to other organization's meetings where there were a heckuva lot more posters than at SVP and there was a comfortable amount of space. I've been to other SVP's where there was enough space too, but this year it was definitely too tight, and there was clearly room to expand into, it didn't require a room.

    But to be clear, I think this was a really well run meeting, I didn't see any real problems in the Technical sessions and everyone looked pretty content.

  8. Anne - I could probably believe that had he been paying attention to me as he said it and not immediately move on to my female friend whom he had a lengthy conversation with. But that is all in hindsight now. Perhaps you are correct and I should get over it. It's not the first time I misinterpreted something.

  9. Re: the poster sessions - I have been to a few in the past that have had more room (can't remember if it was GSA or SVP) and the problem with more room is that people still end up standing in the walkways talking, which still makes it hard to navigate. I think the more room you give people, the more people that will occupy that space lol.


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