Saturday, 20 June 2020

Funding finding fossils

A popular trope is the image of the palaeontologist bestriding the badlands, hammer in hand, ready to hunker down and excavate the perfectly preserved fossil that they've just found. This is, of course, the way in which we gather our primary data – fieldwork is essential in providing the fossils that we use as the basis for determining the relationships, distributions and biology of all extinct organisms and for placing them in their correct temporal and environmental context. Finding funding for fieldwork can be surprisingly hard, however, which explains why Jurassic Park's rather staid Dr Grant had to cozy up to big money in the form of the shady John Hammond.

This may surprise people who are used to hearing about the daring-do of colleagues in my own field (dinosaurs) who regularly head off to remote (and no-so remote) areas of the globe in search of new material. In the UK, however, fieldwork has a checkered history. Early dinosaur specialists, such as Richard Owen and Harry Seeley, generally worked on a flow of material brought to them by quarry workers, commercial collectors and interested land owners - they rarely strayed from their offices to dirty their hands in brick-pits or mines. Even where trips were made, they were usually day trips to consolidate relationships forged on correspondence. Buckland was a notable exception, as a field geologist first and palaeontologist second, although he had no hand in excavating the Oxfordshire dinosaurs. This situation continued through the early 20th century, with most of the material acquired by the Natural History Museum at this time arriving through donation or purchase, rather than field collection by scientists (although this period was marked by either the absence of a dinosaur specialist on the staff - with either fish specialist Arthur Smith Woodward occasionally publishing on dinosaurs or the unproductive William Elgin Swinton occupying this position). However, expeditions were made in the 1960s through 1980s, with the NHM sending teams to Lesotho, Australia and Niger to collect dinosaurs (and to Zambia and Tanzania to collect other tetrapods). As far as I'm aware, there was no other large-scale dinosaur collecting by other UK institutions at this point, although other colleagues were making collections of fish, marine reptiles, small herps and Pleistocene mammals. Also, a trickle of important UK material continued to make its way into local museums as well as the NHM, largely due to the work of tireless amateur collectors. Nevertheless, in almost all of these cases, fieldwork was not a regular part of most research programmes, but was something that was dipped in and out of as circumstance and chance dictated. This could be due, in part, to the fact that most of the vertebrate palaeontologists in the UK at this point were zoologists by training, with limited geological interest or expertise. However, a more important factor was money.

Collecting large vertebrates is difficult for numerous reasons: it is time consuming (extracting a single individual can take multiple trips over many field seasons); discoveries of informative large vertebrate fossils are relatively infrequent, even in 'productive' areas; it is logistically difficult and requires large numbers of people and many other resources; there are numerous on-costs in terms of specialist lab staff, equipment and consumables for preparation; and transport and field consumables are costly. From a UK perspective, the rarity of specimens clearly limits the development of research programmes based exclusively on new UK material; travel overseas is expensive (for kit and consumables, as well as people); and UK-based work is expensive (the UK has a high cost of living). So, reasonable amounts of money are always needed. Nevertheless, these amounts are not nearly as great as the costs of new analytical equipment or running a state-of-the-art lab, so they translate into new science (and sometimes very high profile new science) at a very reasonable rate.

So, where has the money come from? Historically, funds for collections enhancement fieldwork in the UK have come from museum collections budgets, grants (to either universities or museums) or various forms of sponsorship or donation. Museum acquisition budgets have dwindled over the past few decades as resources were retrenched for other programmes or vital maintenance, so now provide limited support for fieldwork. Sponsorship and donations vary depending on the prevailing financial climate and on finding individuals with the right specific interests, so this source has been sporadic and infrequent. Also, it may be surprising to some that dinosaur fieldwork isn't attractive to corporate sponsors due to the negative association that the word 'dinosaur' has in popular culture. Grant funding has also come under pressure as few agencies now support the 'blue-skies' research that would encompass the discovery of large vertebrate fossils. UKRI grants, for example, require that projects are hypothesis-driven: but although large vertebrate fossils can obviously be used test hypotheses, finding them in the first place is serendipitous and it is likely to take longer to nuture the project from discovery through to publication than allowed by the length of a standard grant programme. Hence, most of the burden for large vertebrate fieldwork funding falls on a small number of agencies that will support fieldwork with an element of risk or no objective beyond the possibility of new discovery, such as the National Geographic Society or funds administered by professional societies. However, as other sources have evaporated, these small pots are under greater and greater pressure to support more and more of the good science that could be taking place.

This contrasts with the situation faced by many of my colleagues working on invertebrates, microfossils or plants. In these cases, fossils are much more abundant and usually easier to transport and prepare, so field collections conducted within a time-limited grant programme can generate enough new material to test hypotheses, meaning that projects on conodonts, bryozoans, brachiopods, corals, forams and spores are much more likely to attract UKRI fieldwork funding than any project aiming to dig up large vertebrates (a quick look at successful NERC grants will reveal that none of the grants awarded for work on dinosaurs include fieldwork, whereas many of those awarded to invertebrate workers do). In addition, for obvious reasons, many countries now (rightly) prohibit the permanent export of large fossil vertebrate remains as they are relatively rare and are regarded as patrimony and an integral part of their scientific and cultural capital, whereas the abundance of other fossils means that they are rarely regulated in this way. Consequently, budgets allocated for improving UK collections are not available for funding UK research overseas if it does not bring material back.

