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

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