Profile: Prof Melanie Leng (Director, Stable Isotope Facility (British Geological Survey); Professor of Isotope Geoscience, University of Nottingham)

Mel LengName: Melanie Leng

Job Role: Director for the Stable Isotope Facility (British Geological Survey); Director of the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry (British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham); Professor of Isotope Geoscience at the University of Nottingham

Organisation: British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham

Education Background: BSc and PhD in Earth Sciences, University of Aberystwyth


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

I was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire’s Jurassic Park, and as a child me and my siblings had free reign of the cliffs and beaches. I spent the school holidays collecting fragments of dinosaurs and plants from the Lower Jurassic as well as beautiful rounded semi-precious clasts from the glacial boulder clay that drapes the landscape and gently falls into the sea in many coves.  As my bedroom floor groaned under the rock collection I decided to take O level (GCSE) Geology and then A level Geology (although equally inspired by physics, chemistry and maths) as I liked clambering around the cliffs! The moment I was truly “hooked“ by geology was on a field trip to a cove called Ravenscar with my A level teacher Mr Clarke. I picked up a cobble with the hint of an ammonite on one surface. Mr Clarke cracked it open and there before me was a beautiful, ribbed, spiral-form ammonite that had lived in the ocean around 200 million years ago. I knew from that moment that I wanted to collect fossils and understand Earth’s history.

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

After a degree and PhD in Earth Science I got a post-doctoral position working in the geochemistry labs at the British Geology Survey. From there I worked my way up through a variety of laboratory roles from junior technician to senior technician to eventually being in change of the labs! I have always undertaken a mixture of research and laboratory experiments, all the while seizing the opportunity to inspire and train the next generation of geoscientists. Today I mainly work with PhD students and early career scientists. The variety of science that we support in the geochemistry at the BGS means I am never bored!

3. What does your current job role involve?

I divide my time between being Science Director for the Stable Isotope Facility, which mainly involves working with PhD students and researchers solving problems in environmental geoscience. We can use the geochemistry of water, soils, rocks and fossils to understand the present and past environments. My other role is Director of the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry which focusses on collaborative research between the British Geological Survey and the University of Nottingham. The Centre’s research focusses on the use of geochemistry in research, training and teaching around understanding man’s impact on the Earth and climate change, as well as biogeochemical cycling (of elements from rocks, through soils and waters) including pollution typing. I am also Professor of Isotope Geoscience at University of Nottingham. All these roles mean I travel a lot and have been lucky enough to work on environmental problems around the world from the Antarctic to Greenland and lots of places in between like East Africa, Australia, and South America.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Juggling these three roles involves extreme multitasking, which I am ideally suited to. All my roles involve working with others and the enthusiasm of all the researchers I work with is inspiring and keeps me going.

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

Research is all about teamwork with people of varying experience. Having a diverse range of collaborators brings different perspectives which solve problems quicker and in a very enjoyable way. Geoscience is not a “boys” subject; equal numbers of girls are now undertaking degrees and PhDs in geology, geoscience, environmental science and going on to fascinating and rewarding careers.

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

Geoscience is understanding the world around us; if you are inspired by the world or want to make it better, then go for it. The world is huge and amazing place and you can learn a lot more about it by studying the environment, geoscience or geology.


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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