As a result these factors, research programmes that incorporate regular large vertebrate fieldwork in the UK have been rare over the past 30 years. After all – in terms of training – you can't base on a PhD project on fieldwork if there's a high chance you won't find anything new. Similarly, funding the medium- to long-term efforts required to test hypotheses with this kind of material requires cobbling together resources over extended periods from numerous sources (the failure of which at any stage could lead to the collapse of the project overall). Consequently, it has been very hard for UK-based vertebrate palaeontologists to gain fieldwork experience as: 1) their own projects can't really incorporate it at PhD or postdoc level (too risky in the time available); and 2) as their supervisors might only have intermittent access to fieldwork funds (if at all) and so lack the resources to offer this opportunity. Those dinosaur-based students that I am aware of who did gain field experience have usually done so by joining projects based in other countries (most frequently the USA or Canada), often by to using their own resources (and there are obvious issues here in terms of equity and opportunity).

More recently, there have been several large vertebrate-based field programmes run by UK PIs, all of which have been conducted with close overseas collaborators, which have enabled students to gain this additional training as a complement to their regular research work. However, even in these cases, at least some of the students attending had to use their own funds to join these trips, as sufficient cash was not available. In the case of my own field programme, I've been able to get some support for my travel from small grants (e.g. Royal Society) or from internal research funds, which have enabled me to join larger crews led by overseas partners (and I've also been lucky enough to be in a position to use my own resources where other sources weren't available). However, in most cases, student support from these sources was not possible. Indeed, much of the funding for these trips (in terms of internal travel, accommodation, preparation) has come from overseas collaborators, who work in granting systems that have been more generous with respect to blue-skies research. I'm grateful to those colleagues for inviting us to join them as, otherwise, fieldwork for me would simply not have been possible.

There are definitely advantages to these approaches, as they do enable fieldwork to take place, which leads to strong collaborations, the generation of new knowledge, the cementing of international ties, the building of new collections for institutions in their countries of origin, and in providing much needed training for early career researchers in the UK and elsewhere. However, if UK palaeontologists are to continue collaborating in the finding of new material and in the training of their students to do the same, funding has to be available for these trips to take place. This means providing funds through training programmes (e.g. via UKRI DTPs) and/or for granting agencies to reevaluate the importance of conducting discovery-led, rather than hypothesis-driven, research. Above all, it needs to be recognized that just because dinosaur research generates high impact publications and headlines, it doesn't mean that getting the money to do this research is easy.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Diversity in palaeo - a hard look at my own stats

There has been a welcome increase in sensitivity to the diverse community that works within palaeontology. This is evidenced by more open discussions on social media and the responses of professional societies, such as the establishment of a Diversity Committee by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. The Palaeontological Association has been particularly proactive in this respect, instituting a survey of its membership to gauge the different issues faced and to inform its policies in future. All of these initiatives are welcome and, as an openly gay man, I'm pleased to see that some progress is being made in a profession that has historically been almost exclusively male, white and straight. This initiative, in combination with frequent posts from other friends and colleagues online, has made me think more about my own track record in this regard. Just how diverse is my cohort of coauthors and collaborators? I start with one major advantage of course - 100% of my output has strong LGBTQ+ representation - but how have I performed in other areas?

So, I've been through my publications list and broken it down in various respects - and I challenge my colleagues to do the same to see how they fare also. 

The data

I've looked at gender, LGBTQ+ representation and disability, but in most of the following lists and statistics people are not mentioned by name as I've not received their explicit permission to publish these personal details in this context. For the same reason, I am not making the full version of my data set publicly available, although I would be willing to share it for academic studies with sufficient personal data safeguards. There are some areas where the numbers will not be entirely accurate: my LGBTQ+ and disability figures include only those people where I know personally that they identify in this way and so I could be under-counting in these categories. Also, there are some coauthors whose sex/gender is unknown as I've never met them and whom I can't easily find online (mainly some East Asian coauthors on very large multi-authored papers). Similar comments also apply to BAME authors, where I am unaware of how some mixed heritage colleagues self-identify. In all of the theses cases, where the answer isn't clear I have either not included the name or erred on the most conservative view of assuming that they are white, straight, etc. in order to give the most critical view of the data. Finally, this data set draws on a subset of my total publications list: it includes all papers in peer-reviewed international journals, those in edited books and those in conference proceedings volumes. It excludes books that I have edited/authored, abstracts, popular articles, commentaries, web publications, encyclopedia articles, etc. It also includes three papers with >20 authors. Initially, I considered excluding these in case they introduced major biases, but in the in end I included them, again to stack the odds for the least diverse scenario (and also many of these papers include coauthors that were already included in my dataset for other reasons).

