Week 3 – Feedback from supervisors, starting the blog and the proposal

This recent image of a Bidentalia was one of the best preserved and photographed specimens. Image taken from Boos et al 2016

Feedback from my supervisors

Week three started off with a meeting with my three of my four supervisors – Armin, Professor Benton and Professor Emily Rayfield. My remaining supervisor was in the USA to do some work there so I would have to wait another week before I met him. Nevertheless, they all gave me feedback concerning the two tasks from last week. They were all quite pleased with the list of measurable cranial traits that I collected. On the other hand, I sensed that they wanted more testable hypotheses and to be honest I shared that sentiment as I felt I had not read enough. However, I assured them that I would continue my reading while I would be on holiday.

Having Professor Rayfield in the meeting was useful because she suggested something really useful. One of the hypotheses I had read suggested propaliny (also known as palinal motion), which is the horizontal movement of the lower jaw, could explain the success of anomodonts post the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Professor Rayfield suggested that I could measure the length of the articular glenoid in relation to the quadrate condyle to assess the presence of propaliny in each species and compare whether this was more or less abundant in the remaining genera after the mass extinction event.

This led to discussions on what kind of skull images I needed to collect for each species. We settled on dorsal, lateral, occipital, ventral and palatal views of the skull as well as lateral and dorsal views of the mandible. Of course the availability of such images vary between species as some are better preserved than others. Even among the ones that are well preserved some views of the skull may not have been photographed. To see what kind of images I could consistently collect over all the anomodont species, we agreed on a trial run where I would try and collect these images for one species of anomodont from each family. From this trial run, I would also be able to see what measurements I could consistently take from the images. For example, if mandibles were not well preserved in anomodonts then I would have to discount any measurements to do with mandibles.

The condyle moves along the glenoid allowing horizontal movement of the jaw. Image taken from Button 2014 supplementary

Increasing BME academics

Professor Benton also wanted me to look over a proposal he had written to asking for more funding for the BME diversity internship. Many internships in the past encouraged students to pursue Masters and PhDs so the idea was if Bristol could have a better funded BME internship with accommodation then BME diversity could be increased in academia. This speaks to the larger problem of BME diversity among academia as black professors only make up 5% of the 19000 professors in the UK. In the previous week, we had a meeting with two members from the student inclusion team on this proposal. Initially, we were looking for Bristol to provide accommodation for interns but to our surprise they had much greater aspirations of securing funding for these internships. They said that there is a real desire for such programs in Bristol so I have hope in the future this funding could be secured.

By this time, Professor Benton had set me up with my own blog. So I started thinking about what I wanted to write about. Obviously, I would write about my experience of the internship but I also wanted to make it easier for students in the future so I decided to also include some advice regarding the application, interview and the whole process leading up to the start of the internship. And thus the Bristol diversity Palaeobiology blog began!

Sangusaurus, a genus of dicynodont, is thought to have used a palinal feeding method





Week 2 – Social media, tea with Benton and homeopathy

A picture of me at the Life Sciences Building

The first real tasks

By the end of week one I was much more familiar with the literature and after a meeting with Professor Benton and Armin we had decided on two tasks for me to pursue for the next ten days.

The first task required me to read through a lot of literature to pick out testable hypotheses. It did take a while to cut through the jargon but I was able to learn about some interesting ideas.  The task also gave me an insight into how the field has changed. A lot of the classic literature contained many hypotheses but not much evidence to back it up. However, nowadays most of the current literature is more focused as these hypotheses can be tested with the advancement of bio mechanics, modelling etc .

The second task of listing all the skull traits that could be measured was much easier. I was given a handful of supplementary material from papers on other studies focused on skull morphology. They listed the skull traits that they measured with illustrations.

Not all computer work

I thought that this was the start of me spending long hours behind a computer with little human contact. In some ways it was but there was also a bit more variety during the week. Since I was the first student to do this internship, Professor Benton and Dr Vanessa Luk, who helped organise the internship, wanted me to blog my experiences like other students have done and give my input into how this internship could be made better in the future. We had a meeting on Wednesday where I gave some ideas on how the internship could be promoted. I thought they could make use of social media more for advertising and suggested next time they email colleagues from other universities so they could forward this opportunity to their students.

The image I brought in to introduce my project

The next day I was invited by Professor Benton to have some tea and cakes at a nearby cafe where I would meet geologist Claudia Hildebrandt and some of the other interns. Unfortunately, only one other intern and Ms Hildebrandt could join us. On the bright side, it meant that we had more time to get to know each other and that’s what happened. We started off by explaining what our projects were about and weirdly somehow this led to us in the end speaking about homeopathy. Predictably, everyone there was quite hostile to it which was quite awkward for me since most of my family believe it works. Although I would not call myself a proponent of homeopathy, homeopathic medicine has always worked for me on the few occasions I’ve tried it. I mentioned this feeling that it would be dishonest of me not to and to my surprise Professor Benton apologised to me in case he had caused offence! Of course, I told him that was not necessary. Despite this, it was a nice chat that gave me a much needed rest.

By the end of the second week I had finished the tasks that were set for me. Another progress meeting was organised for the following Monday. Emotionally, I was feeling quite satisfied with the second week as I had completed the tasks set and I felt I was getting to know my supervisors better. But, it had been an exhausting week I was looking forward to a quiet weekend.