Profile: Dr Victoria Sword-Daniels (Social Volcanologist, UCL)

Name: Victoria Sword-DanielsVSDCROP

Job Role: Social Volcanologist

Organisation: University College London

Education Background: BSC Geology, MSC Geophysical Hazards, ENGD Urban Sustainability and Resilience


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

I really do not know how or why, but I knew when I was fifteen that I wanted to be a volcanologist. I love the outdoors and nature really inspires me. I am interested in finding out how things work and the element of the unknown and still-to-be-discovered about geosciences really sparks my interest.

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

I started with an undergraduate degree in geology, then a masters in geophysical hazards before needing a break from education. I wanted to stand on my own two feet and find an interesting job, so I found a job in a natural hazards team within an engineering consultancy. After a couple of years I found myself wanting to really follow my ambition to be a volcanologist, but that my interests had become more focused on the people affected by hazards, rather than the hazards themselves. So I returned to university to study for my doctorate in Urban Sustainability and Resilience, looking at the issues faced by societies living alongside volcanoes.

3. What does your current job role involve?

I work alongside social and physical scientists, policy makers, research funders and risk managers, to try to make research most useful to those who are at risk from volcanic hazards. Following this path I have moved into the more applied side of research, trying to find ways to share knowledge between researchers and end users, so that research is focused on problems faced by societies at risk, and so that those at risk can make use of the research – it’s all about making sure that research makes a difference and helps to solve some of those really challenging and complex real-world problems. My job involves working with lots of different people, some international travel, conferences, meetings, organising workshops, university teaching and doing some research.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the opportunity to travel and to get to know new parts of the world. I also enjoy the creative side of research; finding out about different challenges and to start thinking about how these can be overcome. Every situation is different, which makes the job constantly challenging and rewarding.

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

I started out in geology and then worked in engineering – both pretty male-dominated careers. These careers are exciting, challenging and work best when a range of viewpoints are incorporated. In my early career I have seen entrenched and old fashioned views of male dominance become replicated by younger peers in environments where there are few women, or where women feel that they need to become ‘one of the boys’ in order to fit in. I find this saddening. I think that every sector should promote equality for a healthy and inspiring environment; it is in everyone’s interests for men and women to have equal representation, to generate the most intellectually exciting and supportive environment, to advance our knowledge and find solutions to some of the really challenging real-world problems that many people face. It is only by including all perspectives on these problems that good solutions can be found. This includes a variety of different disciplines as well as diverse representation of those working in these sectors.

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

Keep doing what you love. If you are inspired by something then follow that interest and it will lead you somewhere new and exciting. There are so many different skills and perspectives required to address some of the very complex and challenging problems facing the world today. Those challenges evolve over time, perspectives on solutions change, and opportunities arise as you go, so if something interests you, then go for it.


Find out more about careers in the Geosciences at our ‘Girls into Gesociences’ 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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Profile: Prof Anne Mather (Lecturer, Plymouth University)

AM.jpgName: Anne Mather

Job Role: Professor of Geomorphology

Organisation: Plymouth University

Education Background: BSc Physical Geography and Geology Joint Hons, University of Hull; PhD Geology University of Liverpool


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

My interest in Geosciences started early. As a small child I was lucky enough to live in New Zealand so seeing glaciers and volcanoes on family holidays was normal. Later at school in the UK I became fascinated by both dinosaurs and physical geography. Coupled with a love for the great outdoors, which was cultivated by working at a mixed farm in Derbyshire, my curiosity about the natural landscape, active processes and geology grew and inevitably led to the selection of my university degree course in Physical Geography and Geology. I was attracted to the course by its content and fieldwork opportunities. I saw that understanding the processes in the physical geography could really help underpin an understanding of the products in the geology e.g. sedimentology. And that was it. I was hooked.

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

At school I did a mix of science and art A-levels (Geography, English Literature, Maths). At this stage I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, other than it had to be related to Physical Geography in some way. I wanted to do geology (not available at our school), but was concerned that I may not like it at University, so opted for a Joint Honours degree in Physical Geography and Geology. At both School and University the things I enjoyed best where the fieldwork and the independent projects associated with the courses. This made me think that research based postgraduate study may be an option. However, on coming out of University, (and packing chocolates for a well known chocolate company for 6 months!) I took the first Geoscience opportunity which came along, which was working as a Junior Geologist for a Consultancy in Lincolnshire (Badley Ashton, A reservoir Geoscience Company). This provided me with useful experience in a range of ‘behind the scenes’ industry roles such as sample processing, thin section work and seismic interpretation. However after 3 years I still felt that urge to follow independent research, so when a PhD opportunity was advertised at Liverpool University I applied. The opportunity was field based and followed my main interests (rivers, sedimentology). The project involved palaeoenvironmental interpretation of a small sedimentary basin in SE Spain (the Sorbas Basin) which at that stage had had very little research undertaken on the Pliocene to Quaternary sequence. I focussed on the role of tectonics and climate in controlling sedimentation. I spent most of my time in Spain doing field work, which was an amazing experience. After finishing my PhD I decided to try academia and took up a Lecturing post in Physical Geography at Worcester University for 2 years. This provided me with a wealth of experience and training which I transferred to Plymouth University where I have been ever since. Whilst at Plymouth I expanded my research and teaching interests into my recently appointed (May 2016) position as the first female Professor in the Geosciences at Plymouth University.