The breakdown

The dataset includes 199 published papers (1994–2020), of which 183 were coauthored with at least one other author (average number of coauthors 3.21). Of these I am first or senior author of 116 publications, for which I should assume the majority of responsibility for the composition of the group forming the collaboration. I had a total number of 341 coauthors (only six of whom lack gender information).

In terms of male/female balance (including at least one trans man who identifies as male):
Number of male coauthors = 255
Number of female coauthors = 81
So, a 76% to 24% male to female bias (similar to the overall results from the Pal Ass survey)

Taking a view of all authors has the following results for other categories of individuals:
BAME coauthors = 47 (14% of total)
LGBTQ+ coauthors = 10 (3% of total)
Disabled coauthors = 2 (0.5% of total)

Of the 199 papers, 88 had female coauthors (44% of total) of which 39 had female senior or first authors (20% of total).

Many of my papers have been published with a relatively small number of individuals:

>10 papers coauthored - six people
5-8 papers coauthored - 14 people
2-4 papers coauthored - 69 people
1 paper coauthored - 252 people (skewed by several mega-authored papers)

Delving into this reveals some good news in terms of balance as two of my top five coauthors are female:

1.         Richard Butler (29; M; UK)
2.         Paul Upchurch (27; M; UK)
3.         Susannah Maidment (22; F; UK)
4.         Roger Benson (16; M; UK)
5.         Emily Rayfield (13; F; UK)

However, only two other female coauthors currently fall into the 5+ category (Angela Milner  [6, UK] and Kimi Chapelle [5, South Africa]). Also, it should be noted that all of my top 5 coauthors were either former students, postdocs or close contemporaries (and were all based at Cambridge, although most of the papers have been produced while we've held posts elsewhere). The majority of other 5+ authors are not from the UK and include representatives from South Africa, China, Canada, Switzerland and USA.

In terms of other diversity, I also tabulated the countries where I have coauthors (though note this is generally based on country where they are based, not country of origin, and for simplicity some international moves have been ignored in favour of the country where most of this work was carried out.

By country:

Argentina: 4
Australia: 11
Austria: 1
Brazil: 1
Canada: 13
China: 16
Finland: 2
France: 11
Germany: 3
Hungary: 3
India: 3
Japan: 12
Malawi: 1
Morocco: 1
Netherlands: 1
Poland: 1
Russia: 2
South Africa: 16
Spain: 1
Sweden: 2
Switzerland: 4
UK: 134
USA: 91
Zimbabwe: 7
Finally, although not publication related, it's also possible to look at these issues with respect to students and postdocs. In my case, I've had seven postdocs (4 M, 3F) and 24 PhD students that I've advised or co-advised (16 M, 9 F, 1 trans).

So, what next? I'm glad to see that my stats do reflect at least some diversity (in terms of top coauthors, lab membership, geographic diversity), but can see many other areas where it would be open to criticism. I think, at least, this has given me a clearer idea of some of the issues that are being highlighted by broader studies and the stream of comments I see, though I would be most interested in seeing comparative data from other colleagues at similar career stages. Also, I can see definite trends in my own data towards greater inclusion, largely as my own networks have grown (for example, the majority of my South African collaborators are female) and as projects have become more multidisciplinary (rather than narrowly focused). Having data in hand makes me more aware of the issue from a very personal perspective and is certainly making me think more about how future networks might be opened up.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Obituary: Professor Jennifer A. Clack FRS (1947–2020)

A close friend and colleague to many at the NHM and elsewhere, Jenny Clack, passed away after a long, brave battle with cancer in the early hours of Thursday 26th March 2020. Jenny would have been a familiar figure to many of you, not least in her roles in the NHM as an Honorary Research Fellow, a Scientific Associate and a member of the NHM's Science Advisory Board. She was a confidant and collaborator of many in the Fossil Vertebrates team and had long friendships stretching back over decades with several current and former members of staff.

Jenny was at the cutting edge of palaeontological research for nearly four decades. She was, without doubt, the world’s leading expert on the fish-tetrapod transition and made numerous seminal contributions that significantly advanced our knowledge of this critical event in the history of life. This work set new benchmarks that have enabled the field to progress in new and unexpected directions and she has had a far-reaching influence on the subject.

Her interest began with detailed studies of Coal Measure amphibians from the UK (an interest she maintained throughout her career), which also led to important new insights into the evolution of tetrapod ears. Indeed, the evolution of hearing, as revealed by changes in braincase and stapedial anatomy, unravelling the various transformations that occurred in the evolution of the impedance-matching ear, was a major passion, as also displayed through her wide assortment of tetrapod-based, homemade jewellery.

