Profile: Lucretia Ashford (Geotechnical Engineer, Kier Group).

photo-for-profile-l-ashford-2Name: Lucretia Ashford

Job Role: Geotechnical Engineer

Organisation: Kier Group

Education Background:


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

At secondary school I loved geography and science and was fascinated by how we as humans influence the landscape around us. When I started college and was considering my A-Level options a teacher suggested I try geology, it took one lesson and I was hooked. I had a fantastic A-level teacher who called himself “Doc Rock” who had worked in the oil industry and conducted research on large scale plate movement. His tales of adventures all over the world inspired me to follow a career in the Geosciences.

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

The path to my current job role has been ever evolving and taken me in directions I never thought I’d go with my career. I don’t regret a single one.

Whilst completing my masters degree I secured a place on a graduate scheme as an exploration geologist in Australia. I flew out the day after I graduated to work in the remote outback as part of a team drilling to find coal and mineral deposits. It was fantastic! I started off recording the type and age of rock, modelling the ground conditions and organising the drilling work. As my skills increased I moved into geotechnical logging, recording how the rock behaved as a material for mining and building purposes. I progressed to modelling the location and size of the coal and mineral resource deposits and assisted in organising the exploration and mining operations to collect the information required and excavate the material.

Working for a consultancy I was moved between projects depending on the client’s needs. I worked on one project as a database geologist, managing the Micromine database used to model the information we were collecting. This presented a lot of new challenges that my degree had not prepared me for. I found myself writing scripts to ensure the database interface made data entry as quick and painless as possible for the staff in remote locations. I was involved in trouble shooting and database queries as well as my basic roll which was data validation and interpreting the ground conditions.

I later changed jobs and worked for a government department within the Geological Survey of Queensland, Australia. This presented further challenges. I found I had to learn about a whole new system of laws, acts and regulations which I used to assist exploration companies in bidding for land licenses, carrying out the correct processes during exploration as well as creating estimates of coal, mineral, oil and gas resources still in the ground.

When I moved back to the UK I was looking for a new challenge and decided to pursue geotechnical engineering as I had really enjoyed the wide variety of work it offered in Australia and hoped the UK would prove equally as interesting. After a short time with a small contracting firm in Gloucester I was hired by Kier as a Geotechnical Engineer as part of their Highways Team in Devon and Cornwall.

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3. What does your current job role involve?

I currently work as a Geotechnical Engineer for Kier within the Highways team. I manage the geotechnical assets on behalf of Highways England within Devon and Cornwall (A38 and A30). Geotechnical assets include embankments and slopes at the sides of the roads and anything beneath the road surface. If a new road, bridge or drainage is built we are involved in the design process assuring the ground conditions won’t be a problem for the proposed building works.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the diverse work I carry out as a Geotechnical Engineer. No two days are the same. I can be out on the road network drilling boreholes, completing geophysical surveys and collecting data or in the office creating a model of the ground conditions and problem solving with the construction team. We get involved in environmental issues, preserving the plant diversity, surveying bats and dormice. It’s wonderful to feel that your work makes a real difference, keeping the roads in Devon and Cornwall maintained for the public, whilst ensuring the beautiful environment in this part of the country is preserved.

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

Working in Geosciences is one of the most exciting, interesting and rewarding careers a person can pursue. It provides opportunities all over the world, allows you to work in areas of science barely examined. You can work on varying projects with unique problems to be solved where you expertise matter and can develop skills you had no idea you could. Why should we let the boys have all the fun?

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 hold back! If you have a passion for something go out and do it, never let being a girl hold you back from anything. Working in the Geosciences can take you to so many places, whether than be a remote desert, an oil rig in the ocean, a research laboratory or a corporate office. Being a girl will make no difference in any of these places if you want to be there, want to keep learning and work hard. My advice is take the adventure, you never know where it might take you.


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Profile: Athena Livesey (Principal Engineering Geologist, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff)

athena-livesey-cropName: Athena Livesey

Job Role: Principal Engineering Geologist

Organisation: WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff

Education Background:


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

At 14, I developed an interest in Maths and loved physical Geography – volcanoes, earthquakes, rivers and mountains – and I enjoyed being outdoors. I would go on countryside walks to Church Stretton and the Malvern Hills and I would wonder how this landscape was created. Then I met Mr Smith my A-Level Geology teacher who used to be an Engineering Geologist. His stories were exciting and captured my imagination and he was incredibly inspiring. He also helped me to choose the right degree that incorporated all my passions and all the subjects I had studied!

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

Once I was accepted on my course at Portsmouth University, I volunteered to be on the Universities Geological Society Group and at the same time registered with The Geological Society of London as an undergraduate. The GEOSOC would organise evening meetings and I would go along to these to listen to speakers talk about their projects and about any innovations which helped keep me motivated through my studies because I knew I wanted to make a difference too.

During the holidays I would look for working scholarships through multi-disciplinary firms and also looked at different markets to get an appreciation of different sectors.

Finally, in the summer holidays before my final year of university I researched companies for graduate placements and prepared my CV accordingly. I applied for the jobs at the beginning of my final year and by Christmas I had several job offers ready to start in May the following year. So my advice to you is to be organised and do your research. That is your first experience of strategic planning!