3. What does your current job role involve?

My current role is mainly a mixture of research and teaching together with administration to support these areas. Most of my research is field based, and involves collecting field data (e.g. survey, mapping and samples for further analysis) from my main study areas (currently SE Spain, Morocco and the Atacama Desert of Chile). To fund these investigations I have to lead and apply for research funding, and work with teams of collaborators to undertake the work. Some of the research is remotely based (using satellite imagery) and can be undertaken at Plymouth. The data and findings are shared though presentations at International conferences, and then finally written up for academic journals and books. Part of my professional role also involves the quality control and review of published material for scientific journals and grant applications.

I am involved in developing teaching approaches – particularly approaches which involve more ‘experiential’ learning, and enable exploration of the subject matter through practical or fieldwork opportunities. I also publish training material for both undergraduates (e.g. books and book chapters) and geoscience professionals and academics. The research I undertake is integrated with the teaching (at undergraduate and postgraduate level) through PhD projects, dissertations or in specialist option modules such as Tectonic Geomorphology. I undertake outreach activities which include giving talks at schools and to the public and teaching new techniques to geoscience students in Morocco and South America. I also review teaching programmes at other universities and act as External Examiner on other university Geoscience degrees.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Fieldwork. Both researching and teaching in the field is my passion. I love those ‘light bulb’ moments when somebody suddenly ‘gets it’ (and that someone is sometime me!) – most people respond best to learning in a field environment where they can see the processes in operation.

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

Diversity of the workplace is key. Everyone has a different skill to offer and a different way of thinking (one of the reasons I have loved working in inter-disciplinary areas). Women add to this diversity and yet are still in such low numbers. The more that women are visibly successful in the Geosciences, the more it will encourage others to get involved. Geoscience offers such exciting possibilities in terms of careers.

When I entered a Geoscience career I wanted a job that enabled me to work outside a lot, follow my curiosity, travel and discover new things. In the course of my job not only have I been able to follow my passion (Geosciences) but I have also had the privilege to experience so much more that I did not expect. As part of my research I have seen parts of the globe not normally open to travellers (such as Western Sahara and remote regions of S. America); to work with a diverse range of scientists to learn new things (e.g. archaeologists, biologists, engineers); interesting encounters with random celebrities on my travels (e.g. Lenny Henry, Ewan McGregor, Declan Donnelly, James Bay), learn unusual skills (e.g. extreme off-road driving, piloting drones), experience nature close up (sleeping under the stars on fieldwork; remote wildlife encounters); experience first hand geohazards (tsunami evacuations and getting stuck in desert flash floods) and learn about new cultures and languages. Why should this be just for boys?

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

Go for it. Follow your interests so that you achieve your best grades. Use your university course to find out what really fires you up. Follow that. Don’t worry if you find you don’t like some aspects of your course or job – look at the bigger picture. Join the relevant societies to find out more e.g. The Royal Geographical Society (RGS), The British Society of Geomorphologists. They often offer training, experiences and even funding at and beyond university. For example the RGS offers a Geography Ambassadors scheme which trains and supports undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate geographers as ambassadors for the subject in the classroom and beyond.


 

Find out more about careers in the Geosciences at our ‘Girls into Gesociences’ 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

Profile: Claire Harnett (PhD Student, University of Leeds)

Claire HarnettName: Claire Harnett

Job Role: Volcanology PhD Student

Organisation: University of Leeds

Education Background: 

BSc Geological Hazards at University of Portsmouth


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

I have always loved science, and as I learned more about tectonics in A-Level geography, I realised that an undergraduate degree in geoscience seemed perfect for me. I did an extended project at school that looked at methods of forecasting earthquakes and as part of it, I interviewed a lot of geoscientists from around the world. The scientists I contacted were so welcoming and willing to talk about their fields of interest, that it filled me with a lot of enthusiasm to pursue a career in the geosciences.

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

I studied the impacts of geological hazards at school, and it motivated me to want to understand more about our abilities to forecast these hazards. During my undergraduate degree, I was lucky to be surrounded by people who nurtured this interest and I started to become interested in laboratory experimentation on the mechanical properties of rock. My current PhD looks at developing predictive models for the failure of lava domes, and combines these interests perfectly.