However, Jenny is most famous for her exquisitely detailed anatomical work on the earliest tetrapods and, in particular, on Acanthostega. Following suggestions that East Greenland would be a rich hunting ground, she led several expeditions there to collect important new material of these animals and spent many years documenting the fundamental changes that occurred to jaws, ears, braincases and limbs across the fish-tetrapod transition. This relied on exceptional anatomical skills and Jenny also went on to integrate this morphological work with information from evo-devo to reveal the processes by which these changes took place.

Jenny & Rob Clack, pictured after Jenny was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009. Photograph courtesy of Andrew & Angela Milner, close friends of Jenny & Rob, who’ve both been working with Jenny since the 1980s. All were graduates of Alec Panchen’s group based at the University of Newcastle.

In addition to this work, Jenny continued detailed studies of the taxonomy and biology of a range of other Palaeozoic tetrapod groups (notably anthracosaurs and baphetids) and occasionally ventured into the world of sarcopterygian fish. Latterly, she had been doing important work to close ‘Romer’s Gap’ a mysterious period in tetrapod evolution with few fossils. Her last major project (nicknamed TWEED) found numerous new tetrapod localities in the Scottish Borders and placed them within rigorous chronostratigraphic and environmental contexts: work that is currently ongoing thanks to the extended team that she built.

Many of Jenny’s most impactful papers appeared in Nature, but these were only the tip of a productive iceberg and were accompanied by numerous other papers in more specialist venues, dealing with subjects ranging from taxonomy to evo-devo to biomechanics. Her book on tetrapod origins – Gaining Ground – has been translated into many languages and offers the broadest introduction to the subject available.

In addition to her academic contributions, Jenny mentored a large number of undergraduate and graduate students while she taught at Cambridge (me included). Although she did not produce many MSc/PhD students (a constraint of her curatorial, rather than academic, position) several went on to become leaders in the field (Per Ahlberg, Paul Upchurch, Michael Lee, Matthew Friedman), with others continuing work in either the museum sector or academic publishing.

Jenny’s achievements were recognized during her lifetime by the award of an honorary DSc from Cambridge, the Lapworth Medal of the Palaeontological Association and by election to the Royal Society. Indeed, Jenny was one of only two vertebrate palaeontologists to receive the latter honour over the past 20 years, confirming her preeminent international status.

Jenny is survived by her husband Rob, who is also well-known to many in the Department as a frequent presence on field trips and at conferences. Given current circumstances, the funeral will be small and private but a memorial service and celebration of her life is already being planned for a later date in Cambridge: more details will follow as they become available in future. Jenny will be greatly missed by all who worked with and knew her and we are all sending our collective sympathy to Rob at this difficult time.

Monday, 5 August 2019

The downsides of globe-trotting

“Wow, it must be awesome to get to so many cool places for work!”

Most of my colleagues will be familiar with this refrain from friends, family and others who hear about our globe-trotting antics. It is, in many ways, a unique privilege to be able to travel so often. Unlike other business travellers, academics, especially those doing fieldwork, often travel off of the beaten track, venturing beyond the usual tourist and commercial hubs. They frequently have the opportunity to spend extended periods in a new place, allowing free time to explore a destination in depth and to interact with local people in ways that other travellers might not. It’s also a privilege in terms of having these experiences covered by the tax-payer (although it should be noted that many trips are funded from charitable and other private funds). I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world to further my work on dinosaurs and this has allowed me to push my research programme forwards (both personally and through close collaborations), and enabled me to experience amazing places, sites with both cultural and natural wonders, which I would never have seen otherwise. It has also had the benefit of fostering close friendships with international colleagues who, although rarely seen in person, have remained good friends for life.

Travel is an essential part of my work – dinosaur fossils are found from Alaska to Antarctica and are large, fragile, difficult to transport, financially valuable, politically sensitive, and often known from examples found in a single location. Hence, travelling to other museum collections is essential in order to check and re-check the raw anatomical data on which the subject is based. Although digitization holds the promise of delivering virtual libraries of this material, which will reduce the need for future travel, this goal still lies years into the future, due to the time and money needed to carry out this work. Moreover, finding novel specimens requires fieldwork, going to the source, which often involves finding new or poorly explored places with the potential to yield useful material. In addition to these research requirements, academics frequently travel to conferences in order to share information, network and advance collaborative work. Finally, we are also expected to travel for more ‘corporate’ reasons, relating to institutional reputation, training, corporate partnerships, etc.

Although the pros of work-related travel are obvious in terms of its direct and indirect benefits, there are numerous cons, which have to be weighed against the more obvious gains of international travel. These might not be obvious in some cases, and others might be dismissed as whinging, but many of these can have significant impacts on travellers. As I’ve had a couple of years with frequent long-haul trips, for a variety of reasons, this seems like a good time to reflect on some of the cons. The following is from a personal perspective but would apply equally to many of my friends and colleagues.

