Connected Conversations | Denice Higgins

Working longer than normal and skipping breakfast has been some of the consequences of the past few months for Dr Denice Higgins. We chatted with Denice about her various roles and how working in forensic odontology isn’t something that can be done from home in our latest edition of Connected Conversations.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Denice and I’m employed as the Director of the Forensic Odontology Unit within the Adelaide Dental School; I am a registered specialist forensic odontologist and have a PhD in forensic molecular biology and a Bachelor of Dental Surgery. I regularly consult with the South Australian Coroner and South Australian Police and provide, on average, 100 specialist case reports annually (mostly in the area of human identification).

My primary teaching roles are as the coordinator for the Bachelor of Dental Science (Honours) and Graduate Diploma in Forensic Odontology programs and in research. I have several higher degree by research HDR and honours students all undertaking research directly applicable to forensic practice.

Recently, I joined the Australian Airforce Reserves as a Squadron Leader in the specialist medical unit to provide services in Disaster Victim Identification. I am passionate about the identification and repatriation of the deceased and believe nobody should be forgotten or buried without a name.


The Return to Campus Roadmap is now in place. What are you most looking forward to about being back on campus?

I never really left the campus as a lot of my work cannot be done remotely but as I work with a very small team, we managed to social distance easily. My school meetings and interactions with students have, however, all taken place over Zoom. I am looking forward to meeting with my colleagues and students face-to-face, being able to buy lunch and spending less time in front of a computer.


What aspects of teaching online do you enjoy the most?

Zoom worked well for many aspects of student interaction including research presentations, the only problem was instances when the internet connection didn’t work so well!


How do you set boundaries when working at home between your work life and your home life?

That’s a tough one, I have found that some days I start work at 6 am, forget to have breakfast until lunchtime and am still at my desk at 7 pm! I am trying harder to stick to regular work hours. Keeping meetings to time is tricky as people seem to go off on tangents and chat… probably because they are missing interacting with others. I have found that my workload has increased during this time due to forming online resources and digital reporting.


Were there any outside of work challenges that impacted you over the past few months?

All my children are grown up and living away from home, so I really did not have any outside work challenges. I have had to learn to keep the dogs and cats quiet and off of my working space especially during Zoom meetings, which has been challenging at times!


Is there anything from the past few months you would like to see implemented on a permanent basis?

Definitely online student presentations were a positive with extra staff and students being able to attend.


What is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing or seeing when you are back on campus?

Students enjoying the campus.


All things considered; what good things have you discovered or learned during this time?

How well I can work from home and how much I can get done when I don’t have to spend time getting to the office!


Name three things you won’t miss about this current moment in time.

The news being dominated by COVID-19 stories, not being able to go to yoga classes and not being able to visit my parents.


And the three things you won’t forget…

How nice it is to work in front of the fire in my pyjamas all day, how lucky I am to be in SA rather than many other places in the world and how important family and friends are.

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