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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Janine Krippner (PhD Student, University of Pittsburgh)

1Name: Janine Krippner

Job Role: Volcanology Ph.D. Candidate

Organisation: University of Pittsburgh

Education Background:

MSc in volcanology, and BSc in geology at the University of Waikato (New Zealand)


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

I always loved volcanoes! When I was 13 I realized it was actually something I could do for a career and many years later I am still on that path. I love being outside, travelling, and solving problems, and the environments around volcanoes are absolutely beautiful.

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

I realized at a very young age I would need a Ph.D., so after high school I went to university for my Bachelors and Masters degrees. Due to family reasons I moved to Australia for three years and worked as a geologist for Shell. There I got world-class training in geology, leadership, teamwork, and project management. That takes me to where I am now, in my final year of my Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh working on my dream subject – pyroclastic flows!

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3. What does your current job role involve?

My Ph.D. research involves using satellite data, and data collected in the field, to study pyroclastic flows on Shiveluch volcano (Kamchatka, Russia) and the Mount St. Helens (Washington,USA) 1980 deposits. I am looking at the different shapes and sizes of the deposits and relating them back to the type of eruption that formed them, and what we can learn about these deposits and eruptions from a safe distance. In my own time I also write about volcanic activity on twitter (@janinekrippner) and on a blog I write with another volcanologist which is fun, and also keeps me up to date with volcano activity around the world.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I think I am very lucky to study some of the most powerful phenomena on Earth. Seeing volcanoes through satellite images, and then going out into the field to collect samples and data is so much fun. Seeing deposits in the field makes the satellite images make so much more sense, it’s like solving a really big puzzle in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. This means travelling around the world and seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, and when I’m really lucky, watching volcanoes erupt (safely).

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

It is an amazing career that is so rewarding and fun. Not only is it exciting working on volcanoes themselves, but you get to travel the world to conferences to meet up with other volcanologists/geologists/emergency managers and learn from each other. The more diverse the group is, the more we can all learn from each others different perspectives and solve tougher challenges.

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

Follow your heart and go with what excites you the most and leaves you feeling inspired, this will get you further than anything else in life. Be open minded, be curious, ask a lot of questions, and be creative, you never know what skills will prove to be very useful in your future. Finally, reach out to people in areas you are interested in to learn more about what we do and the best ways (there are more than one!) for you to succeed in the path you wish to take.

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Aerona Moore (Tutor, Leeson House Field Studies Centre)

aerona-pic-4Name: Aerona Moore

Job Role: Tutor

Organisation: Leeson House Field Studies Centre

Education Background:

  • BSc (Honours) in Geoscience, University of St Andrews, UK, 2010
  • MSc (Research based) in Igneous Petrology, University of Victoria, BC, 2013.

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

Throughout high school I really had no idea what I wanted to do…. I took a crash course in geography in my final year to fill out my timetable a bit and I really got into the geological side of it. I chose to do Geoscience at St Andrews University, and it was after our first field trip to the North coast of Scotland that I really got hooked on it. It was the only subject that I got to actually learn outside the classroom for a large proportion of time, which I found so refreshing. The people and lecturers there made those four years some of the best I have had.. there is no half measures in geology, the people that get into it end up loving it!

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

After my undergraduate degree I wanted to move abroad. I ended up in Canada where I started my research Masters studying the magmatism beneath the East Pacific Rise mid ocean ridge. The combination of living right next to the mountains and rugged coastline of BC and studying geology in a new place was amazing!

Alongside my MSc I taught various undergraduate geology labs and field trips around Vancouver Island. I found I really loved inspiring people to become interested in geology. Once I completed my MSc, I spent nearly a year continuing to teach at the University in addition to working as a research assistant for my supervisor.

After spending so much time working inside at a desk, I began to crave working in the outdoors. I knew that unlike many geologists, I definitely didn’t want to work in the oil/mining/engineering industry. I made the move back to the UK and got a position as a tutor at Leeson House Field Studies Centre on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. This was a big change in many ways – switching from igneous rocks to sedimentary rocks and from teaching older students to primary and secondary aged students– but I have learnt lots through my job here.

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3. What does your current job role involve?

As a tutor at Leeson House I teach a range of curriculum based field work (geology, geography, and biology) from KS1 up to A2 level. I get to teach fieldwork skills in lots of incredible places along the Jurassic Coast, including beaches, Durdle Door, Kimmeridge Bay and Old Harry Rocks.  We also do a lot of teaching on site with younger children. This can involve studying what lives in our ponds, learning about how fossils are made and what makes a volcano explode! When I am not teaching I keep the teaching resources up-to-date by helping to design new fieldwork opportunities and updating our activities.

My job allows me to travel to different conferences where we keep up to date with new teaching methods (e.g. the Geographical Association and the Earth Science Teaching conference). I have also had the opportunity to volunteer at the Geopark conference in Torquay.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love being outside all the time! Even if I am feeling really tired, working outdoors instead of sitting behind a screen completely changes my mood for the better. I find my job extremely fulfilling, as I get a chance to inspire people to learn more about earth science – whether that’s through teaching in my job, or taking friends and family fossil hunting or up an active volcano!

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

You would be stupid not to think its essential to encourage girls into the Geosciences! It is such an important subject, as it underpins everything else we study and do on this planet. Diversity is what drives science, If we shut out half the population then we are limiting what science can achieve. Anyone with an interest in geoscience should follow it. I believe this starts with capturing peoples interest in science at a young age and allowing them to follow it.

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

The most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing. No woman should feel scared or intimidated to study or work in a subject they are interested in. In my experience, no one loves their subject more than a geologist! Don’t forget that what you enjoy doing can change –  you don’t always have to follow a standard ‘career path’. Don’t be afraid to explore new things and make sure you follow your interests, no matter what.


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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!

 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am GMT. 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: 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!


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am GMT. 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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