1. Life at home. In order to maximise work time while away, it’s often necessary to do long-haul flights at weekends, so that you can arrive alert enough to make the most of the working week (after all, the colleagues you’re visiting will reasonably want to work their regular hours and can’t be expected to work late or at weekends just to accommodate you). However, this means giving up your own free time to enable you to work more effectively. In addition, you can’t usually pop back for a weekend if on an extended trip. For example, my recent two-week trip to Argentina ate into three weekends (two dedicated to travel, one mid-trip). Over the past two years, I’ve sacrificed around 25% of my weekends to work-related travel, while either in transit or during the body of a trip. That’s 25% of my opportunities to hang out with my partner, family and friends, to indulge in my own interests, or to catch up on domestic chores (amazingly, academics try to have lives outside of work too), as well as the weekdays I’m away too. I don’t receive any compensation for the personal time I routinely give up to make my work trips more effective, either financially or in terms of time off in lieu. There’s just an assumption that this is how it works. Luckily, my partner is supportive and understanding of my obligation to travel – and it is an obligation, as it directly impacts the goals set by my bosses – and I don’t have kids or pets to pine for, but it can still be frustrating and wearing, and sometimes lead to straining of relationships as well as extended periods away from home.

2. Life at work. Work trips are planned to engage in activities that can be done only in the place that you’re travelling to, whether that is because you’re looking at unique material, doing fieldwork or meeting with colleagues. Nevertheless, the fact that you are working elsewhere does not mean that your work obligations back home decrease or that you're on some kind of vacation. While travelling you are frequently expected to meet deadlines, answer queries and manage teams, who might be in very different time zones and have issues with varied levels of complexity and priority. In some cases, it is vital to deal with urgent issues arising, but even at its most reasonable this requirement makes every working day longer, as early mornings or evenings are used to continue working ‘back home’ while you are already working full-time during the day. In some cases, these requests can be ignored, but a constant stream of emails starting with “I know you’re away, but …” for day-to-day, low priority issues adds psychological burden. Moreover, anything that can’t be dealt with while travelling builds up throughout this period, so that a small mountain of work usually awaits your return. It can take several days, or even weeks, to get back into a regular routine after such a trip.

3. Mental health. Although work travel is professionally enriching and is often fun, it can take a severe toll on mental health and well-being. Extended time away from home puts strain on individuals and relationships, as well as intruding on a multitude of other personal issues. Moreover, the act of travelling itself can be stressful, for many reasons, such as the frustrations and setbacks caused by trip logistics, not only when things go wrong (delays, changes of plan, mistakes made) but also when things go right (airports and train stations are not relaxing environments). There is the need to adapt to an unfamiliar place, where the culture and language may be very different, which adds more complexity to accomplishing even the most minor of tasks. For example, finding out how to take the right bus, get lunch or find laundry can become daunting or overly time-consuming in some circumstances. In addition, there is pressure on every trip to deliver on those work-related goals: if these aren’t accomplished this adds other types of stress, associated with frustration, failure and negative judgements from bosses and funders. Fieldwork applies yet another layer to this, in terms of working in potentially hazardous environments while carrying out procedures that can be dangerous. Taking responsibility for the safety, logistics and behaviour of others on such trips heaps yet another burden on fieldwork leaders. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, many research trips are conducted alone. Loneliness can become a big source of stress, especially when things start to go wrong. On returning, it's often assumed that you must have had an excellent time while away, and it can be hard to admit that you were miserable the entire time.

4. Physical health. Any form of travelling increases risks to physical health. These range from the trivial, like catching the coughs and colds that ricochet around airplanes and conference venues, through to severe illness or injury. Travelling can be very uncomfortable, as anyone over a certain height or weight will tell you as they squeeze into an economy seat for a 12-hour flight. During my travels, I’ve suffered a variety of ailments including: falls and minor injuries during fieldwork; innumerable stomach bugs; delirium and fever; days of mind-numbing tiredness due to jet-lag; numerous cricked backs and necks from hours of uncomfortable travel; and a ruptured spleen (caused by falling awkwardly on a crowded plane). Although we can obviously take leave to get over illnesses and injuries once back home, things like discomfort and jet-lag are not taken into account, meaning that recovery from extended journeys can take much longer than it should. Moreover, it's often very difficult to eat healthily while travelling, due to the lack oif fridges and cooking equipment, and it's usually difficult to maintain regular exercise routines. Again, this might sound trivial, but two weeks of eating out with no access to a gym can really leave you feeling rough and have you piling on the pounds.

