Profile: Brighid Ó Dochartaigh (Senior Hydrogeologist, British Geological Survey)

Brighid1Name: Brighid Ó Dochartaigh

Job Role: Senior Hydrogeologist  

Organisation: British Geological Survey (BGS)

Education Background: 


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

I’ve been interested in the natural world for as long as I can remember – I’ve always loved being outside. My favourite subject at secondary school was geography – a subject that tries to understand the natural world. I moved into geology to deepen this interest – literally, by looking down into the rocks below our feet! While studying geology at university I became especially interested in water resources, because water is essential – everyone, everywhere, always has and always will need water, every single day. So becoming a hydrogeologist – someone who studies water in rocks, or groundwater – was a natural step. It combined my interest and skills in geology and the natural world, and my wish to do something practical in my work.

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

I have quite a common educational background for a hydrogeologist – a BSc in Geology (mine was jointly with Physical Geography) and an MSc in Hydrogeology. I was lucky enough to apply for and get a job at BGS straight from my MSc, which has shaped my career. I didn’t originally plan to stay at BGS for so long, but my role here has been so varied that it’s allowed me to get experience on a whole range of interesting and rewarding projects. I’m a ‘generalist’ in terms of hydrogeology – I haven’t specialised in any one thing, but have a wide variety of hydrogeological skills and experience.

3. What does your current job role involve?

I use my hydrogeological expertise in a wide range of projects, most of which have an ‘applied research’ focus – investigating groundwater with the aim of improving water resource sustainability and environmental management, both now and in the future, given our rapidly changing world. I work in teams which usually have specialists from different fields, from groundwater modellers and other geologists to social scientists, irrigation specialists or engineers – from inside and outside BGS. Most of my work is in Scotland and countries in Africa and Asia. The projects I’m working on at the moment include: groundwater’s role in flooding and natural flood management in upland Scotland; improving access to hydrogeological information across Africa; the role groundwater plays in the hydrology of a glacial catchment in Iceland, and intensely irrigated catchment in north India – and how this might evolve as climate changes; how best to understand and manage groundwater in urban areas; and the natural chemistry of groundwater in Scotland’s aquifers. Some of my projects involve fieldwork to collect new data – often groundwater chemistry sampling, or installing and maintaining groundwater level monitoring equipment; and all of them involve managing, analysing and interpreting groundwater data and information.

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4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like the practical nature of my work – I love to have the feeling that I’m helping to make people’s lives and the environment better, even in a small way. I also love the variety – that one day I can be writing a report on the potential for a new water abstraction borehole at an industrial site near Glasgow; the next I’m discussing groundwater level, river flow and soil moisture data from an upland observatory with colleagues to try and understand floodplain hydrology; and the day after I’m preparing chemistry sampling kit to take to India to study groundwater and irrigation.

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

There are fantastic careers in Geosciences – interesting, rewarding, fun. I’d love to see everyone who has a passion for geoscience be able to develop this kind of career. And geosciences always need great talent to keep addressing the challenges we face – we need to encourage all the best people to get involved!

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

Find out as much as you can about the wide variety of issues and potential jobs in the geosciences. If you can, talk to working geoscientists and to university course organisers/lecturers. There are so many different areas of geoscience and many routes into jobs and career paths. The best one for you might not be the most obvious.


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Profile: Kate Waghorn (PhD Student, University of Tromsø, Norway)

Kate Waghorn 2.jpgName: Kate Waghorn

Job Role: PhD in geology and geophysics

Organisation: University of Tromsø, Norway

Education Background: 

  • BSc Physics/Geology – University of Auckland
  • MSc Geophysics – University of Auckland

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

I am really passionate about being in nature and understanding the world around me, so geosciences was the obvious choice.

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

When I finished high school I had no clue what I wanted to do later in life, just that I should go to university while I figured it out. I enrolled in a mathematics and physics programme, and also took a few geography and geology courses. By the end of the first year I realized I was much more interested in more geology so ended up pursuing geology and geophysics as a career path.

3. What does your current job role involve?

I research how earthquakes and tectonics influence fluid flowing underground. My current study area is off the coast of Svalbard, in the Arctic, so naturally all my field work happens aboard a research ship.

