Life in the Field Q and A

In our final blog answering questions from Virtual GiG 2020 we look at field work in the Geosciences

  1. Have you travelled to any interesting places for fieldwork or seen any cool things as part of your job?

Helen Robinson. I have spent a lot of time post degree doing fieldwork in Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi, all absolutely beautiful, diverse and fascinating countries. The cool thing about the geology of East Africa is that we can study the active processes linked to the early onset of continental break-up, and everything just seems bigger!. And from a non-geology perspective, seeing the wildlife in their natural environment is a huge bonus for me. 

Annie Winson:  Yes, I have been very lucky.  I have worked on actively erupting volcanoes in Hawaii, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Philippines and I would say there is nothing like the feeling of seeing lava flows or pyroclastic flows up close (by which I mean from a safe distance!).  In my job now I don’t do as much field work but I do travel a lot to meet with stakeholders and scientists in other countries, I love this aspect of my work because I always learn so much from these people and it makes me feel like the work I am involved with is ultimately going to be applied to real world problems which is very fulfilling.  

Anna Bird: I have had some amazing trips and experiences. I volunteered at a volcano observatory in Mexico when I finished my degree, I have done fieldwork in China, Vietnam, Serbia, and all over Scotland. All of these experiences were cool in different ways. I still get to do some travel for my job now, one of my more recent exciting trips was to a very remote island called North Rona, where we were helicoptered from a ship to the island each day so we could map it and take some samples. It was an amazing experience. 

  1.  What jobs would you say involve the most fieldwork?

Anna Bird: I worked as an engineering geologist for a year before starting my PhD, and I was out in the field a lot. The fieldwork was a bit different from what I had done as an undergraduate student in that I spent more time logging and recording cores, material in pits and planning ground investigations. I also spent some time managing different groups of people. It was massively varied and I enjoyed the experience. Some colleagues that have gone into the mining industry also seems to do a lot of fieldwork as well (often in more exciting locations than central Scotland:)).

  1. Ratio of fieldwork that involves camping vs staying indoors?

Katie Miles. All the fieldwork I did as an undergraduate, and undergraduate fieldwork that I have been involved with since, has only involved staying indoors (anything from hostels, hotels, field centres, or National Park lodges). This could vary between universities, but I’m not aware of any undergraduate camping trips (aside from dissertation fieldwork where it is your own choice). For my own research in Nepal, we stay indoors in teahouses on the 10 day trek up to our glacier field site, but once we are at the glacier we tend to camp right next to our field site so we save time and can get on with our research!

Sally: Similarly, all the fieldwork I did as an undergraduate student involved staying indoors. The fieldwork I did for my PhD in the Bolivian Andes involved staying in Bolivian homestays and rural communities, but not camping. A colleague of mine who also studied glaciers did camp for a lot of her fieldwork experiences at the base of the glacier, which is pretty cool!

  1. Are all university field trips organised and accompanied by the lecturers? Or do we do it on our own?

Niamh Faulkner. Most of the university field trips during an undergraduate degree will be accompanied by lecturers, and sometimes postgraduate students who help the lecturers. Through field trips you develop a strong relationship with your lecturers that you don’t get in other courses. Most undergraduate degrees offer an independent field course, which you usually do in the summer before your final year, where you go out to the field with other students. This can be up to 6 weeks of mapping. I went to the north-west of Spain for 6 weeks, working with two of my classmates, it was so much fun. 

Sally: Whilst the university field trips are organised by the lecturers/staff (and they put a lot of time into organising them to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that you can concentrate on the learning aspect of the trip and the socialising aspect) you get a lot of time to bond with your coursemates, often during travel, downtime and during project work. It is very different to a field trip organised with your secondary school where there is more responsibility on the teacher as the students are younger. University field trips are extremely enjoyable and it is a great way to get to know the staff and your class mates.

  1. I am worried that, if I go to a university where there is lots of fieldwork, I may not get the opportunity to spend as much time studying. Is this the case? 

Helen Robinson. During your undergraduate, fieldwork is a key part of the learning process. Field trips tend to be short, between a day to maybe up to 2 weeks. But the majority of your degree will be spent in lectures and labs, so plenty of time for study. Fieldwork allows you to put what you have learned in the classroom into practice, plus there are lots of field skills that can’t really be taught in the classroom, so it’s still studying, just different. And in most cases, fieldwork and what you produce on that trip, will count in part, and sometimes entirely, to a module and the result you get.

Annie Winson:  Adding onto what Helen has said above here, I also think that sometimes your time in the field is the richest learning environment and you may find that concepts you have been struggling with will click when you see them up close.        

 6. Are there any health/fitness requirements you have to meet to do fieldwork?

 Hannah Mathers, University of Glasgow. Universities are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that all students can take part in all learning activities. You should never be route marched up a mountain or forced to take part in fieldwork you feel unable/too uncomfortable to do. Course organisers should describe the conditions of the fieldwork and will provide a discussion and disclosure process where students can voice any concerns, inform staff about any issues that affect their engagement in the field and ask questions about field conditions and accommodation.

Anna Bird, University of Hull: we have a similar policy to that explained by Hannah from UoG. As we are a new programme we got to design all of our trips from scratch so all of our fieldwork is designed with accessibility in mind and doesn’t need any specific fitness requirements. Where health issues may affect a students ability to participate in a field trip there are virtual/alternative equivalents the student can undertake instead. 

  1. How do you manage writing in the rain when in the field?

Jess Franklin . There are special waterproof notebooks you can get, very cool!

Rehemat Bhatia: you can buy clipboards that have a waterproof hood called WeatherWriters – I can’t recommend one enough for mapping/rainy fieldwork! Was a lifesaver during my undergrad mapping project. 

Annie Winson:  use pencil to write when you’re out in the field and ink over it later – less smudging!