5. Financial cost. I’ve sometimes paid out of my own pocket to attend a conference or visit a museum – funds are not always available for all of the work that we want to do. However, even when funds are provided there’s usually at least some personal financial cost involved. For obvious reasons, institutions reimburse you for expenditure you can prove – but you can’t always get receipts for everything. This is particularly challenging for small purchases like public transport costs, breakfasts and lunches, where small establishments might not offer receipts (this is particularly common in more remote areas). This might not sound like a big deal, as we’d be spending our own money on such things back at home, but consider that: 1) we’re spending our own money to facilitate work; and 2) it might cost us more to do things like eat breakfast out than when we cater for ourselves at home. Moreover, and for understandable reasons, all of our work travel is done as economically as possible, to make the most of the resources available (and to avoid accusations of largesse at public expense). However, if you want to travel more comfortably, this has to come out of your own resources – for example, on long-haul flights I often pay to upgrade, as I find economy seats too uncomfortable and impossible to sleep or work in (I literally can’t open a laptop or sleep when in an economy seat). Upgrading makes me more effective on arrival, allows me to recover faster on my return and enables me to make better use of what is technically work time while I’m trapped inside a metal tube, in addition to providing me with a more comfortable experience. However, every time I do this I’m using my own resources to subsidise my employer, so that I can work more effectively on their behalf. Finally, currency exchange rates can fluctuate markedly during the course of a project (or even during the course of a trip) meaning that grants might fall short of what’s needed (forcing you to top them up to make them work). It can also mean that you can lose out if your expenses are reimbursed at poorer rates than those at which they were incurred. (Incidentally, I’m also subsidising my employer by using my own equipment, such as field tools, field clothing, laptops and cameras, on these trips).

So, in summary, although I’ve enjoyed an awful lot of my work travel, most of this enjoyment is, to a least some extent, qualified by all of the above. And, frankly, I’ve detested some of the trips I’ve needed to make as they were stressful, unpleasant and unproductive (and the ruptured spleen put me out of action for several months).

More positively, there are numerous strategies that can be put in place to deal with many of these issues, although their effectiveness and applicability will vary from person to person. Perhaps the simplest thing is to make sure your travel is well planned. Budget the time you need (neither too much nor too little) and try and make your trip as efficient as possible by extracting the most use out of the time as you can. Research your destination in advance to find out how to get started there, the basics of getting around, the kinds of everyday things you might need to take, and the range of things to do there that can help keep you occupied outside of work. Seek advice from others doing similar trips and see if you can buddy up with fellow travellers to share the experience, as sharing the positives and negatives of travel can be mutually beneficial. If travelling alone get out of the hotel and look around if possible, otherwise make sure you have plenty of entertainment or ways of staying in touch with home during those long solitary evenings and weekends. Take pressure off of your work load back at home by making it clear that you’re unavailable and by delegating tasks if you can: let colleagues know that you can’t be expected to double-up on your regular work load while away. Finally, you should approach your institutions for support, if needed, in terms of trying to strike a better work/life balance or finding strategies that make travel more comfortable while enhancing its effectiveness. Seeing the world as you do your job is definitely a privilege, but it’s also something that should not have a negative impact on your life out of work.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

2018: A Year In Review

It's becoming a tradition for me to summarize the work we've done in the previous year, mainly as a way of taking stock and in a (usually futile) attempt to keep up this blog more regularly. There were lots of changes in the lab this year with numerous arrivals and departures and everyone has had a really busy year.

I was pleased to welcome two new postdocs to the lab early in 2018: Dr David Button and Dr Marc Jones. Both David and Marc are working on a NERC-funded project that I'm leading with Laura Porro (UCL) on the evolution and biomechanics of feeding in early dinosaurs. They've spent most of this year beavering away on building 3D models of various dinosaurs, birds and lizards, including some beautiful material from Argentina that Ricardo Martinéz loaned to us over the summer. They've already been able to present some of their results already, at the SVPCA meeting in Manchester, on Coelophysis and Hypsilophodon. Watch this space as the project develops in future.

David, Marc and Vincent Fernandez looking at scans of Adeopapposaurus

Although not members of the lab, I'm also thrilled by the appointment of two new colleagues that will be frequent collaborators both with me and other lab members and who also strengthen the NHM's expertise in fossil reptiles. These are Dr Susie Maidment, who joins us as a new researcher and Dr Mike Day as a new curator. We're already building strong links, with Susie and me co-supervising Tom Raven's PhD and many more projects planned for the future.

Balancing our arrivals, it's been a bittersweet year with several members of the lab departing for pastures new. Terri Cleary, Serjoscha Evers, Richard Fallon, David Ford and Selina Groh all submitted their PhDs this year and at the time of writing I'm very proud to report that Terri, Serjoscha and Selina have all had their vivas and passed with flying colours. Terri has moved on to a postdoc at Birmingham University (in Richard Butler's group), Selina has taken up a research assistantship at UCL (working with Paul Upchurch) and Serjoscha is due to start a postdoc at the University of Freiburg (in Walter Joyce's lab). Paul Varotsis took the difficult decision to call time on his PhD, although he's continuing his interest in the history of palaeontology with a new project on Baron Nopcsa. I'll miss seeing them around so often, but wish them all the best of luck in their new posts and careers and hope that I'll be continuing to work with them all on many occasions in future.

