Starting Summer off Right…with My First-Ever Research Talk!

Back at the end of May, I started off my summer with a road trip to Aurora, NC for the 11th annual meeting of the Southeastern Association of Vertebrate Paleontology (SeAVP) and 25th Anniversary Aurora Fossil Festival. SeAVP is a smaller regional conference, and it was a great place to give my first research talk.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work I’ve been doing: I began my research project last summer through the NHRE program, an undergrad research fellowship at the Smithsonian. I have some initial data and results from the NHRE, in addition to the much larger dataset I am compiling for my geology honors thesis through my current summer research. My SeAVP talk was about these initial results and plans for this summer.

I had presented on this material for a departmental brown bag and research proposal at W&M, so I wasn’t too nervous initially. However, the day before I was suddenly quite anxious. This was probably because I hadn’t practiced as much as I maybe should have the days prior (lesson learned there!) but I was also slated to give the first talk that morning. I knew the material well, and usually enjoy public speaking, but couldn’t shake the anxiety. However, the next morning my talk suddenly ran perfectly, which was a relief! I enjoyed getting to share my research through a talk for the first time and look forward to the next opportunity to present research. Also, the nice thing about being the first talk was that once that 9 AM time slot was over…I had the whole day free! I spent the rest of my day listening to talks from fellow paleontologists and meeting/making friends with fellow researchers.

Presenting at SeAVP, thanks to Alex Hastings for the photo!

Presenting at SeAVP, thanks to Alex Hastings for the photo!

My trip was a wonderful experience not just for the public speaking practice during SeAVP, but also for how I saw the Aurora Fossil Festival bring professional paleontologists, citizen science, and public interest in fossils together. One major failing of the scientific community is how poorly new research is conveyed to the public. Most of the time, scientific findings are readily available to only a small group of individuals. Access to information is limited by subscription costs of journals, poor dispersal outside scientific communities, and usage of complex jargon never employed outside their disciplines. In recent years, and especially with the current political climate, scientists are trying to improve this. More and more journals are open access, outreach is often a condition for grants, and researchers are doing a better job of using clear, direct writing in journals as well as limiting jargon in public settings. It’s our responsibility as scientists to make sure science is understandable, exciting, and accessible to the public, and the Aurora Fossil Festival does this better than any other outreach events I’ve seen.

As the conference transitioned into the festival, I saw the town of Aurora transform into a fossil enthusiast’s paradise. Huge piles of Miocene-age sediments, laden with shark, mollusk, whale, and crocodile fossils, were stationed all over town. Everyone swarmed these mounds: locals and far-traveled tourists, amateurs and experts, folks young and old all participate. At the Aurora Fossil Festival, you can find fair rides and funnel cakes in the same place as outreach booths and scientific talks. One moment you can chow down on some fresh fried alligator, the next, make friends with a giant boa named Big Mama (pictured!), then have your fossils identified by folks from the Smithsonian, learn about dinosaurs from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, attend a research talk for the public, and most importantly, have time for the parade at noon! It was truly where the best parts of a county fair meet the best parts of scientific outreach.

Hugs from Big Mama!

Hugs from Big Mama!

A bounty of shark teeth found on the fossil pile...I was ever in search of chompers from Megalodon

A bounty of shark teeth found on the fossil pile…I was ever in search of chompers from Megalodon

I have never attended an event that fosters dialogue and connection between the public and researchers quite like the Aurora Fossil Festival. I’ll never forget the great experience I had giving my first talk at SeAVP and look forward to coming back in the future. What this conference and festival provide for paleontology enthusiasts everywhere is unique. My experience emphasized the “community” in scientific community, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it!


  1. etrampenau says:

    That is so exciting! I can’t even imagine having to give a talk in front of that many people, so congratulations!

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