  1. Do you get bored of the people that you are with/ feel lonely when you have to spend long periods doing field work?

Katie Miles. I’m very grateful that I’ve been on fieldwork with some fantastic people and never had any issues; we’ve always got on very well. We are away for long periods (up to two months) in small teams, so perhaps we subconsciously do our best to get along and be there for each other. Days are busy with research and in the evenings we chat and play lots of card games to pass the time. One lovely idea from my project leader was for each person to bring a ‘home comfort’ (usually food-oriented!) – each week we looked forward to someone sharing theirs. I’ve missed home but never felt lonely on fieldwork, and we’ve always had a satellite phone in remote locations to make quick calls home.

  1. Where is the best place in the UK and Ireland for fieldwork?

Clare: NW Highlands ( I am biased :)) The truth is the UK and Ireland are amazing for Geology – World class and World renowned. 

  1. What geological area in the world do you wish you could have done fieldwork in?

Rehemat Bhatia: as an ocean scientist (by training) it’s still a lifelong dream to be able to sail on a research cruise as a geochemist!  I am totally ok with spending 3 months in a lab. I’d love to sail on a cruise to the Pacific Ocean, as it’s an area of the world where few cruises have sailed and we really don’t know much about its climate history!

  1. What’s the best thing about fieldwork?

Clare: being away with friends, being alone in the wilderness, working things out from the landscape and rocks. 

Sally: Being somewhere completely different, perhaps somewhere you would never have picked, and learning about that place and the environment – and being exposed to new things.

Well done, you made it right to the end! We hope that these answers have helped you and that you have taken inspiration from them. Thank you again to everyone who took part in Virtual GiG whether you were an attendee, or a speaker, your participation is what makes events like this so great! We can’t wait to see you again, virtually or in person, at our future events. 

Student life Q and A

As many of you start to apply to universities, our student ambassadors and speakers answer your questions about student life.

  1. What is a typical day at university like for a student? i.e. do you have classes at the same time each day or will it vary?

Rehemat Bhatia: At university, I had around 6-8 hours of lectures per day (except Wednesday, this was a half day for sports). I think in total i had ~30-35 hours per week. It was more similar to school, and thus the transition in terms of timetabling between school and university wasn’t too hard. The lectures were split into a 1 hour lecture (with a break in the middle), followed by a practical (either hands-on e.g. microscope/hand specimens or written exercise). Most of the time, I would stay to do my homework in my department because I found it easier to work there (I hated the main campus library because it was always crowded/noisy), but others in my year would work from their rooms. 

  1. Is there anything you’d recommend doing over the summer to prepare for university?

Rehemat Bhatia: don’t leave packing til a few weeks before! I did this and majorly regret it. Other than that, just relax and enjoy your summer 🙂

Kizzy: try asking family members for help with university supplies, I managed to get all my kitchen appliances because a family friend was moving house and had spares. 

  1. What is the level of work at university compared with secondary school?

Clare: they don’t compare in the same way.. There is not lots of work in your first years, but it will be less structured than school so very much down to you. 

Sally: University learning is very independent and self-driven, and it is something which you learn throughout university. Advice: do not be afraid of trying anything, or asking questions. Engage in your learning, and shape your learning to what you find most interesting – you will have more control than at school, so make the most of it!

  1. Are there many different modules in the geoscience courses?

Clare: Yes… lots!

  1. Is there lots of fieldwork and lab work on your course?

Kizzy: With the degree in Applied Geology/Geology at the University of Plymouth they believe in what’s learnt in the lecture is reinforced either in the field or in the lab. Lab work typically follows the lectures that week and fieldwork often occurs twice a year, with trips to Spain, Cornwall, Wales, France, America, Sicily, Cyprus… 

Anna Bird: All accredited degrees have similar amounts of field and lab work. There is a useful table on this website (https://stage.geolsoc.org.uk/Education-and-Careers/Universities/Degree-Accreditation/Aims-and-Requirements-for-Accreditation#Time) which shows the amount of time geoscience programmes need to spend on specific skills in order to be accredited. Field locations and module specifics will vary between different programmes so looking at websites and going to open days is really helpful for getting the details. 

  1. Does going away for field trips during university cost lots of extra money?

Kizzy, University of Plymouth, Applied Geology, Final year: The compulsory trips tend to cover the majority of the price, some covering food costs but some may not. Something to save for is the dissertation, at Plymouth it’s typically a month away and they compensate a large amount however you need to save for the rest (unless you’d prefer to do lab work instead). I went to Cyprus for a month and in total it cost just over £1000 and Plymouth contributed around £500. 

Anna Bird, University of Hull: all core taught fieldwork costs are covered by the department. However, similar to what others have said something to save for is your independent mapping project. The amount this costs depends where you go and what sort of accommodation you choose to live in. An extra point here is that field equipment can cost extra. At Hull you are provided with all the pens, notebooks, compasses, etc. you need for 1st year to get you started but you may also need to get waterproofs, boots and personal items. Lots of these things can be obtained cheaply from shops like Go Outdoor, Sports Direct, online or second hand. 

Sarah Boulton: At Plymouth we also provide you with essentials for fieldwork, similar to Hull,

Hannah Mathers, University of Glasgow. 4 year courses (e.g. Environmental Geoscience/Geology at Glasgow) allow you lots of time to get the most out of your university experience. 1st year acts as a transition letting you get used to the structure, systems and expectations of university. You also have the opportunity to study 2 other subjects alongside your degree subject in 1st year at Glasgow so it keeps your options open and lets you explore different topics. There’s also time to work out what you want to get out of your degree and to explore lots of clubs and societies. A good proportion of our students go on a year abroad for their 3rd year so they’ve had 2 years to get used to uni, have a great time experiencing a different country and gaining unique CV material and then return to Glasgow for their last, most important year. 

  1. Is it helpful to have a part time job at university to make sure your finances are okay?

Anna Bird: This is completely up to you. I enjoyed having a job at uni, it gave me an opportunity to meet a whole bunch of different people and some extra cash which for me was very useful! But this is a personal choice. 

