Conference Time!

AAPA Calgary
By Kelly Ostrofsky
April 20, 2014

This past week I attended the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) with several others students and faculty from CASHP, hosted this year in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It is a yearly event where researchers and students from all over the world gather to present their research in physical anthropology. Multiple sessions of 15-minute podium presentations last all morning and into the afternoon, with concurrent poster sessions as well; scientists range from primatologists to functional morphologists to evolutionary biologists to anthropological geneticists.

Though not the first time I have been to the meetings, this year was my first time to give a podium presentation; I was presenting a small project that was an extension of my undergraduate research, focused on the lumbar vertebrae (the vertebrae of the lower back) of Australopithecus sediba, a species of ape-like early human relatives from about 2 million years ago in South Africa. I was lucky enough to participate in the original research on the fossils of Au. sediba as an undergraduate, so the meetings offered a great opportunity to catch up with the other researchers involved in the project, and find out more about their current research. There were several posters and talks about Au. sediba, covering topics such as dental developmental, feeding biomechanics, and ankle morphology; some scientists even challenged whether the mandibles and vertebrae of Au. sediba represented two individuals of the same species (which is discussed here and here).

In general, the conference is always a great opportunity to find out about all the different kinds of research going on across the country. Presentations not only cover an immense range of topics, but also include presentations by researchers at various stages in their careers – advanced undergraduates contemplating graduate school, early graduate students beginning to focus their research interests, more senior graduate students presenting results from their dissertation research, both junior and senior faculty presenting preliminary work on new projects as well as results from ongoing projects. It is a great place to learn more about what it means to be a researcher in academia.

It’s a hectic few days to catch up with friends and colleagues - I enjoyed catching up with all the people I have met along the way, from previous institutions, field schools, interviews, friends of friends. There are hundreds of researchers at the meetings each year, but the field of physical anthropology is a small world, and it is interesting to see how everyone is connected in some way or another – by fieldwork sites, research collaborations, graduate school programs, advisor-advisee relationships, etc. (Here is a fascinating insight into interconnectedness of the world of physical anthropology.) You get the chance to meet with collaborators, as well as potential collaborators; as students, you finally get a chance to put faces to the names of researchers whose papers you’ve read over and over again. I am one of those nerds that spends way too much time planning out each day, deciding which talks to go to (sometimes there are related sessions running at the same time - tough decisions to be made!); it is an exhausting but exciting week of talking, meeting, and learning, in addition to the mingling and socializing that occurs after hours.

After lots of discussions, attempts at networking, many laughs and celebrations (shout out to CASHP students Amy Bauernfeind and Kevin Hatala, who won a student prize and honorable mention at the AAPA meetings!), now, I am back in DC, just in time for final papers, exams, and cherry blossoms!