Profile: Natasha Stephen (Lecturer in Advanced Analytics, Plymouth University)

Natasha Stephen.jpg

Name: Natasha Stephen

Job Role: Lecturer in Advanced Analysis (Earth & Planetary Sciences)

Organisation: Plymouth University, UK

Education Background:

  • PhD Planetary Geology (Imperial College London & Natural History Museum)
  • MSci Geosciences (Royal Holloway, University of London)

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

From a very young age I can remember being on beaches with my family collecting rocks and fossils, or roaming around the Natural History and Science Museums in London obsessed with minerals, dinosaurs and space travel; I guess I just never grew out of it! I have always enjoyed being outdoors and wandering around the natural world so a subject that combined an interest in rocks and minerals with the great outdoors seemed perfect.

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

I had already decided at school that I wanted to be a Geologist so chose to study GCSE and A-Level subjects that would help me get into University to study Geology and chose to go for a MSci in Geosciences at Royal Holloway, University of London. I really enjoyed my degree and all the fieldwork it allowed me to do, including my Masters fieldwork in Iceland climbing volcanoes and collecting samples to take back to the lab and analyse. From that project, I wasn’t ready to give it up so decided that I wanted to do a PhD and try to make a career out of it all. I applied to various projects but fell for one in particular; the Geology of Mars. Not only did it combine my interests in geology and Space but it also allowed me to work behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum in London, where I had been going for 20+ years! I got to investigate volcanic areas on Mars using data from satellites and the Mars rovers, as well as meteorite samples from the Martian surface itself. After my PhD, I was fortunate enough to be employed by Plymouth University and 18 months later, here I am.

3. What does your current job role involve?

My present job role is highly varied as I am not only a lecturer in the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences but I also help manage a lab; the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre. We have four electron microscopes in the lab that allow a huge variety of users to image and analyse samples in various different ways. Some days I will be looking at rocks and fossils, others meteorites, sometimes biological samples such as fur or seaweed and even ice-cream or pasties on occasion! I, of course, help with teaching on our undergraduate programmes in geology and chemistry, and have students to supervise at the masters and PhD level. In addition to this I try to maintain my own research interests in planetary science, using meteorites as a ground-truth for spacecraft (satellite and rover) data, and getting involved with international teams to go meteorite-hunting in deserts or working on actual space missions.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the variety my position gives me; no two days are the same. Being involved in so many different aspects of academic (university) life can be a little chaotic at times but it’s difficult to get bored. It’s very rewarding to see students inspired with a certain area of science, particularly if you have helped to foster that inspiration through teaching or outreach. In terms of research, many of the meteorite samples I look at have never been studied in detail before. My students and I are sometimes the first people to explore these extra-terrestrial worlds, quite literally, and we don’t have to leave Plymouth to do it.

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

The geosciences have historically been a male-dominated field, though we are now seeing changes in this as a community. It’s important to encourage the girls as well as the boys to pursue a career within the varied environment that ‘geosciences’ encompasses to encourage diversity not only with respect to gender balance in the workplace but also in the variety of ideas and collaborations that this diversity can generate. Geoscience is a broad field; there are field-based geologists, lab based geologists, geophysicists, palaeontologists, geochemists, engineers, environmental surveyors… There is a wide range of career prospects for those that wish to find a career in geology and I know many women working in most of them. But before that, anyone that enjoys a subject should be encouraged to pursue that interest and geology is no exception.

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

Don’t let a fear of failing stop you from giving something a go! Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t; that is the scientific method. Not everything can be a complete success every time but we can learn from our experiences and mistakes, and build upon them. I think most scientists would say the same thing and most of us know we still have plenty to improve upon. If you are interested in a subject, whether that is within the geosciences or not, give it a try and see where it takes you; you never know where you might end up.

7.  Career highlight so far:

I guess the highlight of my career so far is the travel I get to do regularly to collaborate with other labs around the world. Working with a truly international team is essential in the field of planetary science and it brings its own challenges but massive rewards. I have been very fortunate in that I’ve travelled to Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Sydney, Canberra and Berlin to name just a few! I have recently been asked to get involved in a new mission proposal for the European Space Agency as well, and that wouldn’t be possible without international collaboration so it’s definitely a huge positive.


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am BST. If you’d like to be involved, upload your profile today using the ‘profile uploads’ page or email: lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk

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Profile: Emma Lowe (Operations Director, Geotechnical Engineering Ltd.)

Emma Lowe.JPGName: Emma Lowe

Job Role: Operations Director

Organisation: Geotechnical Engineering Limited

Education Background: 

  • BSc Environmental and Resource Geology, University of Manchester
  • MSc Environmental Sedimentology and Geomorphology at University of Reading
  • currently studying an MBA

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

I was fascinated by fossils and rocks I found on the beach as a child. To keep me quiet on the way home my dad bought me a book on geology and I was hooked.