  1. What societies would you recommend joining?

Rehemat Bhatia: Any that you think you’ll enjoy! There will be so many available and I’m sure they will all be great!  I joined a variety of societies at university whilst I was an undergrad (I did the MSci Geoscience degree at Royal Holloway): orchestra (did 3 in my first year, and 2 in my second year), ski/snowboard society (first 3 years) and the department geology society (years 1-4). I cut orchestra and ski/snowboard society in my 3rd and 4th years because my grades had dropped in 2nd year, so decided it was best to take a break. If you’re able to, join the Geological Society of London as a Candidate Fellow – it’s £40 for the duration of your undergrad degree (same price for 3 or 4 years) so is definitely a lot cheaper than it will be after you graduate, and lets you attend their lectures for free, as well as use their library and get cheaper rates to any of their conferences. If you’re into mining (or think you might want to jump into this sector), Women in Mining is a great group to join – it’s free and offers lots of cool mentoring opportunities and student events too.  

  1. Why did you choose to study geoscience?

Caroline Buttler – I had not planned to go to university but ending up taking geology as an A level subject. After two years I realised I found the subject fascinating and wanted to go  on and study it further. I think it is important that you enjoy and are hopefully passionate about the subject you choose to study at university.

Annie Winson:  Going into my A-level years at school, I was pretty sure that I wanted to go to university to study medicine but I gradually realised that I wasn’t as interested in my Biology and Chemistry classes as I was in Geology.   I was really lucky that I had a fantastic Geology teacher at school and what I began to understand was that if I were a Geologist I wouldn’t need to choose one scientific discipline, instead I would be able to use lots of different methods to answer questions.  After some field trips I also discovered I was really engaged when I had the opportunity to be outside, seeing these processes in real life, rather than in text books.  Geosciences was an obvious degree choice from there!

  1. What made you choose your course and university? Was it a hard decision?

Annie Winson:  Yes, it was a hard decision.  The first time I looked up Geology courses I was overwhelmed by all of the choices.  I started by making a list of things I knew I did want from my university experience.  For example, I was very interested in volcanology and seismology, so I looked for degree schemes with an emphasis on those topics.  I also knew that there was a lot of recruitment from Geoscience degrees into the oil industry and that they were good employers so on open days I asked about departments’ track record in graduates getting those types of jobs.  As far as the location of the university, I knew I wanted to study somewhere that was in or near a large city (I had been living in a very quiet town before going to university and wanted a change) and I knew that I wanted to do an MSci and have the opportunity to study abroad.  With these criteria I gradually narrowed down my choices and went to open days – even then though it did feel strange to make the final decision and I’m sure I did go with my gut reaction to how I felt when I was visiting the departments.   

  1. What is the hardest thing about your degree?

Rehemat Bhatia: During the 4th year of my MSci degree everyone has a research dissertation, where you work on a project with a supervisor. Everyone has different projects. One thing I struggled with a lot was realising that everyones projects were different in terms of timescales and we utilised different skillsets – I had to remember not to compare how I was doing to others. Me and 2 other friends had geochemistry based projects which focused on different topics. One worked on air samples, one worked on dating rocks and I worked on microfossil chemistry. We all had lab-work (using different machines) which had sample preparation and data processing. When we would talk sometimes, I felt like I was behind because I wasn’t at the same stage as them. However, I slowly started to realise that all the stages of lab-work took different amounts of time, and that’s why our timescales differed. Whilst sample prep was quick for some, data processing was longer for others (or vice versa. So whilst it felt that I was behind sometimes in the data stages, it was just that others had longer sample prep time and quicker data processing time. Our interpretation start time was all different because of this. I really had to remember that I couldn’t compare myself to others and that I wasn’t really “behind” in comparison, it’s just that we all worked on very different things and that I was doing okay. Keeping that thought pattern in my PhD (and having mentors remind me too!) was also necessary, otherwise I just didn’t think I was doing well enough. Definitely find yourself a support system during the research time in your final year, and if you do a PhD – I would have been so lost without mine!

  1. What is the best thing you’ve experienced during university?

Sally: For me, the best thing(s – plural) I experienced at university were being part of a sports club (as I am big into sports, and this was a majority of my time – training, playing and my core friendship group) and the field trips which I was able to do with my course (Geography). But there are so many best things about university, in general – gaining life experience, making new friends, and having more control on your studies and your time!

Change, challenges and opportunites

Change is a constant! In this week’s questions our panelists respond to your questions on how to navigate change and become resilient.

  1. What are the best opportunities in geoscience that can be pursued in these changing times?

Anjana Khatwa – Digital curating, account takeovers for museums and science organisations. Ask and see what they say!

Editor: Developing a range of transferable skills in addition to technical skills allows you to pursue multiple opportunities. In addition, Engineering Geology continues to be a strong recruiter of Earth Science students.

What is your advice for networking and exploring your options?

Kizzy: My main advice is LinkedIn and helping anyway you can with the university. By creating a LinkedIn account early on in your degree you can start to get a network which future employers look for. Another aspect of LinkedIn is you can post and create a profile for employers to look at and gain an insight into who you are. This profile you want to be strictly professional, and by helping with university events and posting information on how the event was successful can boost your profile. You never know, your future employer could be a message away if you ask for an internship or job.

Anjana Khatwa– lots of research scientists are on Twitter and Instagram. Set yourself up with an account and follow them, see what they get up to and approach them with questions and ideas. They would love to help you and may even have opps to send your way. 

  1. Can you change which area of geoscience you study/work in?

Jess Franklin.Yes, most definitely. I changed from studying sedimentary rocks during my PhD to studying public perceptions of geoscience for my post-doc. So I essentially went from a very classical geology subject to one which mixes geoscience and social science. Geoscience is a very broad subject with so many interesting topics to choose from, there is plenty of room to try different things and see what you like best! Jess Franklin, NUI Galway Ireland. 

Caroline Buttler. I agree I undertook a palaeontology PhD and postdoctoral work and first worked as a museum geological conservator. This involved the conservation of rocks, minerals and fossils. After 15 years I went back to palaeontology and became head of palaeontology in the museum.

  1. How easy is it to transition to the next step? (school to university, undergraduate to postgraduate, studying to career)

Jess Franklin. All big transitions in life are difficult but there are lots of different kinds of support available to help guide you through these times. The most important thing is to be kind and gentle with yourself and remember that we all find these times of big changes challenging. As long as you keep choosing opportunities you think are interesting or exciting you will get through these times. Also remember that nobody has it all figured out, we all learn as we go along. 

