Fieldwork in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Monday, 2 February 2015

My First Lecture

So the other day I gave my first undergraduate lecture, An Introduction to Fossils, as part of the second year Skills for Earth Scientist’s module. I was asked to do it over Christmas as the Professor in charge of the module is a full-on physical sedimentologist, with a total disdain for anything living that might wiggle around and mess up her nice strata with its bioturbation and burrowing.

My first thoughts were that of horror and panic as I imagined a classroom full of half awake, hungover, dead-eyed students staring at me blankly while I struggled to remember the difference between the different forms of rhabdosome in graptolites. Luckily, however, it was explained that this was a true introduction and most of these students had absolutely no prior knowledge on the subject so I was to keep it basic – Panic over, I'm good at basic.

A couple of mornings and my trusty undergraduate textbook of Rhona M. Black, The Elements of Palaeontology (1970) was all it took to throw together half an hour covering such basics as:

       What is a fossil? And the differences between body and trace fossils
       Why are we interested in them? What are uses? (biostratigraphy, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, oil exploration, etc.)
       How do fossils form? (Moulds, casts, etc.)
       What conditions aid fossilisation? - Preservation potential, lagerstätten, bias in the fossil record

And of course plenty of pretty pictures of the various types of common invertebrate fossils to (hopefully) keep everyone interested.

When the morning of the lecture came, I was surprisingly chilled out about it and – aside from blank faces and awkward silences whenever I asked the room a question – all went quite well. Nobody threw anything, fell asleep, or walked out early – they all even stayed long enough to practice drawing and labelling an ammonite (even if a few did just draw random spirals instead of actually looking at their specimen properly). The follow up practical was pretty good too, an hour of drawing various common fossil specimens in the lab resulted in some nice sketches of trilobites, crinoids and echinoderms – here’s my example sketch of a Micraster I did to show what was expected:

My sketch of a Micraster cast
So, all in all, it was an unexpectedly enjoyable experience – now I just need to (finally) finish my thesis and find a university that’ll pay me to do more of it…

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