Profile: Dr Michelle Harris, (Lecturer, Plymouth University)

Michelle_layered gabbros
Michelle sitting on crystallised magma chambers from the ocean crust in Oman

Name: Dr Michelle Harris

Job Role: Lecturer

Organisation: Plymouth University

Education Background: Masters Geological Sciences (International) University of Leeds & University California Santa Barbara, PhD University of Southampton


1. What inspired you to take up a career in the Geosciences?

I came into geosciences because it involved combining aspects of my favourite subjects. I always loved sciences and learning about how the Earth worked, so when it came to choosing a degree to study at university, geosciences seemed the perfect choice.

2. Can you give more detail about your path to your current job role?

After becoming fascinated by the seafloor during my undergraduate degree I chose to complete a PhD where I spent 4 years researching my favourite topic. After this I was still motivated to study the seafloor and decided to pursue an academic career where I could continue my research.

 3. What does your current job role involve?

As lecturer I am involved with undergraduate teaching in Earth Sciences and research. My research interest centres on understanding hydrothermal circulation (when seawater percolates down into the seafloor) and the role that it plays in the formation of the volcanic rocks that make up the seafloor.

 4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

On a day-to-day basis I love the variety of my job, on any day I could be doing a wide variety of different things (teaching, designing new lecture materials, looking at rocks under the microscope, crushing and dissolving rocks for chemical analysis, looking at data on my computer or even out in the field looking at rocks).  It keeps my job exciting and keeps me on my toes!

Overall the aspect I enjoy most about my job is going out to sea on research trips. For me there is nothing better than being out at sea for weeks at a time and recovering new samples from the seafloor. It is amazing to see first-hand what we can achieve from an engineering perspective (watching a drill pipe 3 km long suspended from a ship re-enter a drill hole a few centimetres wide will always amaze me!) but also to be at forefront of human exploration, the seafloor is our most abundant landscape on Earth yet it is barely explored. Each time I go out to sea I am seeing a part of the Earth that very few people will ever see and the first person to hold that rock from the seafloor. I feel very privileged and excited every time I am at sea.

5. Why do you think it’s important to encourage more girls into the Geosciences?

I knew very little about the Geosciences and the possible career options when I was at school, and I think that needs to change as there are so many different ways that you can be involved in Geosciences.

6. If you could give a piece of advice to girls currently thinking about a career in the Geosciences, what would it be?

Don’t be put off if you haven’t had a lifelong passion for fossils or volcanoes, or know what you want to do at 17 years old – I certainly didn’t! It wasn’t until the third year of my degree that I came across the topic that would captivate me and inspire me to continue onto a PhD. Geoscience is a very varied subject and goes so much further than volcanoes and fossils, it is an applied science that is highly relevant to society. It offers many possibilities and opportunities and it is an excellent way to expose yourself to new challenges.

7. Highlight of my career so far:

I have 2 highlights. Number 1 was the first time I saw pillow lavas on the seafloor in real time from cameras on the ROV on my first ever research cruise. I remember being so excited to finally see for myself the seafloor, it still amazes me everytime. The second was slightly more professional and that was being selected to lead the core description team on an IODP drilling expedition. Only 24 scientists are selected for each IODP Expedition from scientists all around the world and I was still a PhD student at the time, I was immensely proud to be selected and recognised by my peers.


Michelle will be giving a talk on ‘Hydrothermal circulation and ocean drilling’ at our Girls into Geosciences event on 4th July. Book your place today: girlsintogeoscience@plymouth.ac.uk  or Tel (01752) 585975.

You can also follow our event on twitter @girlsingeosci

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