Rehemat Bhatia: From school to university, I think the biggest transition for me was going from a girls school into a mixed environment (I had been at a girls school since age 7). I also had male professors, which was different as I had had more women teach me at school than men.  I didn’t find the workload or timetable different as the number of lectures per week and timetable was very similar to school. From undergrad (MSci) to PhD, I didn’t find the independent working aspect a big change, as the timetable I had at Royal Holloway in my final year was such that you had lectures in four week-long  blocks (for the 4 final year modules) and the rest of the time we were working on our dissertation independently as they were 50% of our final year grade. The largest transition from undergrad to PhD was the amount of people management that suddenly got introduced. When you are a demonstrator (teaching assistant) for staff members, you are essentially working for them, and it’s really important to find out their expectations – and every professor will have different ways of working. With your PhD supervisor, as they may be new to you, it’s important to find out their expectations too, and what they are like personality wise so you both work well together and your supervisor can support you well throughout your PhD. Transitioning from an academic workplace into a non-academic workplace, I think the biggest piece of advice is to learn to market your skillset in an accessible way because the people you might work with won’t necessarily how many skills you gain during your PhD, and could come from a different academic field/background too. 

  1. How do you choose what to do after school or university? e.g. further study or work

Josie Kirby – This is a hard one, at the end of University you will feel exhausted but I felt I wanted to learn more about my dissertation subject. But I couldn’t afford to do a MSc straight away. I managed to get a job that was willing to pay for my masters as training, so it is worth looking at companies that might have this sort of scheme set up. Some jobs will require an MSc. or you might work for a bit then go back into education. Opportunities present themselves throughout your undergrad, make sure you talk to your supervisor and tutors and ask them what you think you might be suited to. 

Sally: If you are interested in staying in academia as you enjoyed your final year, and your dissertation (independent learning and researching) then it is worth keeping an eye on websites which advertise funded Masters and PhDs (e.g. website: FindAPhD.com). I found a Masters by Research which was fully funded, which enabled me to do my masters after university, and this gave me the skill set and experience for a PhD, which I then went on to do.

  1. In a typical geoscience university course or workplace, are there more males than females?

Rehemat Bhatia: I’ve experienced a variety of gender balance (these evaluations are done on presenting gender, thus these explanations are binary – I wouldn’t be able to identify non-binary individuals). At university during undergrad – in my year – there was around a 60:40 M:F split in students. During my PhD (at UCL), I think it was roughly the same overall across my time there. However, after the new recruitment in my 2nd year there were definitely more men recruited than women. Most socials were male dominated (all very nice people!) – but the women in the dept also rarely came to the socials (no idea why). It got better in subsequent years though. At a palaeoclimate summer school I went to there was a 80:20 F:M split in the students attending (PhD and MSc students). At conferences I’ve been to, there have sometimes been more men than women, but it has depending on the focus of the conference. For ocean sciences there have been almost equal amounts of women than men, however for hard rock, (micro)palaeontology and geochemistry conferences I’ve noticed there are more men than women. At my current workplace (Natural Environment Research Council), almost all of my colleagues are women – probably a 90:10 F:M split. At the 2 oil companies i interned at, it was quite male dominated, probably 70:30 M:F split.  I’m not sure about mining based workplaces, but from what I have heard from friends, they are very male dominated. Staff cohorts at the universities I studied at were largely male too (I think when I was at Royal Holloway in 2009, there were possibly only 3 (?) members of permanent staff who were women, and at UCL the split was 80:20 M:F from 2013-2018). During my researcher position at the University of Bristol, however, the M:F staff ratio was close to 50:50.

  1. Are there many BAME people working in careers in geoscience, and if not is that starting to change?

Anjana Khatwa: I’ll be honest, it’s still not as high as I would like to see but it is growing slowly. It is tough being in a minority, but if I told you it was all worth it because I love what I do, I really mean that! You have to be resilient, have a strong network around you, find your allies and a mentor. Look for the role models, they are out there and show them to your family to explain what you could be!

Rehemat Bhatia: I agree with Anjana, it’s not a great number…but it is definitely growing slowly. I really only noticed the discrepancy when I got to my PhD, and I really was one of  a few in my department who wasn’t white. I do enjoy what i do though, and there are definitely people of colour out there who are totally willing to support and help you! Plus there are networks which aim to support (geo)scientists of colour, such as the 500 Women Scientists group, Geolatinas, Minorities in STEM (@MinoritySTEM on Twitter) and Black British Professionals in STEM

Careers in Geoscience Q and A

In our next follow-up from our 2020 virtual event are questions around geocareers answered.

  1. What kind of career path can a geoscience degree set you up for?

Kizzy: I studied Applied Geology at the University of Plymouth and I am going to further my studies by doing a Masters with the University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines in Mining Engineering. This will set me up to get a job in the UK but more excitingly across the globe. Places such as Australia, Africa, Canada ect are in reach by having a geoscience degree. Something also to note is that this particular path can have one of the top paying graduate salaries, if you mine gold in Ghana for instance. 

  1. What job opportunities are available outside the geoscience sector for geoscience graduates? 

Caroline Buttler -Many geoscience graduates move into careers outside the geoscience sector from teaching to the civil service or finance, just like students who have pursued degrees in geography, history or english do. A degree in geosciences will give you many transferable skills for example in analysis and interpretation, written and verbal communication, processing data and working as a team.

  1. What degree enables you to pursue a career in geoscience (can you go into a geosciences career after studying geography? Are joint honours looked down upon?)

Josie Kirby – We have, geographers, Marine geographers, geologists, engineers, ocean scientists working at the PCO. I did a Joint undergrad in Geology and ocean science. In my case having a joint degree was a massive bonus and combining two disciplines allows you to broaden your career or masters choice in some cases. I think having two disciplines has allowed me to work with more people and communicate between sciences – which sometimes is lacking.    

