Despite growing up in the dinosaur capital of the world, when it came time for aspiring Canadian palaeontologist Olivia Devereaux to decide where to study her Masters, the obvious choice was 13,000 kilometres away at the University of New England‘s (UNE) Dinosaur Lab.
“There are many opportunities to study palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, however, I chose to study it at UNE because the Dinosaur Lab was very welcoming and I was interested in studying abroad,” she says. “The Dinosaur Lab also conducts fieldwork in Alberta every year which really appealed to me.”
Despite a long-standing interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric life, palaeontology wasn’t always on Olivia’s radar. Up until the final year of her undergraduate degree, animals living below sea level were more her thing.
“I was studying marine biology when I took a few classes that covered evolution and prehistoric life,” she says. “These sparked my interest and led me to look up Master’s programs overseas in Palaeontology, which is where I came across the Dinosaur Lab at UNE.”
Now in the second year of her Master’s program, it’s a decision that Olivia doesn’t regret for a second. With a research project that could provide new insights into what creatures were living on Australian soil millions of years ago, it’s no surprise why.
“For the first part of my project, I’m using synchrotron radiated micro-tomography to create digital, three-dimensional reconstructions of three prehistoric ornithopod jaw bones, otherwise known as dentaries, from species that lived around Lightning Ridge in the Cretaceous period,” she says. “This is significant as I will potentially be naming three new ornithopod species that have not been described before, and the technology will help us see things that are not visible to the naked eye. The second part of my project involves studying the brain anatomy of Fostoria dhimbangunmal, which is a Late Cretaceous, basal iguanodontid dinosaur from Lightning Ridge.”
Palaeontology is an interesting field with many unique fieldwork opportunities. If it’s something that you’re interested in, I highly recommend the Dinosaur Lab here at UNE.
With the chance to travel to known fossil hot spots around the globe, the opportunities that have come Olivia’s way through the Dinosaur Lab have made her time studying at UNE an experience to remember.
“I was recently given the chance to conduct fieldwork in an opal mine in Lightning Ridge with other lab members,” she says. “We spent our days searching for new fossils and taking them out of the mine so that they could be brought back to UNE to be studied. The trip to Lightning Ridge was a truly unique and memorable experience.
“I was also very excited to travel to Alberta this August to do fieldwork in Grande Prairie and Dinosaur Provincial Park. Then, in November, our lab will be attending the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology conference that is being held in Toronto, Canada. This will provide a great opportunity to network with other palaeontologists from across the globe.”
For those with a similar passion for palaeontology, Olivia has one piece of advice.
“Start looking into different labs across the globe and see what types of work they are doing. If any appeal to you, send them an email to enquire about pursuing a career in palaeontology and any potential openings in their lab,” she says.
“Palaeontology is an interesting field with many unique fieldwork opportunities. If it’s something that you’re interested in, I highly recommend the Dinosaur Lab here at UNE.”