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4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Getting to spend time in the Arctic every year is pretty amazing as it’s not a place all that many people can say they have gone. I also really enjoy the travel component – getting to travel around the world and check out the cool geology. I also really enjoy telling my friends about the rocks they are standing on.

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

A balanced work place is so important to any field, in my opinion. Geosciences is such an adventurous area to work in, and it adds such a different perspective to all issues surrounding geosciences when girls are getting as involved in the subject as the males.

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

If you love exploring the world and nature around you, and have a passion for adventure, geoscience is a fantastic way to combine this into a job. People working in geoscience have a fantastic opportunity to work in and with nature and we have the opportunity to leave the world in a better state than we found it.


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Profile: Jess Hillman (Postdoctoral Researcher, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research)

jh_photoName: Jess Hillman

Job Role: Postdoctoral Researcher

Organisation: GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research 

Education Background:


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

I spent most of my childhood in East Africa, and had the opportunity to visit and explore some truly amazing areas with incredibly diverse landscapes and environments. This allowed me to develop an interest in geography, which stemmed from wanting to understand how all these different landscapes had been formed and what processes had shaped them. I didn’t have the opportunity to take geology or geoscience at high school, so I went to university with the intention of studying geography. I took geoscience as a second subject and by the end of my first semester I had switched to a BSc in geoscience.

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

I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a BSc (Hons) in Geoscience. Whilst I was an undergrad I had the chance to do a couple of internships, one of which was for Petroleum Development Oman, this gave me a chance to work with large seismic datasets for the first time, and I decided I wanted to pursue a career that focused on geophysics. As a result, I went on to do a PhD in marine geophysics at the University of Otago in New Zealand. My doctoral research focused on using geophysical data to investigate seafloor geomorphology, specifically looking at features related to potential release of methane at the seafloor. During my PhD I was able to participate in several research cruises around New Zealand, and also to travel to numerous international conferences and establish collaborations with several different research institutes around the world.

After finishing my PhD I worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the USA for a year at the Ohio State University, where I worked on data from the Gulf of Mexico. After working in New Zealand, where geophysical data can be rather sparse, it was a huge contrast to work in the gulf, where pretty much every inch has been surveyed at least twice!

3. What does your current job role involve?

I am currently working at GEOMAR, which is a large marine research facility in Kiel, Germany. My work focuses on a project that is investigating gas hydrates in the northern Black Sea. I use seismic data to investigate submarine sediments in the Danube Delta, looking at the role that gas hydrates play in fluid flux through the sediments and potential hazards in the form of submarine slope failures. This requires a lot of data analysis, mapping geological units and structures across a large area.

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4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy working in diverse environments and trying to understand how the different processes that are active in different areas have shaped the geological landscape we see today. Gas hydrates are a comparatively new research area in geology so we’re still trying to know exactly how they behave and how they form. A lot of my research has also involved areas where submarine canyons are found, these are features that we still don’t understand that well and they are very dynamic, so we are constantly learning new things. I still find it amazing how little we know about the seafloor and what lies underneath it!

I also love that I have been able to travel a lot with my work; I’ve done fieldwork in Spain, Oman, Italy, Switzerland, Greenland, New Zealand and Japan, and had the chance to travel to conferences in numerous other places. Going out to sea on research cruises to collect new data is really exciting, and it makes up for all the hours you spend sitting at a computer analysing the data afterwards!

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

Encouraging everyone, especially girls, to take an interest in the world around them is more important now than ever. The world is facing new challenges, and learning how geological processes acted in the past is a vital part of understanding what might happen in the future.

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 intimidated, talk to people who work in an area / job that you think looks interesting, make connections and don’t be afraid to change your career path or your area of research if the right opportunity comes up. It is always good to try new things and there are so many exciting aspects of geoscience that you could work in! Imposter syndrome is more common than you think, and you should never be afraid to ask someone for help or advice.