Lots of vivas late in 2018 with (clockwise from top left), Terri, Selina and Serjoscha all freshly minted PhDs. There's a fourth ex lab member in here for good measure too ...
All members of the lab have had busy travel years, mainly for collections visits, but also for conferences, talks and fieldwork. We were lucky enough to have a combined lab fieldtrip for a couple of days before the SVP Meeting in Albuquerque, when Terri, Omar Regalado-Fernandez, Selina, Simon Wills, João Leite, Tom Raven and me, accompanied by Emma Dunne (University of Birmingham) and Phil Mannion and Alessandro Chiarenza (Imperial) headed down from Denver to New Mexico taking in Dinosaur Ridge, Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Sante Fe en route. In addition, I was able to spend July in South Africa, based at the ESI in Johannesburg, working on a number of projects with my colleagues Prof. Jonah Choiniere and lab PhD student Kimi Chapelle, as well as catching up with lots of other colleagues. Earlier in the year (March) Paul and Kimi were both able to do two weeks of fieldwork in Zimbabwe, collecting Late Triassic dinosaurs and other tetrapods on the shores of Lake Kariba with our friends at the ESI, and in September Kimi did work in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, on a project that is likely to run for several years and that will involve me and other members of the lab in future. Becky Lakin even managed some work on living dinosaurs, helping with a bird-ringing project in Chamela National Park, Mexico.

On the road at Dinosaur Ridge, CO prior to SVP 2018 (photo: Emma Dunne)
Tom, João and Omar did lots of travel between them this year, with trips to collections in Canada, China, Mongolia and the USA between them. Tom had a particularly good year in terms of getting travel awards, with a record-breaking number that included grants from the Geological Society Daniel Pidgeon Fund, the Palaeontological Association Whittington Award, the Society of Systematic Biologists, the Jurassic Foundation, the Universities’ China Commission and the Palaeontographical Society. João also had a magic funding touch, getting grants from the Universities’ China Commission and the Welles Fund, University of California, Berkeley. Paul had a great trip to Argentina in November (including seeing the penguins on the Patagonian coast), kick-starting a project with Diego Pol on early sauropodomorph dinosaurs, with Diego carrying out a return visit to London later in the year.

We've been to a lot of conferences between us this year with particularly strong showings at EAVP in Portugal (talks from Omar and Terri and a poster from João), SVP in the USA (talks from Kimi, Omar and Selina, poster for Tom, and invited talks for Paul and Terri), and SVPCA in the UK (talks from Marc, Omar and Paul, posters from David and Tom). SVP was busy for other reasons too, with this being Paul's first meeting as Program Co-Chair, with Dr Pat Holroyd. It was a very busy run-up to the meeting as a result, but it was a fulfilling experience to build the scientific program of the meeting. Paul was the keynote speaker at PSSA in Bloemfontein, as well as a coauthor on several other presentations, and also attended his first RCAPA in Puerto Madryn. Becky flew the flag for the lab with a poster at IPC in Paris. One meeting-related prize also came our way, with Kimi winning the prize for best student presentation at the PSSA meeting in Bloemfontein. It was tremendous to see associate lab member Angela Milner pick up an Honorary Membership of SVP in recognition of her numerous contributions to the subject over the course of her long and distinguished career, especially as she has been one of Paul's most important mentors.

Angela Milner displaying her Honorary Membership of SVP
As well as presenting at conferences, lab members also helped run sessions. Tom and João have been active in organizing NHM student events, including the annual NHM student conference, and Richard co-organised a workshop on 'Self-Fashioning Scientific Identities in the Long Nineteenth Century', at the University of Leicester in July. Omar was President of the UCL Mexican Society and responsible for running many events through the year. We've also given workshops and seminars at varied venues with David talking at the Leicester Literary and Philosophy Society and Paul giving talks to an archosaur workshop at IVPP, Beijing, the Hakkusan Geopark meeting in Japan and seminars to the palaeo and evolution groups at UCL, Portsmouth and Bath. Paul also gave the Annual Address of the Palaeontographical Society, coinciding with the end of his 5-year term as President (and 13-year term on Council!). Following his departure from Pal. Soc., Paul took on a major new role as Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, so now has to read papers on brachiopods, forams and insects to atone for his sins in a previous life.

Reaching out to different audiences is really important and we've also been busy in that respect. Tom helped out with the Palaeontological Association stand at the Yorkshire Fossil Fair, Paul went to assist the team at his first Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, and Kimi participated in a number of workshops for local communities in the Eastern Cape. We've also presented a lot in the NHM with frequent appearances from Becky, David, João, Tom and me at NHM Nature Lives and Lates Events and also in the media. David was even filmed for the "So Beano" show on Sky TV and also participated in the Royal Society's annual Young Person's Book Awards in Belfast. Dippy on Tour continues to do really well at venues around the country and we're also planning some major new dino exhibitions at the NHM for the future ...