  1. Do you need a postgraduate qualification (Masters or PhD) to pursue a career in geosciences? 

Anjana Khatwa – Not necessarily. If you want to lecture then yes you will need that. But more so you need to be able to harvest every experience you can and show a commitment to the field you want to work in. 

  1. How can I increase my graduate prospects and improve my employability before, during and after my degree?

Caroline Buttler – Any kind of relevant experience that will make your CV and application stand out is valuable. In the museum sector where I work this could be volunteer work at a local museum or anything that shows you have transferable skills such as with an environmental or wildlife group. Some universities have museums where they take volunteers and paid workers.

Josie Kirby – can I add that offering to help PhD students or staff with their field work or research is also a great way of getting experience and also possible to do as well as studying. Most PhD students and staff will be really grateful for having a good undergrad to help. 

  1. Do you have any advice on how to find work experience opportunities? 

Josie Kirby – When I was looking for work experience I emailed and called companies I was interested in (if they didn’t have special schemes set up) I made sure I have researched the companies really well. You will get some rejections, it does take up quite a lot of time to have a work experience student (it takes planning), but some companies are really helpful. Don’t pester but be persistent – sell yourself as if you were trying to get a job!

  1. Where did you gain the information about narrowing down into a specific area of Geoscience?

Sarah Boulton – The process of becoming more focussed normally happens during your undergraduate degree as you become more exposed to different ideas. Most geology degrees are broad-based an cover the whole suite of geological pathways.

  1. What path would you recommend for a career in:
  • Palaeontology

Caroline Buttler – most people go into palaeontology after taking a first degree in geology and some universities do have degrees in palaeontology. However some people come into palaeontology from a biological background.

  • Volcanology

Annie Winson:  There are lots of avenues into volcanology, depending which side of the discipline that you decide to focus on.  If your interest is in physical volcanology then an undergraduate degree in Geology would give you a good grounding of the geochemistry, geophysics and mapping techniques that will be useful.  Physics, geophysics and maths are very useful if you have an interest in modelling processes such as pyroclastic flows, thermal processes and volcano seismology.  If your interest is in the management of volcanic hazards and the interaction of volcanoes with populations, then an undergraduate degree in Geography would give you a grounding in some of the relevant skills.  True volcanology jobs can be difficult to come across (especially as we don’t have our own volcanoes) so you will probably need to consider undergraduate, masters and PhD degrees as well as some research time – depending where in the world you do these qualifications, you may be able to get experience working on active volcanoes whilst you are a student.  There are also some good opportunities for student field schools.  A good first step is to register for the volcano listserv – this will notify you of opportunities.

  • Science communication

Anjana Khatwa – spend time watching science shows, following people on social media, learn from them and see how they do things, Set up your own channels for talking about your content. Volunteer if you can in a museum as an explainer. 

  • Geoscience (with lots of travel)

Kizzy: By studying Geology you can then do a masters in Mining and travel the world. I have a brother who graduated with the same Applied Geology degree at the University of Plymouth who is Living in Zambia and often takes road trips around Africa. I also have another brother who studied Geology at the University of Liverpool and then did a masters and is now mining Gold in Perth, Australia. I aim to end up in Ghana. 

  1. Where can we find out about the different jobs and graduate schemes that are available?

Sarah – The Earthworks website is a good place to the range of geoscience jobs on offer at anytime.

  1. Are you guaranteed a job after leaving university doing geoscience/geography or is the industry hard to get work in?

Sarah – Finishing on a difficult question! No you’re not guaranteed a job in any industry but if you work hard, get involved in clubs/societies and seek out opportunities to get experience, then you will have a wealth of skills (geological/techinical and transferable) that will make you employable.

Virtual Girls into Geoscience Follow up Q&A

We’re so happy that so many people got involved with our Girls into Geoscience Virtual event all the way back in July! There were 266 of you that signed up, and the level of engagement was brilliant. This did lead to one problem though: too many questions for our panellists to answer in the allotted time! 

There were so many fantastic questions that we didn’t get round to answering, so we decided to do something about it! After the day had ended, we took the questions that didn’t get answered and sent them to our panelists and speakers. Here’s what they had to say! 

The questions are grouped together into the sessions that they originally came up in. We sent them to everyone that took part in Virtual GiG, so the answers reflect the fantastic variation in career types, opinions and experiences that we saw at the event.

There are so many great questions that each set of questions will be posted up separately, first up are questions on applying to uni.

Applying for University

  1. What type of things should you look for when picking universities to apply to?

Anjana Khatwa: You should be guided by what you enjoy about the subject and the type of place you want to live. Look at how the degree stretches out over 2-3 years and see if you can enjoy the types of modules you’ll end up studying. Every degree is different and modules depend on staff expertise.   

Clare: Does it feel right? Does the course cover the things you are interested in”? Does it give you options to change things?

  1. How do you decide what subject(s) to study?

Kizzy: I think something to consider is your skill sets as different courses have different approaches to assessments of knowledge. Personally I do better with the more hands on coursework rather than exams, so Geology I found fit my personal preference as its heavily coursework. It’s important to list the fundamental interests you have and see which course fits you best, and will provide a career you will enjoy. 

Clare: I went for things I was interested in, or decided I needed to develop skills in. 

Sally: I also picked a subject which I was most interested in at school, so that I knew I would enjoy learning more about it.

  1. How variable are geoscience degrees? Is there a lot of computing or maths?

Clare: geology degrees follow a fairly similar format, there is not lots of computing or maths. If you are interested in this side of things – have a look at geophysics courses. 

  1. Is it easy to tailor you degree to suit your interests?

Rehemat Bhatia: I was able to choose options during the 1st, 3rd and 4th years of my undergrad degree. In first year we had core modules (7) but the 8th was one we could choose from a set of options. In 3rd and 4th year we had 1 core module, and then 4 options which we could choose. In 4th year you also have a research dissertation, which you can pick the topic for to suit what you’re most interested in (supervisors will advertise projects, or you can devise one with a supervisor too). In second year I chose an extra module in Geohazards because it sounded fun. It didn’t count towards my final grade as it was counted as an extra-curricular (and wasn’t part of my course, it was a core module on another course), but I’m glad I was able to take it as I learnt a lot! Definitely ask your course co-ordinators if you’re able to do this – I’m glad I did!

