Mittwoch, 30. September 2009

SVP meeting reminiscences

My first SVP meeting was a bit of an eye opener for me:

Microtomography and 3D imaging, molecular paleobiology, advanced phylogenetical and biogeographical approaches, bone and tooth histology and microstructures, morphometrics, biomechanical modelling, any kind of studies on living functional/ ecological/ developmental analogues of fossil beings (actuopaleontology) - that's where the pot of gold is hidden.

... as a former geologist it gives me a certain urge to come to terms with what I should have learned about biology but only got briefly or autodidactically yet.

Apparently world is not as easy and small as it seems when you work as an isolated scholar for too long a time.

Montag, 28. September 2009

Reptile from the Petrified Forest of Chemnitz

In Early Permian volcaniclastic deposits of Chemnitz (Saxony, Germany) the partial skeleton of 30-cm-long basal reptile including a complete autopodium, further parts of the limbs, the vertebral column, thorax, and a fragmentary skull have been discovered last week by excavators from the Natural History Museum of Chemnitz.

This is the first tetrapod fossil from these deposits which are otherwise famous for their in situ silified tree stems ("Petrified Forest of Chemnitz").

Freitag, 11. September 2009

Symposia Summer: Are posters for kids? I daresay yes.

My former room mate (a post-doc and Humboldt scholar) once said that poster presentations rapidly lose their appeal once you have reached the age of speaking. And perhaps he was right after all.

Inlcuding this year's SVP meeting contributions I made 10 posters and was co-painterauthor of further 6 during the last three years (about two thirds about paleontology and one third on structural geology). That's enough to paper the walls of my of and my neighbour's lab room, but what did I get apart from that?

Flooding of the publication list? - Yes, but 20 abstracts = 1 peer-reviewed paper. To get something published cheeply should surely not be the point of postermaking - also considering the overall time you are investing for a mere halfpage of printed text.

Becoming a whiz in vector graphics? - Perhaps, but this is also part of normal publishing, lecture-preparation and thesis-writing, so you would have learned that anyway...

Feedback from experts? Negligible. Sometimes you are lucky and the right people are present and really interested in what you have done - but if they are not and yours is one of 50 posters displayed don't be too optimistic. Some people are so frustrated about the (probable) lack of response that they have their posters pinned up by an oral presenter from their own faculty and save the travel costs.

Dialogue with my former supervisor about a poster of mine:
- "Luckily I can give this to Maria. Symposia are such a waste of time!"
- "Obviously, you don't have yet understood what this part of science is about..."
- "Of course, I know about the importance of communicating your science and stuff... I was only teasing." (Afterwards pretending it was only irony, but meaning every word I said at first.)

I forgot something important: the winning of the poster prize! You can try. You need high-resolution colour fotos, high quality drawings, mirror finish paper, a sense for symmetry and for the golden section, and a vanilla ice topic (like dinosaurs, trilobites, Cambrian explosion, human origins).

And afterwards you can fancy yourself as the king of the symposium junior scientists layouters. Three cheers for the PP winner!

Why an oral presentation is better

Preparing an oral presentation is more time-consuming than making a poster: you have not only to put figures on a (rather patient) sheet of paper and do some write-around. Giving a talk you are really forced to make sense of your premisses, methods, data, results, conclusions and arrange everything in a sequence (only one dimension - time; a poster has two dimensions so you can illustrate complex interrelationships more easily and thus be more confuse without notice).

All these aspects help you directly with your scientific work: A well-structured presentation can easily make a well-structured publication and vice versa. And if there is a catch or lapse in reasoning you may become aware of it in the course of trying to explain your model to others.

With an oral presentation you get a real audience: Even if no one is interested in your topic common politeness makes them stay still and gives you the power to waste 15 minutes of the life time of 50 or 100 or 200 listeners. What a feeling of might!

If you are provocative you can even stir up a reaction. Compare posters and talks to potted plants and dogs. A dog/presenter is barking at you if he wants attention and thus you feel pushed to show him his place, the poster/ potted plant is simply hanging/ standing around and withers...

So give a talk if you have the guts!