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women in geology

Conversations on being a woman in Geoscience

Conversations on being a woman in Geoscience

While at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna, Keri McNamara, one of the EGU’s press assistants, spoke to a number of female geoscientists (at different career stages), to get their perspective on what being a female in geosciences is like.

At this year’s EGU General Assembly I decided to construct a blog out of conversations I had with several women in geoscience, to learn about their research and experiences. While I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by many amazing female scientists, I know that this isn’t always the case for others who have felt undervalued or overlooked.

This year at the EGU’s General Assembly year there have been great sessions on addressing gender inequality in the geosciences. Many celebrated the gains made in a generation in terms of female participation in science. Others painted a concerning picture of male dominance especially at the higher levels.

In the EGU for instance, all of the medal awards are named after male geoscientists and only 22% of them were awarded to women in 2017. There is a gender imbalance at all levels in the EGU membership statistics but the early career scientists have the most female input with an encouraging 35% of the share.

In the charming age of ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ it is more important than ever to ensure that women from all backgrounds feel they can be amazing scientists. It’s about fighting the male smirk when you say you’re learning python, refusing to feel embarrassed squatting behind a bush while on a field trip or demanding not to be pressured to turn down that post-doc because you want to have a kid.

Below you’ll find the interviews with several women in geosciences, from PhD students to CEOs. I hope they are a source of information and inspiration for other female geoscientists. As Dr Véronique Garçon of  Future Earth (an international research platform for the advancement of Global Sustainability Science) said in her EGU talk on promoting equality:

Never give up!


Chris McEntee:  CEO and Executive director of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

AGU is a 60,000-person earth and space science membership organisation with 40% of its members from 136 countries outside the United States. She has been the first woman CEO of three different membership organisations including AGU.

If you want to take on a leadership position get training to be an effective leader, says Chris McEntee. (Credit: EGU/Kerri McNamara).

What are your experiences of being a woman in a leadership position?

I think things have improved over time. It’s much better in the US than other countries.  At the same time I still think there’s a lot of problems. AGU has delved into sexual harassment, bias and discrimination and the stories are pretty alarming. There’s some unique things in geosciences because of field and ship experiences that can make women more vulnerable in certain situations.

What are you doing to address this?

In the past couple of years AGU has been trying to increase awareness through town halls and our sessions at our general meeting. Last year we received some funding from the National Science Foundation to bring together leaders in science societies and expert individuals on the treatment of women. Out of that has come a new AGU initiative on ethics and harassment. It will have tools, resources, bystander training, and workshops.

We want to continue the research too. The data is pretty compelling – a very substantial number of women have experienced sexual harassment in some way. We’ve also learned that meeting the legal standard for harassment and discrimination is difficult- it’s a very high bar. So there is a lot that occurs that might not meet the legal definition. We really have to stop it at the beginning by changing this culture.

We also need to provide a space so that if a woman is feeling something is inappropriate, but it’s not too serious, they have somewhere they can talk about it. Last year at the AGU Fall Meeting we had a ‘safe AGU’ campaign where staff and volunteers had buttons and said ‘if you feel unsafe, come to one of us and we can help you’. We are updating our code of ethics for our members to include harassment and discrimination as behaviors that are inappropriate.

What would you say to young women in science who hope to take leadership positions?

Get training to be effective leaders. It can be hard to find the time to add this type of training as the work of science is so demanding. Also find peer support groups and mentors who share your experience and can provide advice, counsel and support.

There are some great options available such as the Association for Women Geoscientists and the Earth Science Women’s Network. You are not alone and there are people who want to help. If you feel something’s not right, don’t think it’s you. Find someone that can help you think it through- there are a lot of men who are also supportive!


Dr Claudia Alves de Jesus-Rydin: Research Programme Officer at the European Research Council (ERC).

Claudia is also the coordinator of the gender activity group in the scientific department at ERC and an active member of the working group on gender balance in the scientific council of the ERC.