3. What does your current job role involve?

I know it’s a cliché but no two days are ever the same! I work through all project phases and I go from the planning phase, concept design, site investigation, detail design, construction and carry out risk assessment on existing assets such as pipelines at the top of a quarry at risk from slope instability!

I generally work in near surface geology, i.e. within 100m below ground level, but I have also designed tunnels as deep as 350m. I have worked in a range of industries from power, infrastructure, deep basements, property and aviation, and with a range of experts in civil engineering, structural engineering, hydrology, hydrogeology, heritage, biodiversity, archaeology and the environment.

One day, I can be outside in either the countryside or a big city; wearing yellow safety gear and investigating the ground hazards e.g. mapping landslides or drilling boreholes to understand how the strength of the ground varies with depth. The purposes of these investigations are to verify my engineering design assumptions by making accurate and objective field measurements which I can test against my understanding of the ground conditions.

On other days I may be in the office, wearing a suit and leading a design team to find solutions to real-life problems. This role requires vision and leadership. Each project will also have a budget and part of my role is project management and understanding how we will deliver a cost effective safe solution within the agreed time. Project problems can be very varied: how do we strengthen ground which in its natural state oozes through your fingers? Is a bridge or embankment most appropriate to cross this river? How does climate change affect our design? Do we cut round the mountain or tunnel through the middle? If we tunnel, how can we reuse the material we just excavated? The challenges are endless and our role is to design and develop a solution to address them and then communicate the solution effectively so it can be built safely.

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4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the variety of the work, the constant challenges and the people I work with. My career has taken me to places I could only have imagined when I did my A-levels. I have now been working for ten years, and have travelled from the UK to Australia and across the Arabian Peninsula, creating a global network and contributing to a legacy of impressive projects that have helped millions of people. I have been significantly involved in eight highway schemes, two ports, one railway and five tunnels to date.

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

In my experience, I have found that, on site, women make up fewer than 1% of the permanent construction workforce and in consultancy offices there is between 10-20%. In construction, this may be because of the inherent risks and, historically, physical strength was necessary but also because public perceptions are of a traditionally male dominated industry, which has not appealed to women.

However, in today’s sophisticated and highly competitive industry, leaders need to embrace diversity of thought, attract people from widely differing backgrounds and cultures, who approach and solve the same problem from different perspectives. In my experience, this approach stimulates creativity, encourages new areas of improvement, increases efficiency and reduces group conformity.  Managers need to support and develop their female staff and value their perspective which will help tackle the skills shortage too!

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

My top tips for putting together a strong portfolio of evidence during your early career are to:

  • attend and participate in local STEM and Learned Society events (e.g. the Institute of Civil Engineers/The Geological Society/Engineering Group of The Geological Society). Talk to other attendees after the event and start to create a professional network.
  • participate in industry days and seek work experience opportunities/scholarships in large firms where you can move around departments and get a taste for different roles and subjects during half term and summer vacations.
  • listen and look for opportunities within your company and build a network. Participate in young professional networks.
  • identify different types of continuing professional development (CPD) as soon as you graduate and record the evidence and details after each experience. These will include writing papers/giving presentations/entering competitions. With all these objectives, I would approach someone more senior on how to plan, prepare and execute these tasks.
  • request a mentor at the start of your career. They can offer advice on how to tackle technical problems but also help find the right career choices for you. (You can have more than one, and there are mentors for different aspects of your career). My mentors opened doors and gave me the opportunity to prove myself.
  • Invest in your soft skills. Geoscience is not all about STEM subjects. We have to be good listeners to hear our clients and understand their issues, and we need to communicate effectively to explain problems and our suggested solutions on a daily basis. For this reason I strongly advise students to pay attention in English classes and read for pleasure!

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Profile: Rebecca Astbury (PhD Student, University of Perugia, Italy)

rebecca-astbury1Name: Rebecca Astbury

Job Role: PhD Student in Volcanology

Organisation: Petro-Volcanology Research Group (PVRG), University of Perugia, Italy

Education Background:

  • Master Geology and Physical Geography (2010-2015), University of Edinburgh

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

I’ve always had a keen interest in natural hazards, volcanoes specifically. In school, we learnt about the amount of people in recorded history who have lost their lives due to volcanic eruptions and their associated hazards, mainly due to the fact that it’s almost impossible to predict when an eruption will happen. I felt that there must be something I could do to change that, and my determination has grown since then.

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

I really enjoyed the research side of my Geoscience Undergraduate degree, but I also couldn’t imagine a career that didn’t involve the opportunity to go out into the field and see the geology first hand, so a PhD was the best of both worlds.

3. What does your current job role involve?

At the moment, my PhD involves using crystals found in volcanic eruption products such as lava and pumices to try to understand the processes that occur in a volcanic system. The crystals record the history of the system in their chemical composition, and we can use this geochemistry to interpret how eruptions are triggered, and the time over which this happens. This information can help volcanologists to forecast future volcanic eruptions.