Becky presenting a poster in association with her nomination for a UNESCO Women in Science award
In addition to research and outreach, we also helped out with teaching. Richard co-taught four days of workshops on the earth sciences and Victorian culture at South London primary schools, in collaboration with the heritage engagement group Emerald Ant and in support of the Friends of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. At the other end of the globe, Kimi led courses on R and geometric morphometrics and demonstrated on animal form and function at the ESI, as well as co-supervising a Master's project. Selina, João and Omar all helped out on various courses at UCL, including demonstrating practicals and helping with projects.

So, a hectic year, not without its frustrations, but with plenty positive to look back on. 2019 is already shaping up to be another manic year!

Papers published (excludes early online versions)

Baron, M. G. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Support for the placement of Chilesaurus within Ornithischia: a reply to Müller et al.. Biology Letters, 14, 20180002.

Butler, R. J., Nesbitt, S. J., Charig, A. J., Gower, D. J. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Mandasuchus tanyauchen gen. et sp. nov., a pseudosuchian archosaur from the Manda Beds of Tanzania. Memoirs of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 17, 96–121. 

Carrano, M. T., Loewen, M. A. & Evers, S. W. 2018. Comment (Case 3506)—Conservation of Allosaurus Marsh, 1877 (Dinosauria, Theropoda): additional data in support of the proposed neotype for its type species Allosaurus fragilis Marsh, 1877. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, 75, 59–64.

Chapelle, K. E. J. & Choiniere, J. N. 2018. A revised cranial description of Massospondylus carinatus based on computed tomographic scans and a review of cranial characters for basal Sauropodomorpha. PeerJ, 6, e4224.

Cleary, T. J., Benson, R. B. J., Evans, S.E. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Lepidosaurian diversity in the Mesozoic–Palaeogene: the potential roles of sampling biases and environmental driversRoyal Society Open Science5, 171830.

Close, R. A., Evers S. W., Alroy, J. & Butler, R. J. 2018. How should we estimate diversity in the fossil record? Testing richness estimators using sampling‐standardised discovery curves. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 1386–1400.

Dunne, E. M., Close, R. A., Button, D. J., Brocklehurst, N., Cashmore, D. C., Lloyd, G. T. & Butler, R. J. 2018. Diversity change during the rise of tetrapods and the impact of the ‘Carboniferous rainforest collapse’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B285, 20172730. 

Fallon, R. L. 2018. "Literature Rather Than Science": Henry Neville Hutchinson (1856–1927) and the literary borderlines of science writing. Journal of Literature and Science, 11, 50–65.

Graham, M. R., Choiniere, J. N., Jirah, S. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. The remedial conservation and support jacketing of the Massospondylus carinatus neotype. Palaeontologia africana, 52, 222–227. 

Jones, M. E., Lucas, P. W., Tucker, A. S., Watson, A. P., Sertich, J. J., Foster, J. R., Williams, R., Garbe, U., Bevitt, J. J. & Salvemini, F., 2018. Neutron scanning reveals unexpected complexity in the enamel thickness of an herbivorous Jurassic reptile. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 15, 20180039.

Nesbitt, S. J., Butler, R. J., Ezcurra, M., Charig, A. J.  & Barrett, P. M. 2018. The anatomy of Teleocrater rhadinus, an early avemetatarsalian from the lower portion of the Lifua Member of the Manda Beds (~Middle Triassic). Memoirs of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 17, 142–177.  

Nicholl, C. S. C., Mannion, P. D. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Sauropod dinosaur remains from a new Early Jurassic locality in the Central High Atlas of Morocco. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 63, 147–157. 

O’Connor, R. E., Romanov, M. N., Kiazim, L. G., Barrett, P. M., Farré, M., Damas, J., Ferguson-Smith, M., Valenzuela, N., Larkin, D. M. & Griffin, D. K. 2018. Reconstruction of the diapsid ancestral genome permits chromosome evolution tracing in avian and non-avian dinosaurs. Nature Communications, 9, 1883. 

Raven, T. R. & Maidment, S. C. R. 2018. The systematic position of the enigmatic thyreophoran dinosaur Paranthodon africanus and the use of basal exemplifiers in phylogenetic analysis. PeerJ, 6, e4529.

Viglietti, P., Barrett, P. M., Broderick, T., Munyikwa, D., MacNiven, R., Broderick, L., Chapelle, K. J., Glynn, D., Edwards, S., Zondo, M., Broderick, P. & Choiniere, J. N. 2018. Stratigraphy of the Vulcanodon type locality and its implications for regional correlations within the Karoo Supergroup. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 137, 149–156.  

Wills, S., Choiniere, J. N. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Predictive modelling of fossil-bearing locality distributions in the Elliot Formation (Upper Triassic­–Lower Jurassic), South Africa, using combined multivariate and spatial statistical analyses of present day environmental data. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 489, 186–197.

Xu, X., Upchurch, P., Mannion, P. D., Barrett, P. M., Regalado-Fernandez, O. R., Mo, J.-Y., Ma, J.-F. & Liu, H.-G. 2018. A new Middle Jurassic diplodocoid suggests an earlier dispersal and diversification of sauropod dinosaurs. Nature Communications, 9, 2700.