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Profile: Concetta Rispoli (PhD student,University Federico II, Naples)

icelandName: Concetta (Tina) Rispoli

Job Role: PhD Student (Applied Mineralogy)

Organisation: University Federico II, Naples (Italy)

Education Background:

  • Undergraduate degree in geology and applied geology
  • Master’s degree in innovative diagnostic methodologies for the safeguard, use and conservation of cultural heritage

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

My career in the geosciences is born from love for the land where I live – Italy. Land of volcanoes and wonderful landscapes. I come from the province of Naples in Campania (South Italy) and every morning since I was a little girl, the first thing I see when I open the balcony of my room is Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in continental Europe,  the most studied in the world, and one of the most dangerous because of the population in the surrounding area. I had no chance about the subject to love at school.

2. What does your current job role involve?

Currently I am a PhD student in applied mineralogy. The three-year course will end in February when I shall get a PhD degree. My research project concerns the study of ancient Roman mortars in order to improve the mix design, the provenance of raw materials and secondary minerogenetic processes. Furthermore, this project research could offer important information about how to do restoration work.

I would love it could remain in the context university research, but how we use say in Italy: “Time will tell”.

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3. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Almost all!!!

I got into geology because I love being outside, so fieldwork in the beautiful parts of the world is always fantastic. With geology, I have had the chance to do fieldwork in Iceland, Sardinia and  in amazing archaeological sites such as Pompeii. Just spending a day touching and trying to understand the secrets about how are made structure erected about 2000 years ago is absolute bliss.

I also love conferences – the idea of people gathering from all over the world to talk about geology really appeals to me.

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

Because unfortunately there are still too many stereotypes which do not permit the female growth in a series of geology sectors.

The fierce competition that you meet along the road of career, requires aggressiveness considered more typically masculine, and also the rationality of scientific activity might seem incompatible with the image of women oriented more towards the emotional aspects that favor the subjectivity.

We “geology ladies” have to demonstrate that our determination, attention to the detail and spirit of sacrifice are some real strengths that can allow us to challenge for the top jobs.

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

Be flexible! Jump at the chance to do something interesting, even if it is difficult or a bit uncomfortable. The more you are willing to do something you know little about it, going to a new place, or learning a language you have never spoken before, the more future opportunities you will get.


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Profile: Kathryn Cunningham (Environmental Geophysicist , TigerGeo Ltd.)

kc-in-actionName: Kathryn Cunningham

Job Role: Environmental Geophysicist

Organisation: TigerGeo Ltd

Education Background: BSc (Hons) Applied Geology, Plymouth University


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

My interest in Earth Sciences emerged while working as Nature Guide in South Africa in the Kruger National Park. From there I decided to develop a career in the Earth and Environment by applying to University. I began my University career with the BSc Extended Science single year course which allows progression to a science degree at Plymouth University. This course included a module in geosciences and  this was the spark that led me to undertaking a degree in Applied Geology.

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

My current job role arose from a search for companies with geological interests within a commutable area from where I’m based. I came across TigerGeo Ltd (then known as Archaeophysica) and wrote a letter detailing my experience with the hope of them offering work experience. A permanent role came from a month of work experience with them. It’s important to mention that this first month was probably the steepest learning curve of my life. I hadn’t previously considered working within geophysics, and all of the experience I had was working with scales in the hundreds of metres, whereas this role usually involved only the top four metres of the subsurface! It has inspired however to continue with a career in geophysics.

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3. What does your current job role involve?

My current job role primarily involves conducting geophysical surveys around the country with various methods. Our usual routine involves collecting data, generation maps and producing reports for clients, usually with the view to locating areas containing archaeology. A few times a year we also get involved with research projects that comprise a range of disciplines (including archaeology and geology).

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

The two aspects I enjoy most about my job are the variability from week to week, and the opportunities for using new and innovative methods with research projects, for example using data from laser-scanning for topographic correction of resistivity data.

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

My experiences while studying for this course included some people outside of the geological community casting doubts as to the usefulness of a degree in geosciences. There was a definite attitude that there was very little with regards to job prospects. I think it’s important to encourage more girls into geoscience if only to highlight the range of opportunities available to them.

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

Earth Sciences incorporates such a range of subjects and specialisms that may not have previously been of interest to you, or you may not have come across before, therefore  my one piece of advice would be to keep an open mind. Some people can enter a degree or career in Earth Sciences with a clear objective of what they want to achieve, and while that’s commendable I also think it’s important to remain open to different opportunities.


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