Sarah: Different degrees will be structured differently, so it’s definitely worth looking in detail at the modules on offer.

  1. What combined or joint honours subjects can you study alongside the geosciences?

Clare: common ones are geography, physics, chemistry. Check individual universities.

  1. What are pros and cons of 3 year versus 4 year degrees? (including MSci, 4 year UG and sandwich years)

Clare: 4 year degrees in Scotland are the norm and give more flexibility (subject choice in early years), in England and Wales you can do a 4 year degree for an MSci, 5 years in Scotland. Our MSci (Masters in Geology) at Aberdeen University focuses a lot on research and research skills in year 5. Most places allow you to sign up for an MSci and then to opt out later e.g. Graduate after 3 (or 4, Scotland) years with a BSc (hons).  We allow this, it means you can sign-up now and make the choice later when you understand the subject and if you want to stay on. 

  1. Would you recommend a year abroad and where is best to study?

Annie Winson:  I would definitely recommend studying abroad for a year, if you have the opportunity.  I spent the 3rd of my undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara and I loved it.  Studying abroad gives you exposure to a department full of different academics and may give you the opportunity to learn things that you wouldn’t get access to at home.  For example, I was able to learn a lot of marine geology and geophysics because of the faculty at UCSB and that wasn’t an aspect of the curriculum in the UK.  Having the opportunity to do field work in very different regions of the world was also great.  Plus I still have some great friends from that time.  I had a great time in California but I know people who also had brilliant experiences all over the US, Canada and New Zealand.  I would recommend speaking to the tutor at your home university responsible for the exchange program, and get their feedback on your options.

Sally: I would also recommend utilising the study abroad year options if it is something you are interested in doing. It is a fantastic way to live somewhere else, learn about the course from a different perspective, and be part of a community elsewhere rather than visiting on holiday there. I did my study abroad in Australia, and it was fascinating learning about natural hazards (I studied geography) from the Australian perspective, rather than how we are taught them/introduced to them in the UK. I also had the opportunity to travel whilst I was studying there, and I returned for my final year ready to do the best I could do finishing university. I would recommend attending the information sessions your university will provide about study abroad, and speaking to those in their final year who have done the study abroad year.

  1. What do universities look for in students academically? Are there preferred or required A-Level/Highers/Leaving Cert subjects?

Clare: Whatever you have…there are routes for everyone. 

  1. What extra-curricular skills or activities are useful to prepare for a geoscience degree, or to help your university application stand out from the crowd?

Anjana Khatwa: I would engage with societies and clubs out there like Rockwatch, Geologists’ Association – show the admissions tutor that you are keen on the subject. Write a blog, get on social media and take photos of rocks you like, do some YouTube or TikTok videos. Go to museums and do critical reviews of the collections. Anything that demonstrates a passion for the subject. 

  1. What makes a good personal statement or university application?

Clare: one that shows enthusiasm and personal goals/achievements. 

  1. Is work experience essential to apply to study geosciences at university?

Rehemat Bhatia: I think it’s definitely helpful if you’re able to do a placement – even if it is just 1 week. I did two weeks of geo-based work experience before applying to university: 1 week at the Royal Geographical Society, and another week at The Natural History Museum in London. I found it really useful in that it helped me to narrow down that I wanted to do Geology and not Geography, and that I knew about some sub-fields I could write about in my personal statement. 

Clare: definitely not essential for application, or success in achieving a place, but as Rehemat says you may find it really useful. 

  1. Can you recommend any additional reading for applying to study geosciences?

Rehemat Bhatia: The summer before I went to university, I downloaded the reading lists from the department I was going to study at. I’m not sure about up to date literature as I was an undergrad 10 years ago and I am sure things have changed in terms of course material, but you could always email the undergraduate tutors of the places you are keen to study at and find out what they recommend. They will be super happy you are emailing, and they might end up recognising your name if you apply to the dept too.

A look back at GiG19

With bookings open for this year’s GiG – a few photos from last year’s event to get you all excited for this year!

GiG2020 Speakers

Speaker abstracts and biography’s for the GiG2020 event  

1927701Microfossils, mud and massive volcanoes!

Dr Jodie Fisher

Dr Jodie Fisher is a Senior Technician at the University of Plymouth. Following a degree in geology from the University of Leicester, and a Masters in Environmental Science from University College London, Jodie undertook a PhD in Cretaceous palaeoclimates at the University of Plymouth. Following this Jodie worked as a Post Doc Researcher in micropalaeontology, before moving into schools liaison and outreach, and subsequently becoming a Technician within the Earth Sciences. Developing a passion for science outreach and communication Jodie still enjoys running school workshops and giving talks, and with Dr Sarah Boulton set up Girls into Geoscience in 2014 to promote the world of Geosciences to girls today. Jodie will be presenting an overview of her career, her passions and where the geosciences have taken her!

Microfossils are a small and often forgotten part of the geosciences, but they are a very important one. Microfossils are amazing! These tiny organisms are found throughout the geological record, often in great abundances, meaning they can be used for a range of applications. From dating rocks, to assessing past climate, microfossils are geoscience problem solvers, and can be used alongside engineering, volcanology, geochemistry and more to answer key questions about both the geological past and today.

I will be showcasing how one group of these organisms, foraminifera, can be utilised both in the geological record and in the modern day, using examples from projects I have been involved in and led. Foraminifera are single celled organisms, however they form a calcium carbonate shell (test), and these tests record the ocean chemistry in which they live. Using foraminifera from sediments formed 95 million years ago, we are able to reconstruct the hot climates of the Cretaceous, and look at what a world with high CO2, no ice at the poles and much higher sea levels might look like. In a more recent setting we were also able to use foraminifera to date volcanic events that were found in ocean sediments around the volcanic island of Montserrat, enabling us to reconstruct over 100,000 years of volcanic history. And finally, we have used foraminifera found in sediments today to assess the environmental health of our oceans and estuaries. The impact of pollution, dredging, anoxia and climate change can affect the organisms living in our oceans, and foraminifera are key indicators of the very real environmental issues we face today.