Claudia Alves de Jesus-Rydin feels women can find self-promotion harder. (Credit: EGU/Keri McNamara)

What are your experiences of being a woman in Geoscience?

I have to refer to the data that I observe at the ERC. We see that there is a change from the starting grant through to the advanced grant. What is really amazing is that systemically, in the Earth Systems Sciences, female applicants have higher success rates than male applicants at the starting grant and consolidated grant level: The female applicants are pretty competitive. The biggest issue I observe is the submission rate.

Of course there is the risk that once you increase the submission rate, maybe there will be a drop of the success rate.  The community is filtering themselves before they submit, perhaps they only submit if they are very strong? At the moment the key thing is encouraging more women to apply.

Why aren’t more women applying?

Often the problem is that women find the prospect of rejection harder.

There is this joke: ‘there is this guy in a bar and he walks up to a woman and he tries to buy her a drink. Eventually she gets really fed up and she says “Look, you have a one in a million chance with me” and the man replies “Yes! I knew I had a chance!”. If a woman got a reply like that they would just grab their things and move but a guy thinks ‘yes I have a chance’.

Also, self-promotion can be harder for women; the profile of car salesman is a very male one. I’ve heard woman say ‘ I don’t want to write a proposal saying how good I am.’ We really need women to push harder.

What about early career scientists?

I think early career scientists are doing well, but later on in their careers there is always the issue of the family. I think that’s when most support is needed; from colleagues, institutions, supervisors and partners at home.

I think role models are a great way to address this; to show it is possible. You don’t have to sacrifice your personal life, you can still have a good balance being a good Mom, a good woman and a good scientist; a scientist that has achieved really great things.


Credit: EGU/Keri McNamara

Helena Łoś: PhD student at Warsaw University, Poland.

Can you tell us about your research?

My background is Geodesy and I specialise in photogrammetry and remote sensing. I work with satellite SAR (synthetic aperture radar) data. I compare data with different parameters to check how the values influence the possibility of the detection of river ice.

What about your experiences as a woman in Geosciences?

I don’t find there’s a big difference in terms of gender in geosciences. I think it’s most difficult in the future; often a post-doc is short-term, perhaps 3 years. If you want to have a family you might want to have a year off for maternity leave and that could become problematic.


Dr Nolwenn Le Gall: a post-doc at the University of Manchester.

Nolwenn completed a PhD at Université d’Orléans, CNRS, France

Credit: EGU/Keri McNamara

What is your research area?

I am an experimental volcanologist working on the degassing of basaltic melts. I’m trying to reproduce natural processes. My PhD was on bubble nucleation. Now I work on the same things but looking at crystallisation instead. It’s still basaltic melts and the conduit so similar experiments. But now I will have to do some experiments in-situ too.

It’s really nice that my post-doc is three years, I don’t have to apply for new position. I have some technique development that will take time so it’s useful to have a longer post-doc.

How do you feel as a woman in geosciences?

I feel fine. I don’t really see differences. You see more problems higher up- there are more men. But that was before and I think now, during conferences we see that there are a lot of women giving talks and posters. It seems to be almost a 50:50 gender balance. I’ve never had any problems with men treating me differently because of my gender.

What advice would you give to other women who want to become geoscientists?

Do what you like. Just enjoy it- if you enjoy your work, that’s always better.


Dr. Grace Shephard: researcher at the University of Oslo.

She completed her PhD at the University of Sydney and is now well into her second post-doc. She is also received the Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Young Scientists at EGU in 2016.

“If, professionally, something positive happens to you I think you should try to bring up the other women you work with,” says Grace Shephard. (Credit: EGU/Kai Boggild)

What are you research interests?

I have a few different avenues of research. I’m primarily working with plate tectonics in the Arctic region so I research how the Arctic Ocean opened and how the surrounding continents and oceanic plates have shifted about. To investigate how and when an ocean subducted deep into the mantle, I try to integrate lots of different datasets, including on global scales. I completed a three year post-doc at the University of Oslo and then I was lucky enough to get my own funding to continue.

What are your experiences of being a woman in geosciences?

