Your Project is Good Enough for a Talk: Green Chile Edition

Just shy of 2 years ago I wrote a post about the gender breakdown of speakers in the dinosaur sessions at the SVP annual meeting. In 2016, out of the 28 dinosaur talks that I considered, only 2 were presented by women. How did we fare this year in Albuquerque?

(I’m going to break up this giant wall of text with some vignettes from this year’s meeting. Here’s my old friend Ziapelta on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, adored by many during the conference’s opening reception.)

To recap, abstracts for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting are scored by 5 reviewers who do not know the identity of the abstract authors (“blind review”), and authors can choose to be considered for an oral presentation or poster presentation. Because there are fewer oral presentation slots than poster presentation slots, many people request a talk and are instead given a poster, and that’s determined in part by your abstract score. Abstracts submitted as a poster are rarely swapped into an oral presentation slot. And finally, the first author is generally assumed to be the presenting author, although in rare cases a non-first author may give the presentation if the first author can’t attend the conference for whatever reason.

This year the dinosaur sessions weren’t as cleanly broken into theropod, sauropod, and ornithischian chunks as in 2016, so I’m including a few more sessions and talks here in an attempt to as generously capture dinosaur research across the conference as possible; I’m not including talks in the invited symposia or in the Romer student award session.

Technical session I (dinosaur palaeobiology, phylogeny, theropods, sauropods, biomechanics): 16 talks, 3 by women

Technical session VII (origin of flight, bird palaeobiology): 10 talks, 4 by women

Technical session X (Cretaceous palaeoecology and stratigraphy, sauropod tracks, coprolites; second half had one theropod talk and then the rest are geochem and not necessarily dinosaurs, so I’ve only included part of the session here): 9 talks, 1 by a woman

Technical session XIII (mostly earlier archosauromorphs but then 2 dinosauromorph and 3 ornithischian talks): 5 talks, 0 by women

Technical session XVI (theropods, sauropods, ornithischians): 16 talks, 3 by women

Technical session XVII (two dinosaur egg talks): 2 talks, 0 by women

So that’s 58 talks in total, 11 of which were by women, or about 19%. If we’re really restrictive and only include the most explicitly ‘dinosaury’ sessions – i.e. the ones where we’re talking about new taxa, etc. in Technical session I, XIII, and XVI – that’s 37 talks in total and 6 by women, or 16%. It’s a bit better than in 2016, but not by a lot, and it’s nowhere near parity (and possibly not even close to representing the actual demographic breakdown represented by SVP membership, although I’m less clear on those numbers).

(Here’s a fabulous feathery theropod by TRX Dinosaurs in the vendor’s hall.)

Let’s compare the demographics of the two convened symposia – SVP symposia are by invitation and then the abstracts are reviewed in the same manner as the other submitted abstracts:

Big Questions, Big Data Symposium: 16 talks, 11 by women

Building a Phenomic Universe: 16 talks, 8 by women

In a comment by David Evans (at the time, one of the chairs of the Program Committee) on the original post, we learned that out of the entire SVP membership (i.e. not just the dinosaur abstracts), 45% of the abstracts designated ‘poster preferred’ were submitted by women as the first author, but only 27% of the abstracts designated ‘oral preferred’ were submitted by women as the first author. This is a really interesting pattern because it suggests that it’s not just that there are fewer women at SVP presenting research, but that there is a disparity in the way in which women are choosing to present that research. At SVP, it looks a lot like women are opting out of the opportunity to give an oral presentation.

(The NMMNHS also hosted a palaeoart exhibit full of jaw-dropping art, too many to highlight in just one post, so here’s an outstanding quilt of Late Devonian vertebrates by Sally Williams.)

Last time I wrote on this subject I received a few comments that there’s “nothing wrong” with giving a poster presentation, and that’s a sentiment that I 100% endorse – I gave a poster presentation this year and enjoyed it, and I get a lot out of attending the poster sessions. Some topics feel like a better fit for a poster, too, and there are other benefits to making a research poster, like being able to put it up at your institution after the conference. But the fact remains that more people are going to see an oral presentation than a poster presentation, and that an oral presentation makes you more visible to the rest of the society, including those who may be potential grant reviewers, collaborators, or employers – heck, I’ve landed consulting gigs on documentaries, among other things, because I gave an SVP talk. And, more broadly speaking, the smaller proportion of female speakers at SVP mirrors a general trend where there are fewer visible women in other aspects of our profession – in permanent jobs, in documentaries, in popular writing, etc. We can’t all give a talk every year, but we should all be visible women sometimes.

Anyway, I’m back to the same plea that I made in 2016: to my female colleagues, please, please select ‘oral presentation preferred’ when you submit your abstract. Even if you’re not sure that your project ‘merits’ an oral presentation, just select that option anyway – let the reviewing committee make that decision. If you don’t feel really confident about public speaking, reach out to someone (and that someone can even be me, if you want) for advice, or look for workshops at your university. Put yourself out there. Put yourself at the front of the room, as an authority on your research, your research that should be heard by a huge room of interested colleagues. I hope I’ll see you in Brisbane.

(This Marx Hadrosaurus at the silent auction also thinks you should put your name forward for a talk. See you next time!)

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5 thoughts on “Your Project is Good Enough for a Talk: Green Chile Edition

  1. Nice post as always Victoria. A major issue I see is how few female PIs working on non-avian dinosaurs there are. Us, Emily, Lindsay, Laura.. And that’s all I can think of (apologies to those I’ve forgotten) This means that female students aren’t seeing a lot of female roll models doing talks within their exact discipline.

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  2. Some more numbers to know about when you’re trying to parse out variables that could be affecting this phenomenon (or if you need a confidence boost for your work as a student):
    40% of abstracts were student first-authored.
    Professionals are 50/50 with asking for talks and posters (yay!) with a lot of senior professionals requesting posters (yay!), transitional members prefer talks, and students prefer posters.
    12% of people requesting talks didn’t get them.
    The highest scored abstracts were all by students or near-students (!!!). Abstracts are scored out of 5 points. Everyone with a 4.5 or above was younger than 35.
    All Colbert submissions had such high scores that they would have been given talks had they requested them.

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  3. Interesting discussion (and shared on Women in Geoscience Facebook page). I tried for an oral presentation the only time I went to SVP but got knocked back. This year my colleague Annalisa Berta and I did a poster on women in VP and this topic is of much interest to us – we are gathering historical stats for various societies – Sue Turner

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