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

I was late to the party in that I only gained my first graduate role when I was 25 after spending a few years working in licenced retail. After around two years as an Engineering Geologist I was given the opportunity to price, plan and manage my own projects and shortly after was appointed as Manager of the Rail Team. In 2010 I became the Senior Drilling Manager, before being made Director in 2014.

3. What does your current job role involve?

I now run all of the Operations Teams and the Drilling Support Teams for the company so my role involves coordinating all of the guys who are responsible for delivering the fieldwork, lab testing and report writing.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Not knowing when you wake up in the morning what the day will bring. The things I enjoy most are the achievements made by the team, happy Clients and all of the daily problem solving

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

Whilst being an Engineering Geologist is a physical job, it’s also incredibly diverse and rewarding. You get to visit so many places and meet new people almost every day whilst learning a valuable trade you can take worldwide.

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

You can do it! Start your career with a reputable ground investigation contractor to gain a sound knowledge of ground conditions and Geotechnical Engineering, then the world is your oyster.


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am BST. If you’d like to be involved, upload your profile today using the ‘profile uploads’ page or email: lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk

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Profile: Georgia Hole (PhD Student, University of Oxford)

Georgia Hole.JPGName: Georgia Melodie Hole

Job Role: PhD Student

Organisation: University of Oxford, UK

Education Background:

  • MSci in Geology & Geophysics, Imperial College London
  • NERC Research Experience Placement (REP) – National Oceanography Centre Southampton
  • Currently PhD student in Holocene Arctic Sea Ice Reconstruction at University of Oxford.

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

I was always fascinated by nature and how all these complex systems in the world around me worked. Geoscience was able to tell me so much more about the reasons for different rock types, how coastlines formed, why the sky is blue. It was like knowing the secrets of the world that most people couldn’t give me the answers to. I also love to be outdoors and what better way than to be sent there for your studies and work?

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

When I started my undergraduate degree, I had no real idea what I would end up focusing on as I didn’t know that much about the Geosciences industry. The modules and research placements about climate and palaeoclimatic interested me most, and so through summer research placements and my Master’s project I gained more experience of these areas, which helped when it came to applying for the NERC Doctoral Training Program at Oxford (PhD in Environmental Research).

3. What does your current job role involve?

My current PhD research has cemented my move away from being a rock geoscientist, as it focuses on the Arctic environment, and specifically the interaction of climate and sea ice extent throughout the Holocene. I am using driftwood as a proxy for sea ice by tracking its age and path across the Arctic Ocean while caught up in the ice, therefore enabling the concurrent ice sheet dynamics to be reconstructed. With sufficient data, a pan-Arctic sea-ice reconstruction of high temporal and spatial resolution can be achieved. So far I have helped to develop the methodology for this quite novel project, travelled to Svalbard for sample collection, and attended courses around Europe including the Alps and Iceland. I also regularly work in 4 different departments for various lab analyses which makes the work nicely varied.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The best part has to be the fieldwork to the Arctic. Ever since I was a child I had a fascination with all things polar, from the northern lights and Arctic wildlife, to the great explorers of Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton. So whenever I get to go to such spectacular places for my own work, I feel very lucky.

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

I think it’s incredibly important because it’s a highly dynamic and skilled industry where you can really get what you put it, end up in exciting places and doing exciting and relevant work. I also think the barriers that still exist for many women entering more technical job roles need to continue to be broken down.

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

I would say that if you’re already considering it, then that’s great, and you shouldn’t let anything hold you back from pursuing what you want to do. Geoscience is an area full of stimulating careers and dynamic people to work with, and so as long as you have the curiosity and dedication to work hard and find the right career path, then you could well have some exciting times ahead of you.


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am BST. If you’d like to be involved, upload your profile today using the ‘profile uploads’ page or email: lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk

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Profile: Dr Laura Guertin (Lecturer in Earth Sciences, Penn State Brandywine, USA).

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Name: Laura Guertin

Job Role: Professor of Earth Science

Organisation: Penn State Brandywine, Pennsylvania, USA

Education Background:

  • BA in geology from Bucknell University (PA),
  • PhD in marine geology & geophysics from University of Miami – Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (FL)

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

Believe it or not, science was my least favourite subject growing up. I didn’t enjoy learning science and didn’t see a purpose for learning it. But then, I had an excellent chemistry teacher in high school that not only made learning science fun but showed me why science matters. It wasn’t until I took my first geology course in college that I knew that geology was going to be my science major (exciting classes, field trips, and fun!). Since my family had always vacationed at the beach every summer when I was a kid, I wasn’t surprised that while learning about the Earth more and more, my interest in the oceans grew stronger. Once I finished my degree in geology, I knew I wanted to learn more about the oceans, so I went to graduate school for my degree in Marine Geology. Who would have thought those summers at the beach would influence my eventual career choice!

