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

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