Geoscientists don’t just look at the past, the past is key to understanding the future, and microfossils are just one of the tools that geoscientists use today to understand how the Earth has changed and how it may continue to in the future.

Anju fossil headshotHow to talk about rocks and influence people

 Dr Anjana Khatwa, 

Carey’s Secret Garden/LUSH

Geology and the Earth Sciences are a hard sell; unless of course you know the tricks for how to make them come to life. Over the course of fifteen years, I have developed award winning learning content for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and enthusiastically broadcast stories about the subject as a TV presenter. It’s not an easy task, as many of the concepts that make this science beautifully unique need to be created in the depths of your imagination. A great part of successful science communication is to tap into that initial sense of awe and wonder and nurture it, so your audience feels as passionately as you do about your subject. Fossils, rocks and landscapes all have hidden stories that are patiently waiting to be heard. Now, as we are in the midst of a Climate Change Emergency, their stories are more relevant than they have ever been as we hope to learn from the ancient past about how to approach an uncertain future.

Dr Anjana Khatwa is an Earth Scientist and TV presenter who is passionate about all things to do with rocks, fossils and landforms. Anjana has worked and travelled across the world, conducting academic research and enabling communities to value their geological heritage. As one of the few BAME people in the field, Anjana actively contributes to and champions diversity in Earth Science organisations across the sector. She works for Carey’s Secret Garden, part of the LUSH group, managing and leading the public engagement and learning programme which is concerned with global environmental regeneration.

Crumbling coasts, climate change and why geoscience isn’t all about oil!

Josie-Alice Kirby

Initially I studied Geology because I was fascinated with other planets and wanted to be a planetary scientist but through my degree I discovered how fascinating the geology of the coastline is, and subsequently through working for the Plymouth Coastal Observatory I have developed an interest in coastal policy and management. I will talk about the problem of quantifying the crumbling coast and how we are helping by monitoring it and predicting shoreline position in relation to climate change. Including monitoring techniques, but also how to promote community engagement and resilience with citizen science projects. I will discuss how the science is helping guide coastal management policy for the future and how important understanding of geoscience is for future adaptation. 

Biography

BSc Geology with Ocean Science (University of Plymouth)
Summer internship at The British Geological Survey
Summer research work with CPRG (Gerd Masselink)
Plymouth Coastal Observatory, Coastal Process Scientist (2014-Present)
MSc Applied Marine Science
PhD researcher for Coastal Process research Group at Plymouth University (current 2019-Present)

‘If I had been a man, where would my career be now?’: Gender (in)equality in geoscience

A guest blog written by Khira Scott-Bouch – 4th Year MGeol (Hons) Geology student at the University of Plymouth as part of GEOL5001 – Geoscience frontiers: research and communication.

Female lecturers at the University of Plymouth detailed their experiences with gender equality, the leaky pipeline, and what we can to do better.

When I questioned whether my peers could name any male scientist throughout history, all could give me multiple answers; Newton, Einstein, Hawking. I asked about female scientists, and only received one answer; Curie. When asked about male geoscientists, one was able to name Darwin. It’s not hard to guess their response for female geoscientists; none.

This reflects the lack of representation for women at all levels of Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering (STEM). Geoscience is intertwined with all aspects of STEM research and faces its own issues of gender equality.

A 2019 study found that women in geosciences are two times more likely to experience negative gender bias at their workplaces (1). A paper to be published in 2020 revealed that if the current projected rate of women entering the geothermal sector stays the same (2.5% every five years), then gender parity will not be reached until 2100 (2).  Organisations like Women in Geothermal (WING) are helping to champion changes in the growth of female participation. Do these initiatives help or hinder?

The issue of gender inequality is not new, nor is it being properly addressed. The Sustainable Development Goals were introduced in 2015, one of which was gender equality. But are we any closer to achieving parity in geosciences? I spoke with three female members of staff at Plymouth University to understand their experiences of with barriers that women often face throughout their time as academics as they climbed the career ladder, to provide a whistle-top tour of the inequalities that women are challenged with in geosciences.

SDGs

2015 saw the world’s largest gathering of world leaders at the United Nations Summit. After 3 years of negotiations and debate, 193 countries agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals. This bold plan aimed to put the world’s peace, prosperity and progress on a sustainable track through 17 goals and 169 targets. The fifth goal was gender equality.

Geosciences can directly contribute to at least two out of the nine targets of the goal. Four years later, however, have we made any progress?

EUROPEAN GEOSCIENCE UNION AWARDS

The EGU awards and medals programme recognises geoscientists for their outstanding research contribution and identifies future role models for the next generation of Earth scientists.

  Male Awardees Female Awardees
 2015 21 (81%) 5(19%)
 2016 26 (87%) 4 (13%)
 2017  25 (81%)  6 (19%)
 2018  27 (84%)  5 (16%)
2019  19 (63%)  11 (37%)
Table 1. Percentage of female to male EGU awardees since the SDGs were introduced.

There has only be considerable change to the percentage of female to male awardees this year. Furthermore, there has not be an upwards trajectory of female awardees since the SDGs began, with the percentage of women dropping to 13% in 2016. Awards and medals like these are important for career development. What does this say about how we view the achievements of female geoscientists?

Jodie Fisher and Caroline Clason, both noted that these awards are more about the nominations rather than the award themselves. Geoscientists nominate for other geoscientists. So, it’s not an allusive board of individuals only choosing men. Geoscientists members are also not nominating women. This shows the bias integrated throughout all levels of academia, not just at the top.

‘I think the societies could do more to encourage their membership to think outside of the box when they’re selecting people to put forward for these awards’ Dr Caroline Clason.

ROLE MODELS AND THE LEAKY PIPELINE

Throughout my life I have always been empowered by women. Growing up, my mother was my biggest source of inspiration for science, and I remember from a young age watching her demonstrate her ‘whoosh bottle’ experiment for her pupils with pure admiration. I had many female teachers who inspired me about Geography and how Physics, Chemistry and Biology were integral for understanding our Earth. At University, however, it was difficult to be mentored by women, as there were so few I had interactions with.