Also, as the only “mother-tongue” English speaker in my department, I’m in charge of our Twitter feed, which keeps our followers up to date on all the latest developments within our research group.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the opportunity to learn new things every day, and I also have the flexibility to come up with my own ideas for new projects and collaborate with lots of other researchers.  I also get to travel to lots new places for fieldwork, conferences and analysis.

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

There does seem to be a much higher percentage of male researchers in Geosciences, however, some of the most inspiring and engaging researchers I’ve meet in my field are females, and we need to keep that up! There will always be more work to do in Volcanology and Geosciences as a whole, so let’s make the field as big and diverse as possible.

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 be afraid to pursue new ideas and know that your opinions matter. You may approach a problem in a completely different way to other people, but that doesn’t make you wrong, in fact, your way could be the solution that no one has considered before!


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Profile: Anita Di Chiara (Post Doctoral Researcher, Plymouth University)

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Name:
Anita Di Chiara

Job Role: Marie Curie Post Doctoral Fellow

Organisation: Plymouth University

Education Background:

  • BSc Geology, University of Palermo
  • Masters University of Rome
  • PhD University of Rome

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

First time I went out in the mountains with a geologist I was 18 and I recognized a fold and fault.I become so excited about it that I realized I wanted to understand more about the Earth system. At school age one of my teachers in Science advised me not to get into any science nor a geoscience career. It was going to be difficult to find a job, she said. Nonetheless, I found myself going in a geology fieldtrip and decided that I really enjoyed and wanted to engage in a scientific career.

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

I studied for three years of Geology in Palermo, my hometown in Italy, and then decided to move to Rome to complete my Masters degree, for which I worked on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (Italy). Then I did my PhD, studying active volcanoes in the Azores through the study of the ancient magnetic field recorded on sequences of volcanic rocks. Three years later, after completing my PhD, I started a two year post-doc in San Paolo (Brazil) to study the intensity of the magnetic field recorded on 1.2 billion of years old rocks from Amazonian Craton. Finally, last September I started my second post-doc here in Plymouth to study relict of oceanic crusts in Canada and Oman.

3. What does your current job role involve?

This has involved collecting rocks during fieldwork in Canada (last September) and Oman (last March) and I will again be heading back on fieldwork to Oman next year. The rocks collected are then analysed in a paleomagnetism laboratory at Plymouth University and then the data will be interpreted to understand the evolution of these two relicts of oceanic crust. The work will be summed up in scientific paper to present in international scientific conferences.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love going in the field to study the geology and collect rocks. I enjoy trying to understand and interpret the outcomes as well writing essays and scientific papers. I  also enjoy presenting at conferences and meeting colleagues from around the world to exchange ideas. I like to have dynamic life and have many different stages in the job to follow. I never get bored!

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

First of all, in my opinion, it is highly important to encourage everyone to follow what one actually, really likes, without being discouraged by the difficulties. Geoscience is generally considered as a career with limited opportunities for women and with a male-predominance. We need to encourage ourselves and give an example to the other girls, being a living testimony that girls can actually succeed in a geoscience career. We’ll need to increase the numbers of female scientists and ensure for us a friendly and comfortable environment

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, don’t be afraid to start a career in Geosciences, if you like an aspect or many aspects, if you are driven by curiosity and eagerness of travelling, and working in multicultural environment.

Anita also features in an interview about her career to date, filmed with Iain Stewart:


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Profile: Wendy Jones (IT Manager & Technical Support, Geotechnical Engineering Ltd.)

WENDY JONES.jpgName: Wendy Jones

Job Role: IT (Software) Manager and Technical Support

Organisation: Geotechnical Engineering Ltd.

Education Background: 

  • BSc (Hons) Geology with Physical Geography

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

I have always loved the Geosciences, and Geology in particular. I knew I wanted to study Geology but did not at the time imagine a career, even though I hoped for a related job.

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

Just before graduation, I saw an ad in the local paper. GEL were recruiting for soil laboratory technicians. I applied and started in the role of lab technician where I became proficient in soil and rock testing. I remained in the lab for four and a half years where I advanced to senior technician & team leader. I then moved to the engineering team to take up a dual role of engineering geologist and IT support. As well as carrying out logging, site supervision and report writing, I also took over the maintenance of the company’s software program, gINT which we use to process and present our field and lab data. 8 years later I returned to the lab as Supervisor for three years after which I took the role of IT (Software) Manager & Technical Support.

3. What does your current job role involve?

I now develop and maintain the two new software programs we recently acquired in order to streamline our fieldwork and laboratory data gathering and reporting. I am also responsible for some of the training of our engineers and technicians.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The fact that I am both learning all the time AND using the skills I gained training as both a technician and engineer makes this job so enjoyable. I think the diverse skills I have picked up whilst working at GEL have made me the best fit for the job. I also get to work with a lot of people with different like drillers and consultants.

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

There simply aren’t enough of us and we can make just as big a contribution and get just as far in this industry.

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. Don’t be afraid or put off by the fact that it has been seen as a male dominated industry. Not so anymore. It’s so rewarding, I love my job.

Wendy was also recipient of the Keynetix Geotechnical Data Management Award 2016 for Data Collection are Reporting.

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