3. What does your current job role involve?

As a PhD student, my day-to-day life varies from researching and writing in the office, to laboratory work, to fieldwork. I also try to get involved in outreach with schools in the local community to try to get primary school children involved in geosciences right from the start of their education.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Like most geoscientists, I particularly enjoy the fieldwork opportunities that come with research. At the beginning of this year, I went to the Caribbean volcanic island of Montserrat to work with the observatory and collect some rock samples. If you’d have told me a couple of years ago that I’d get to go on a helicopter flight around a volcano that is still actively pumping out gas, I’d have never believed you! My next fieldwork trip is to Mount Unzen in Japan, again for lava dome research, and I love that I am going to do research that hasn’t been done there before. To know that the science that you’re involved in is going to add to the current sphere of human knowledge never fails to make me feel excited and lucky in equal measures.

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

I was a bit of an ‘all-rounder’ at school, so when I was doing my A-Levels I had a few options as to what I could study at university. Without really understanding what my passions or aspirations were, I found myself being heavily encouraged to apply for humanity-based degrees. Science-related careers didn’t initially feel accessible to me in the sixth form, and as my school hadn’t offered geology, there was no advice into how to pursue a career in geoscience. I knew that I would work hard to succeed in whatever I ended up in, but I felt like venturing into the geosciences would be the only way that my day-to-day job would allow me to immerse myself in something I love. I think it’s so important to make sure that girls are given just as much information about pathways into geoscience as they are into other career options.

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

Grab all opportunities that come your way! I think internships are one of the most important ways to get yourself in the game – I would particularly recommend keeping an eye out on Twitter or on email lists for the discipline that interests you. There are mailing lists for a lot of branches of geoscience which are easy and free to join, and they email lots of opportunities for funding, internships and workshops.

But most importantly – if you love it, keep working at it! I think that doing something you love and genuinely enjoy can become more than just a job. When you’re on a tough hike to a field site, or in the middle of a 20 hour experiment, it becomes vital that you have a passion for advancing science. For me, the hard work has always paid off with cool opportunities to travel or meet people that think the same way you do.


Find out more about careers in the Geosciences at our ‘Girls into Gesociences’ 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

Profile: Prof Jenni Barclay (Volcanologist, University of East Anglia)

Jenni BarclayName: Jenni Barclay

Job Role: Professor of Volcanology

Organisation: University of East Anglia

Education Background: 

BSc Geology, University of Edinburgh;

PhD Volcanology, University of Bristol


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

I was one of those kids who was fascinated by the world around me, and how it worked. I was particularly interested in volcanoes, snow avalanches and tsunami (yes, I know that’s quite specific but that’s a fact!). I guess I found destructive beauty both mesmerising and intriguing! As a teenager acid rain, air pollution and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident were all making headlines too. This gave me a strong sense that I wanted to do some ‘science with a purpose’ as a career. I think Geosciences are the perfect vehicle for that kind of ambition!

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

After I finished my research degree (PhD) I did some post-doctoral research for a few years, moving about a bit. Although I love to travel I found that hard, and was on the point of considering a ‘more stable’ career teaching Physics back in Scotland when I landed my permanent job at UEA. For me, the combination of research with the opportunity to inspire and train the next generation of geoscientists is just brilliant.

A formative experience in my research career was being involved during the ‘early years’ of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano with both research and monitoring. If my early interest in geoscience problems and processes lit a flame of interest in ‘science with a purpose’ then that experience turned it up to Gas Mark 6!

3. What does your current job role involve?

I divide my time between teaching and research. At my career stage this means I currently manage a couple of large research projects as well as teaching on and contributing to a few different modules – all geoscience focussed. I get slightly less time to just be out in the field or the lab looking at or analysing rocks than I used to but the sheer variety in my job is incredibly motivating. I also spend a lot of time with inspiring people – whether its talking about new research findings or working with students in practical classes.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Its very hard to beat time spent in the field, whether teaching a field class or conducting research. At the moment my research can equally be scrambling over volcanic deposits or talking to local communities to understand how they are impacted by volcanic activity. Now I have kids my homing radar kicks in a bit sooner than it used to but I’ve never lost my passion for being out in the field and checking out the world around us.

The excitement and possibility for discovery in a new dataset are also something that I still get a real kick out of. Sometimes gathering that data can be hard or frustrating but its usually worth it.

I also love thinking up new and interesting ways to pass on some of the enthusiasm and interest I feel for Geosciences to kids, adults and basically anyone who will listen!

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

One of the things I’ve learned during my research career is that complex problems are often solved when you bring a variety of perspectives together. You can’t get that variety if you don’t have a diverse team working together. So, we need to do everything we can to ensure Geoscientists reflect the population at large, and not just one segment of it.

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

Any aspects of this topic you’ve enjoyed at School are just like the tip of an iceberg – there is a much bigger and incredible mass of amazingness (I know that’s not a word) waiting for you if you dive further in! So, just go for it! I think the incredible variety of potential careers on offer for those of us with geoscience skills is a real bonus. You don’t need to be a volcano-weenie like me – geosciences can help you into a variety of fulfilling careers!


Find out more about careers in the Geosciences at our ‘Girls into Gesociences’ 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