Over summer 2023-24, I completed my latest formal qualification: the Undergraduate Certificate in Palaeontology from the University of New England, Australia. This is four undergrad subjects drawn from those available within the palaeobiology major of the Bachelor of Science.

Some thoughts/reflections on the whole process and the course itself:


I had been looking around to study some science courses to help grow my knowledge for the science communication research direction I’ve embarked on lately, and originally enrolled in but then dropped out of a science communication postgrad course, and a space science postgrad course. After testing the waters with those during the pandemic, I came across a press release and video from UNE’s science faculty, featuring some of their palaeo researchers, about some new units they were building out. With my lifelong interest in dinosaurs in my back pocket, I signed up.

Subject Options

I completed GEOL110 Our Blue Planet, GEOL210 Dinosaurs!, GEOL202 Introductory Palaeontology, and ZOOL100 Life on Earth. I also completed most of BIOL120 Organisms to Ecosystems (more on that below). I’m happy with the mix of subjects I finished as I think it gave me most of what I wanted to get out of taking on this course: more knowledge about palaeo, more knowledge about dinosaurs, and a good depth to situate these within the broader history of life and geology on Earth. However, I also would have chosen more palaeo-specific units if they were available.

A number of the subjects were full of older material, including lectures that had been recorded a year or more prior to my enrolment. For those subjects, the learning management system was mostly just full of links to videos and readings with no hint of modern online learning pedagogy in place. The clear exception to this was the subject that had attracted me to the course in the first place, GEOL210 Dinosaurs! It was freshly rebuilt with excellent, engaging material, activities and assessments. This is now the standard operating procedure for Universities, but as a student I find it frustrating and at-odds with claims about being up-to-date, the availability of staff, and generally everything else in the advertising brochures.

Study Mode and Flexibility

I originally enrolled in the whole Bachelor of Science (Palaeobiology) and planned to complete the whole course. That would have been my third undergraduate degree on top of my Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies (Journalism, Digital Communication) and my Bachelor of Arts (Politics). I quickly realised the full B.Sc course wouldn’t be right for me because of the requirement to regularly attend on-campus intensives for maybe half or more of the subjects. As I’m typically teaching my own on campus classes during these time periods, it was just never going to feasible to attend that many classes. In addition to that, I found the course structure to be far more inflexible than I’d have liked, and more maths-heavy than I’d hoped.

Although I accept that course design is a tricky business – I was a course director for four years – UNE advertises itself as a flexible institution with courses that can be customised. I really don’t think that holds up in practice, or at least the kind of flexibility I’d hoped for. Given these limitations, I downgraded to the four subject undergraduate certificate and I’m happy enough with that choice, though I would have taken more if I felt it was a viable pathway.

It was while I was enrolled in the B.Sc that I attempted BIOL120. I was doing okay in the unit but got COVID the week before the intensive. My schedule worked out that I would need to teach on campus in Bathurst and then drive to Armidale in the afternoon/evening (about 5 hours) to attend the session but while I was past the infectious period, it was clear I was still struggling and so I pulled out of attending the intensive. Frankly, it would have been dangerous to undertake that drive the state of exhaustion and dizzyness I was in. I was offered the chance to undertake the intensive the following session, but I’d already booked a holiday so would have lost more money on that than on taking the fail on the subject. Neither of these are the uni’s fault, but it drove home for me the kind of calculations students take all the time. Sometimes there’s just an opportunity cost or financial cost to something that doesn’t stack up against other aspects of life.


Undertaking the course gave me the motivation (excuse) to read more palaeo papers and books than I would have otherwise. Through those, as well as the set readings and lectures, I learnt a lot of new things and built out my understanding of the field.

I developed a good network and connections with some of the teaching staff that I hope can turn into collaborations and other opportunities. One of the staff, Nic Campione, and I ended up doing an interview together on ABC Nightlife for the 30th anniversary of Jurassic Park. I also interviewed Nic on an episode of my podcast.

I continued to build out my science communication projects, giving them a more informed basis and a stronger level of engagement with the field.

Renewing the student perspective is also a valuable aspect of studying like this for an academic. It helps us see things we might otherwise miss as we plan our own teaching.

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