This is in part due to the ‘leaky pipeline’; the continuous loss of women in STEM as they progress from Post-doctorate onwards Addressing the leaky pipeline helps address the target of effective participation at all leadership levels. Role models are important for early career scientists (ECS) and can help reduce the stereotypes around female scientists.

I asked the women about their experiences with female role models throughout their academic journeys. Sarah Boulton highlighted that due to the few numbers of female geoscientists in higher academic positions, students and ECSs may have to look further than their direct subject area.

‘In the school we have two female professors, they’re just not ‘geologists’. Sometimes it might come down to looking outside your immediate discipline or subject areda to find female role models.‘ Dr Sarah Boulton.

Challenged with a similar situation during her PhD, Caroline described that: “I had to find a role model that wasn’t directly in my supervisory team, she was actually in a different country. It was, and still probably is the case that there are fewer senior people to be mentored from.”

This essentially creates a vicious cycle of women dropping off the career ladder (or pipeline) because there are not enough role models that they can be mentored by, which in turn creates less role models for the next wave of ECSs. We need to question how we can further support these women before that decision has been made.

MOTHERHOOD AND ACADEMIA

‘There was always thus thought at the back of my head that I did choose my family, which I would never change, over my career. However, I think it is difficult as women, as you may have to make that choice, whereas men may not necessarily have to.’ Dr Jodie Fisher.

As a woman who does not want children, I forgot how central the decision is to have a family can be for other women. When I initially organised these interviews, the questions surrounding having children were not on my agenda, inherently due to my own biases. They should have been.

Child-rearing is an important issue for women in academia. For many, it is a decision to either put your academic career path on hold, or for it to stop entirely. Maternity leave does affect women’s chances of grasping back onto the next rung of the academic career ladder. Jodie painfully described how difficult it was for her to return back to research after her first child: “I love teaching, I love lecturing, but I miss research. The longer you are out of research, the harder it is to get back into.”

All three women spoke to me about the struggles they, or other women have faced when it comes to starting a family. Caroline described to me that she wasn’t interested in having a family (she has a dog instead!), but she had seen ‘other women in other institutions face that challenge of deciding to have a family’.

‘If you wanted to have more than one child, you’re having quite long breaks. Even to the extent that you may get a reputation, which is not fair because it’s a natural decision for women to have families.’ Dr Caroline Clason

WHY CONCENTRATING ON ‘WOMEN’ DOESN’T ANSWER THE PROBLEM

‘You read things in the press about how women overtly experience discrimination and I don’t feel that I’ve been overtly affected. I took a job in the department where I was the only female lecturer and the fact that I was appointed was the start of thee University wanting to address those issues’ Dr Sarah Boulton

A common theme during the interviews was that none of the women identified as openly experiencing challenges because of their gender. This is true for many women in geosciences; they have not experienced conscious bias. This is fundamentally due to the p word. Yes, privilege.  All these women have expressed the privileges they had through education and their backgrounds. But this is not the reality for all women.

Speaking to these women so candidly about their journeys has been a humbling experience, however, they are only able to express one dimension of the gender equality narrative.

All the women I spoke to are cis-gendered, white women who have had a level of privilege that other minorities do not. These women have not faced the same issues or barriers that women of colour, LGBTQ+ or women with disabilities have. I have not been able to be intersectional with my interviewee choices, because I do not have the option to here at Plymouth University as the diversity in the department is extremely low. This is representational for the entirety of geosciences.

This is a problem that the groups dedicated to helping overcome the struggles of women are failing to combat. The #MeTooSTEM movement, founded in 2018 to fight sexual harassment in academic sciences, has been criticised by its leaders for receiving “little input from women of colour”. A study published this year found that in higher education policy decisions, gender is often prioritised over race when addressing inequalities, which enhances white privilege (3). Here, women of colour are explicitly being disadvantaged based on both gender and ethnicity.

Awards and initiatives like the EGU award can highlight women’s achievements. But are they blind to the overlapping discrimination? It is easy to view women as one group. The experiences of sexual, ethnic and other minorities must be addressed on top of gender. Fortunately, programmes like Girls into Geoscience and Athena SWAN are beginning to highlight change for intersectionality.

WHAT CAN WE DO BETTER?

Gender inequality through the geoscience lens is representational for all the struggles that women in STEM face, just at a smaller scale. Although geosciences may only be able to help combat two of the targets of the Gender Equality SDG, we need to be a better society at all scales through better representation, opportunities and allocation of resources to support women from all backgrounds.

Geologists, geophysicists, and geoscientists need to look up from their work and at each other and reflect. Is this fair? Is this diverse? Am I doing the best to help more disadvantaged women? If not, why not? Start asking the hard questions. Do you hold a position of privilege? Use it to empower women of colour, women of the LGBTQ+ community and women with disabilities. The gender discrimination that holds women back, holds our world back too. Because as Sarah so eloquently put: “having a more equal society benefits everyone”.

Acknowledgments

I am extremely grateful to all the inspiring women who have helped me in writing me with this blog, specifically Dr Marit Brommer, Dr Sarah Boulton, Dr Caroline Clason, Dr Jodie Fisher, and Helen Robinson.

 

Links

 

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

https://www.egu.eu/awards-medals/

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/05/turmoil-metoostem

https://nicolarollock.com/black-female-profs

References

(1) POPP, A. L., LUTZ, S. R., KHATAMI, S., VAN EMMERIK, T. H. M. & KNOBEN,  W. J. M. 2019. A Global Survey on the Perceptions and Impacts of Gender Inequality in the Earth and Space Sciences. Earth and Space Science, 6, 1460-1468.

(2) CHRISTOPHERSON, K. R. AYLING, B. & BLAKE, K. 2020. 40 years of women in the geothermal sector: 1980-2020

(3) BHOPAL, K. & HENDERSON, H. 2019. Competing inequalities: gender versus race in higher education institutions in the UK. Educational Review, 1-17.