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.


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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