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

Being a faculty member and teaching at the college level was never a career I had envisioned for myself. I was always afraid of getting up and speaking in front of people! In graduate school, my program did an excellent job of training students for careers in the industry. I was a teaching assistant (TA) for four years in graduate school and assisted with the undergraduate geology courses. Through the TA, I learned that I actually liked teaching (I surprised myself!). When I graduated, I purposely applied for temporary teaching positions so I could get some experience to see if this was really the direction I wanted to head, instead of industry. I was fortunate to get a job teaching for two years in Virginia, then was in Colorado for a year, and finally landed my current position at Penn State Brandywine in Pennsylvania. I’ve never second-guessed or regretted my decision to become an educator.

3. What does your current job role involve?

As a faculty member at a university, my job involves three categories of duties – teaching, research, and service. I must teach classes each semester, involving lecture and laboratory exercises indoors and in the field (I teach primarily introductory-level Earth science courses for non-science majors). I must have an active research program that requires me to produce original research results that I present at conferences and publish in peer-reviewed journals. I must do service as a member or officer at my campus, at the university level, and at the local/state/national level. This service can include serving as an elected officer, organizing conference sessions, giving science talks in the community, doing outreach by visiting classrooms of younger students, etc.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are so many parts of my job I really enjoy – collaborating with other professionals in the geosciences and outside the discipline, participating in field programs and learning geology while in the field, helping non-scientists young and old understand why knowing geology is important, and teaching university students. Seeing that “light bulb” turn on above the heads of my students after I explain a new topic and see their excitement while they are learning is so rewarding to me. Recently, I was able to go out to sea on a hydrographic survey in the North Atlantic Ocean with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The three weeks I was on the ship happened to overlap with the timing of my semester, so I taught online. How many people get the opportunity to teach about the ocean, from the ocean??? It was one of the best teaching experiences of my life. And knowing that I’ll have more incredible opportunities like this in the future keeps me excited to teach, do research, and serve my students and the community by communicating what I do what why it is important.

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

All disciplines need to be as inclusive as possible. Currently, the geosciences have a large population of white males, so the diversity is incredibly low when it comes to gender, ethnicity, physical mobility and visual ability, etc. The more diverse we are, the stronger of a community the geosciences will be (and I firmly believe better researchers, better collaborators, better communicators, and more). There are reports that the ratio of male/female graduates from undergraduate geology programs in the United States is close to 50/50 – so why doesn’t this ratio continue when you look at the numbers for the career professionals? There is much work that needs to be done to not only have girls graduate as geoscience majors but to have girls stay in the geosciences. I hope that by sharing my story in this blog post, I can inspire a student to be a geologist and help us grow the number of females in the profession.

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

Believe in yourself, and follow your passion. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t be a geologist because you are a female (or that you are too short, or not strong enough, etc.). Realize that there are so many options available – work in the lab, go in the field, teach in the classroom, write for a magazine, produce a video, etc. If you find geology fun, then you are in the right discipline!

Make sure you also check out Laura’s great article about her project #365selfies!


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am BST. If you’d like to be involved, upload your profile today using the ‘profile uploads’ page or email: lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk

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#365scienceselfies Project – Meet the female geologists!

by Dr Laura Guertin, Professor of Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine (Pennsylvania, USA).

Instagram is a social media platform popular among teenagers and growing in its user base all the time. But the fun of posting photos, specifically selfies, is not just for young adults! Meet the female geologists that are a part of the #365scienceselfies project.

For the 2016 calendar year, women scientists have been participating in #365scienceselfies, where photos are documenting the life of a scientist – the complete life. Each day, women are taking photos in the classroom, in the research laboratory, in the field, and other locations where scientists are engaging with their professional duties. But these women are also documenting their personal lives – going hiking, doing Zumba, shopping for clothes, seeing the doctor, spending time with family, and so much more. The collection of selfies is showing the ups and downs of balancing the professional and personal responsibilities of being a scientist – and overall, showing that scientists are humans!

I encourage everyone to search Instagram (and some posts are appearing in Twitter) for the hashtag #365scienceselfies. Paleoecologist Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (https://www.instagram.com/glacialdrift/) and hydrologist Dr. Anne Jefferson (https://www.instagram.com/highlyanne/) are regular project participants. I have been posting my selfies on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/drlauraguertin/) and compiling the posts on a website (http://sites.psu.edu/365scienceselfies/). If you really want to learn what the day-to-day life is of a Geoscientist, then explore this collection of selfies and the supporting descriptions.


You can also check out our profile for Dr. Laura Guertin here!

Want to feature your project or write about something oyour passionate about? Contact lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk to find out how you can feature on our blog!