Name: 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel (01752) 585975.
You can also follow our event on twitter @girlsingeosci