Profile: Rachel Holley (Senior InSAR Scientist, NPA Satellite Mapping)

Rachel Holley.png

Name: Rachel Holley

Job Role: Senior InSAR Scientist

Organisation: NPA Satellite Mapping, CGG (@CGGNPA)

Education Background:

  • MESci, Earth Sciences, Oxford University
  • PhD, Environmental Systems Science, Reading University

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

I’ve always been a scientist at heart – one of my first words was “Why?”. But I really caught the geology bug in my teens, on a family holiday to the Rockies and the Cascades. It transformed my view of geology from being ‘just a lump of rock’ to an appreciation of the huge scales involved, the enormous forces and timespans, and understanding the billions of years of history within each of those lumps. I love solving problems – figuring out how things work, and the stories behind everything.

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

I was lucky enough to be able to study A-Level geology, and also took maths, physics and chemistry. I did a four-year degree in Earth Sciences, and loved the geophysics and remote sensing courses. I picked a masters project using satellite radar data (known as InSAR) to measure fault movement. I then did a PhD, using InSAR to study Mount Etna. When it came to deciding what next, I considered staying in academia, but eventually decided I’d rather work in commercial research and development, and was offered a job with NPA Satellite Mapping, part of geoscience company CGG.

3. What does your current job role involve?

My team use InSAR to measure ground deformation and subsidence for lots of different applications. Our projects have lots of variety – over the course of a typical month I can find myself working on sinkholes in Texas, oil fields in central Asia, tunnelling in London and mud volcanoes in Indonesia. A lot of my work is computer-based; I take the raw data from the satellite and process it to make measurements, and then write code to analyse and interpret the results. I also travel to conferences and present our results, and meet with clients across the world.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I still love finding things out, and solving problems. It’s a great feeling getting an interesting result out of the processing, and knowing I’m the first person in the world to see that. And I then have to work out why I’m seeing those measurements – comparing my results to other evidence from GPS, geophysics, geological maps, and even weather data, and putting together the pieces of the puzzle to explain what I’m seeing.

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

Because it’s awesome, and there’s no reason why we should have to miss out on the fun! But seriously – there’s so much to explore, and so many unsolved problems left to work on. It’s also very practical and analytical, and encourages you to think about where your bit of science fits into the wider picture. Those skills are really sought after by employers across a huge range of professions, even if you eventually decide you don’t want a career in geoscience. Geoscience is intertwined with so many aspects of life and society, and is the key to understanding the world we live in and the future challenges we’re going to face.

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

There’s a niche for everyone. With so many different methods and applications and environments and industries, there’s a huge variety of different paths you can take. It doesn’t matter whether travelling the world or the great outdoors is your thing, or you’d prefer an office and some computer code; whether you work best independently or in a team; whether you’re very practical, or more creative. Be curious, and explore, and you’ll find something that fits.

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