Sunday, November 10, 2013

SVP 2013 in L.A.!

SVP is one of my favorite times (if not THE favorite time) of the year. It’s a time when I get to be reunited with all the people who love paleozoology and comparative anatomy as much as I do, if not more so. That doesn’t happen very often for me, considering I live in Baltimore, where there are very few people interested in talking about dinosaurs and such (outside of, you know, everyone asking me questions about it, of course). I always love seeing all of my old colleagues and friends as well as meeting many more new ones. And the absolute best part of it, for me, is getting to see what type of research everyone has been up to within the past year as well as being able to get my own stuff out there and hearing everyone’s feedback on it. It’s exhilarating and rewarding at the same time.

Triceratops at L.A. County Museum

That’s the reason the world of paleontology never ceases to amaze me. There are always so many new ideas and things to see and learn; things we would never really even expect. I can’t tell you how many new species have been discovered or even how many new things we have learned about species already existing in the literature (I mean, look at Deinocheirus… WOW!) It blows my mind. It makes me truly happy that I decided to stay in this field as an undergraduate and into my graduate years. I never would have experienced any of this if I hadn’t. (And on top of everything, paleontologists KNOW how to party. But we’ll leave that as an aside.) ;)

Stegosaurus and Allosaurus at L.A. County Museum

I’ll just talk about the first day a bit, to keep this as brief as possible. (And also because it was mostly ornithischians and this is an ornithischian blog!) The first days’ morning talks were all about ontogeny, or life history and growth, in dinosaurs. It’s fascinating to me how things like histology are being used more and more to assess how these animals grew and adapted to life as they grew. Histology can teach us many things, both in extant and extinct creatures, and it is nice to see more and more people looking into it. 

Corythosaurus at L.A. County Museum

The first afternoon talks (at least the ones I went to) were all about ornithischian dinosaurs. I started off the session with my talk on ornithischian jaw mechanics and was glad to get it out of the way right from the start! I got some really good feedback on it, so I’m really glad I got to get it all out there. The rest of the talks were mostly about new taxa, phylogeny (basal Ornithischia, Ankylosauria, etc.), morphometrics (e.g., ceratopsian skulls), taphonomy (e.g., pachycephalosaur domes), and function in ankylosaurs (e.g., tail club function) and marginocephalians (e.g., the existence of nasal turbinates in pachycephalosaurs). Quite honestly, this is always my favorite day of talks given the subject matter; but, of course, I’m biased. (Ornithischia, FTW!) I was a little upset that there weren’t any ornithopod talks, but there were some good posters on the subject. Posters are always fantastic, because you get the rare opportunity to talk to people one-on-one about their research. In some ways I think it's a lot better than talks, but each has their pros and cons. That evening, everyone was invited to the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, which I had never been to before. Needless to say, I was wandering around like a little kid looking at dinosaurs for a while… :)

Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus at L.A. County Museum.

On the following days, there were talks about sauropods, theropods, and dinosaurs in general. Lots of neat stuff on phylogeny (e.g., Diplodocidae and Coelurosauria), brain endocasts (e.g., Troodon), functional morphology (e.g., myological implications in arm reduction in theropods), and many other new taxa (and new material in Deinocheirus. Again. WOW.) I also did go to a bunch of non-dinosaurian talks as well, such as some on mammalian and reptilian functional morphology, especially (for instance, jaw stuff). Last but not least, there was a series of talks on bird origins and the origins of flight, which is always fascinating to watch (…and I am SO glad I’m not involved with that stuff.) Haha!
Struthiomimus at L.A. County Museum

The other events during SVP are always a lot of fun as well. On the second night there are the student roundtables (where students are advised on different issues regarding grad school and paleontology as a whole). 

This night, incidentally, fell right onto the same night as Halloween; so, of course, LOTS of people were dressed up. It was awesome.

I dressed as a starving PhD candidate with a trench coat, cup, and a sign that read “PhD Candidate. Please help. GOD BLESS”. So, more or less, I dressed as myself. :) It was good fun. 

And I have to say my favorite part was probably the enormous pterosaur that was walking around.

On the third night there was a silent and live auction, where there was a TON of goodies and books and things being auctioned off. The live auction is always my favorite part because you get to watch people battle it out for really high priced items (as I did for an oviraptorsaur mug. I lost. Haha.)

On the final night, there was a very lovely banquet, with SVP President Cathy Forster as the emcee. 

We saw lots of fun dinosaur and paleontologist movie clips throughout, partly because of Stephen Spielberg getting the Joseph T. Gregory Award for his service to the field (new generation paleontologists being influenced by Jurassic Park, his money donations for research, etc.). 

There was a lovely tribute to those we had lost in the past year. Included among them was Dr. Farish Jenkins, Dr. Wann Langston, and, of personal influence to me, my good friend Dr. Derek Main and my esteemed mentor from my undergraduate years, Dr. Larry Martin. Larry was and is the reason I am where I am today in the field of paleontology. I owe a great deal to him and will, like all of his other students, do everything I can to carry on his legacy proudly and with dedication.

My table at the banquet with fellow students of Larry Martin's from my years at KU.

After the banquet was, of course, the after party. Music, dancing, drinks, and an all around good time. You could tell we were having a good time especially since pretty much everyone was dancing and singing along to “I am a Paleontologist” by They Might Be Giants when it came on. 

It was fantastic and because of all of this, it is safe to say that I am excited for next year’s round of SVP fun and shenanigans. Until next year!

~ Ali

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