Progressive Palaeontology 2017 – the annual meeting organised by and for early career researchers in palaeontology

PeerJ is proud to be sponsoring “Progressive Palaeontology 2017“, an annual meeting for postgraduate research students which starts later this week at the University of Leicester.  The conference is being organised by Jordan Bestwick, Thomas Hearing, Christopher Nedza, Yasmin Yonan, Michael Morton, and Thomas Clements. Ahead of this week’s events, we interviewed Jordan Bestwick a PhD student in the Geology Department studying pterosaur dietary ecology.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about the conference you’ve organised?

JB : Progressive Palaeontology (affectionately known as ‘ProgPal’) is a vibrant annual meeting in the UK organised by and for early career researchers in palaeontology. Delegates typically consist of PhD, Masters and even undergraduate students. ProgPal is organised by a different palaeontology postgraduate committee each year with the 2017 conference hosted in Leicester on 1st-3rd June. Around 100 delegates are expected to attend this year’s conference.

The conference will be a three-part conference over the three days. The first day will consist of two workshops in the afternoon. The first workshop will be run by Professor Mark Purnell from the University of Leicester and Dr. Duncan Murdock from the University of Oxford and will introduce statistical hypothesis testing in a practical and easy to follow way. The second workshop, run by Dr. Sally Thomas from the Palaeontological Association and Professor Sarah Gabbott from the University of Leicester, will cover how to survive the peer-review process in palaeontology. The first day will end with the conference icebreaker the recently refurbished New Walk Museum ‘Dinosaur Gallery’ that hosts some famous fossils including the ‘Rutland dinosaur’ Cetiosaurus.

Cetiosaurus – Image credit: Jaime A. Headden CC BY-SA

The second day will consist of a full day of ‘Full’ (12 minute) and ‘Lightning’ (4 minute) talks with poster sessions, held in the Department of Geology of the University of Leicester. The annual dinner will be held in the evening of the second day, followed by the annual auction which raises money for travel grants for the following year.

The third day will consist of a field trip to the Silurian deposits (444-419 million year old) of Ludlow, with Professor Mark Williams from the University of Leicester. This will give delegates the chance to observe and even collect their fossils from the famous sites of this area.

PJ: Why is this an important gathering for the discipline? How does it stand out from other palaeontology conferences?

JB: The main difference between ProgPal and other palaeontological conferences is that ProgPal is almost entirely planned and run by, and for, early career palaeo-researchers and students. This results in a friendly, less imposing conference where delegates can present their research, at PhD, Masters or even undergraduate level, to their peers.

ProgPal is often the first conference many palaeo-researchers attend and present their work, thus the conference serves as a platform for which delegates can develop the skills needed to effectively build and give talks and posters before they present their research at larger, more senior conferences.

PJ: What topics or areas do you think will receive more attention this year and why?

JB: The key aim of ProgPal is to provide early-career researchers with the chance to present their research irrespective of topic, giving equal opportunity for all. As the ProgPal ‘community’ constantly changes, topics and areas at each conference can, therefore, differ quite drastically with the interests and specialisms of each cohort. ProgPal 2017 is no exception to this.

Palaeontology is fast becoming a more experimental-based science…

Palaeontology as a whole is fast becoming a more experimental-based science, with more sophisticated techniques continually becoming incorporated into this field to answer questions about extinct life that were previously not possible. As early-career researchers are often at the forefront of these fundamental shifts in how we collect and explore palaeontological data, the talks and posters at ProgPal therefore increasingly reflect this.

PJ: Palaeontology encompasses such a wide range of different areas of expertise and backgrounds – do you have any tips for conference organisers when pulling together a programme that will appeal to many different specialities?

Image credit: Mike Taylor (Wikipedia)

JB: ProgPal 2017 will consist of talks and posters on a diverse range of extinct organisms, from dinosaurs to sea scorpions to microfossils. There is also great diversity in the techniques/methodologies used for such studies, from classic taxonomic descriptions to biomechanical modelling to isotope analyses.

Senior palaeontological conferences accommodate this diversity by having parallel sessions, each dedicated to particular organismal groups or methodologies. However, we feel it is important for delegates, who may not even have settled on a PhD topic yet, to experience the broad range of active palaeontological research. ProgPal 2017 has thus chosen not to dedicated talk or poster sessions to encourage the diversity throughout the conference and to accommodate research areas which have previously received little to no attention. Delegates will, therefore, be exposed to a wider range of talks and posters outside of their usual research area and interests. This will be more stimulating for delegates which may give them ideas for their own research or the incentive to make collaborations for future projects.

PJ : Finally, what do you hope attendees get out of the conference talks and events to happen over the next few days?

JB: ProgPal 2017 hopes to provide the same less imposing, friendly atmosphere which has made Progressive Palaeontology so appealing for many early career researchers in palaeontology.

By providing such a platform for delegates to present their first talk or poster, it is hoped presenting delegates will gain the presenting skills and expertise needed for professional conferences in their near futures. Delegates will, therefore, be enlightened by the diverse and high-quality research shown by their presenting peers. Finally, the numerous networking opportunities provided by the conference will hopefully be the spark for long-lasting collaborations into academia and industry.

We’re looking forward to meeting researchers attending the conference and hearing more about their research topics! Browse the latest PeerJ articles and preprints in paleontology on our subject overlay page.

  • Mike Taylor

    Anyone who is wondering whether or not to go to ProgPal: GO! It’s a great conference, very full of energy. My one regret on finishing my Ph.D was that I was no longer eligible to attend what was really my favourite conference.

    BTW., the image above showing a collage of Cetiosaurus bones is from my 2010 paper Sauropod dinosaur research: a historical review. I am of course more than delighted to have it featured here, but would have appreciated an attribution. The paper — and its figure 2 which is used above — is copyright me, not The Geological Society of London as their page-footer erroneously claims.

    • Sierra Williams

      Thanks Mike! Have updated the image credit in the post now.

      • Mike Taylor


  • David Marjanović

    Good: the conference was livestreamed.
    Bad: the moderators didn’t wait for the schedule. When I tuned in to see the 5-minute talk I wanted to watch, the next talk was already over.
    Ugly: the sidebar tells me there are at least 3 comments on this post (2 by Mike Taylor, 1 by Sierra Williams), but here I’m told “0 Comments” and “Be the first to comment.” – what’s going on here?