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.

 

 

GiG Junior

The very first Girls into Geoscience Junior event was held in the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment at the University of Leicester on October 16th. We were very excited to welcome 45 girls, mainly year 8’s and 9’s, all with a passion for science!

After a welcome from our Head of School, Sarah Davies, Sarah Lee gave an introductory talk outlining what geoscience is, why it’s so important and why the world needs geoscientists!

First of our talks on the day, were Jens Zinke and Hedi Krawczyk who told us about their exciting work studying present day coral reefs and how we can use them to see how climate has changed both recently and over the past few thousand years. It’s really quite scary seeing how corals are responding to increases in water temperature as a result of global warming. Jens and Hedi are recently back from a trip to the Indian Ocean so had lots of amazing pictures to show us!

Martha Papadopoulou is a hardrock geochemist and her talk told us how the inside of the Earth works. Using elements from across the periodic table, Martha is able to understand how magma is produced deep within the Earth’s mantle and why volcanoes erupt. Martha’s work has taken her to Mongolia so she had some amazing pictures to show us too!

Both Hedi and Martha told us how they love the science but also love the travelling, using very expensive equipment and learning new skills as well as meeting lots of new people and making friends through their work.

Following a quick break (with a plentiful supply of very nice hot chocolate!) we continued with our talks. Next up, was Mark Williams. Mark researches the Anthropocene, the most recent period of geological time. He told us about man’s effect on the planet; many species have become extinct in response to man, through excessive hunting. We saw the number of endangered species and learnt that the number of Sumatran Orangutans left in the world (approximately 7500), is not dissimilar in number to the population of a village near to us in Leicester. We saw Iron Bridge in Shropshire built in 1781 which is 30 metres long – the longest bridge in the world is now 4 km long. All of this will be seen preserved in the geological record.

Our final talk was from Jess Keeble. Jess did her Geology with Geophysics degree with us and worked initially for an oil company helping them to find oil and gas and now works as a theoretical physicist (not as scary as it sounds!). We got to see pictures of her exciting training in America and her survival training in a helicopter in a swimming pool and learnt how seismic surveys are carried out from the back of a ship. We also learnt the very important message that it was alright to be unsure where to take your studies and that it’s alright too to change your mind about what you want to be.

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Neil introducing Jane to some of our visitors!

Lunch provided those who wanted the opportunity to explore campus or get a selfie with Jane our resident T. rex! After lunch we split into groups for the afternoon sessions where our visitors had an opportunity to experience a number of different geological disciplines.

Rose Clarke is an applied geologist investigating gold and tellurium in rocks in Fiji. Tellurium is becoming increasingly important with the emergence of solar energy. With Rose, we learnt what minerals are needed to make a mobile phone and we had a go at identifying minerals both in hand specimen and looking down a microscope.

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Rose looking at rock and mineral hand specimens with our visitors as part of the Minerals and Mobile Phones session.

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Kate, Alex and Lydia – some of our fantastic undergraduate helpers on the day!

Victoria Lane is a seismologist. We learnt about the different types of seismic waves and how we measure earthquakes. We saw how earthquakes the other side of the world are picked up on our own seismometer in Leicester and we also had the opportunity to make lots of earthquakes of our own!

Neil Adams studies the teeth of ancient mammals and how they can tell us what mammals ate, some 60 million years ago! We were able to make some casts of teeth just as Neil does for his research, explore some of our fossil specimens and spend some time with Jane the T. rex, learning all about her. Despite Jane being 2.3 metres tall and 6.4 metres long, we learnt that she was only 11 years old!

Our visitors also had the opportunity to join Marc Reichow who is a lecturer in metamorphic and igneous geochemistry. We learnt all about volcanoes, got to see some amazing rocks and made a lot of noise!

After a last mug of hot chocolate, it was time for our visitors to go home. The Geological Society of London had very kindly given us some merchandise including pencils and badges which were very well received. In addition, visitors each got to take a small sample home; with a choice of mineral, rock or fossil there were plenty for people to choose from.

All of us involved in the day at Leicester had a wonderful time. It was great to see so many keen young scientists and we hope everyone enjoyed their day, learnt loads and feels inspired to investigate geology further!

All photo credits Hedwig Krawczyk.

Girls into Geoscience 2019

Girls into Geoscience 2019 is now open for bookings!

In 2019 the event is being held on the 1st and 2nd of July.  We will be visiting the fantastic geology around Torbay on the 1st, followed by an evening ice breaker, with the talks and workshops held on the following day.

We have three fantastic speakers lined up to talk about their careers:

Lucy Crane (Cornish Lithium): ‘Cornish Lithium and life as an exploration geologist’

Biography: Lucy is an exploration geologist who has been involved in the mining industry for the past 5 years. Having gained an MEarthSci from Oxford University, she then studied for an MSc in Mining Geology at the Camborne School of Mines. Since 2014, she has been working as an exploration geologist: initially looking for minerals across Africa, particularly within Morocco and Ethiopia, before moving back down to Cornwall in summer 2017 and joining Cornish Lithium, where they are searching for lithium-enriched geothermal fluids.

Zoe Mildon (University of Plymouth): ‘Earthquake chasing around the world’

Biography: Ever since I was small, I have always been fascinated by earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural hazards. It took me a while to settle upon doing geology at university, it was halfway through my first year studies that I realised I wanted to study geology. Since making that decision, I have never looked back. My main area of interest is earthquakes and trying to understand how and where they occur and the resulting hazard on local communities that live near active faults. My work has taken me all over the world, to Italy, Iceland, Japan and New Zealand. I use a mixture of fieldwork (visiting and measuring active faults) and computer-based modelling to investigate whether past earthquakes can tell us where future ones might occur.

Rachel Samuel (Capita): ‘Geotechnical Engineering in Northern England’

Biography:  Rachel is a Geotechnical Engineer who has been working with Capita since graduating from Plymouth University in 2016. Her role is to provide geotechnical consultancy services for local authorities and large public bodies, and is both office and site based. Rachel has contributed to highways, flood alleviation, slope stability and structural repair/bridge replacement schemes. Many of Rachel’s local projects are part of Cumbria Country Council’s Flood Recovery Programme. Rachel works within a large multi-disciplinary team which consists of ground, structural, highways, drainage and coastal engineers as well as landscape architects, ecologists and environmental consultants. Alongside her work, Rachel is currently undertaking a part-time degree in Engineering Geology. Rachel is an aspiring Chartered Geologist.

See our event page for more details and booking information.

Girls into Geoscience 2019 timetable flyer