I’ve been following with interest the recent article in Nature about molehills building up against women in geoscientists specifically. I can only speak from my own experience- but I’ve never found it a big issue. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had very supportive supervisors and environment to work in. I have experienced isolated throw-away comments at conferences but I don’t let it define the geosciences and my experiences, so I just move on.

What would you recommend to young geoscientists?

Identify researchers you are interested in, and will enjoy working with, and don’t be shy to approach them with an idea and see how it goes. I think you have to be quite proactive and that’s something that you have to go through with the transition of when you become your own independent researcher.

Also, you should support people- it goes both ways. If, professionally, something positive happens to you I think you should try to bring up the other women you work with. I guess in the context of EGU- I was very fortunate to receive an award last year. I was nominated by two senior female researchers so I feel the need to give back to the community even more so.

 

Interviews by Keri McNamara, a volcanology PhD student at the University of Bristol who worked at the EGU meeting as a press assistant.

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author and those who participated in the interviews, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

Who do you think most deserves the title of the Mother of Geology?

Who do you think most deserves the title of the Mother of Geology?

Much ink is spilled hailing the work of the early fathers of geology – and rightly so! James Hutton is the mind behind the theory of uniformitarianism, which underpins almost every aspect of geology and argues that processes operating at present operated in the same manner over geological time, while Sir Charles Lyell furthered the idea of geological time. William Smith, the coal miner and canal builder, who produced the first geological map certainly makes the cut as a key figure in the history of geological sciences, as does Alfred Wegener, whose initially contested theory of continental drift forms the basis of how we understand the Earth today.

Equally deserving of attention, but often overlooked, are the women who have made ground-breaking advances to the understanding of the Earth. But who the title of Mother of Geology should go to is up for debate, and we want your help to settle it!

In the style of our network blogger, Matt Herod, we’ve prepared a poll for you to cast your votes! We’ve picked five leading ladies of the geoscience to feature here, but they should only serve as inspiration. There are many others who have contributed significantly to advancing the study of the planet, so please add their names and why you think they are deserving of the title of Mother of Geology, in the comment section below.

We found it particularly hard to find more about women in geology in non-English speaking country, so if you know of women in France, Germany, Spain, etc. who made important contributions to the field, please let us know!

Mary Anning (1799–1847)

Credited to 'Mr. Grey' in Crispin Tickell's book 'Mary Anning of Lyme Regis' (1996).

Mary Anning. Credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996).

Hailing from the coastal town of Lyme Regis in the UK, Mary was born to Richard Anning, a carpenter with an interest in fossil collecting. On the family’s doorstep were the fossil-rich cliffs of the Jurassic coast. The chalky rocks provided a life-line to Mary, her brother and mother, when her father died eleven years after Mary was born. Upon his death, Richard left the family with significant debt, so Mary and her brother turned to fossil-collecting and selling to make a living.

Mary had a keen eye for anatomy and was an expert fossil collector. She and her brother are responsible for the discovery of the first Ichthyosaurs specimen, as well as the first plesiosaur.

When Mary started making her fossil discoveries in the early 1800s, geology was a burgeoning science. Her discoveries contributed to a better understanding of the evolution of life and palaeontology.

Mary’s influence is even more noteworthy given that she was living at a time when science was very much a man’s profession. Although the fossils Mary discovered where exhibited and discussed at the Geological Society of London, she wasn’t allowed to become a member of the recently formed union and she wasn’t always given full credit for her scientific discoveries.

Charlotte Murchinson (1788–1869)

Roderick and Charlotte Murchinson made a formidable team. A true champion of science, and geology in particular, Charlotte, ignited and fuelled her husband’s pursuit of a career in science after resigning his post as an Army officer.

Roderick Murchinson’s seminal work on establishing the first geologic sequence of Early Paleozoic strata would have not arisen had it not been for his wife’s encouragement. With Roderick, Charlotte travelled the length and breadth of Britain and Europe (along with notable friend Sir Charles Lylle), collecting fossils (one of the couple’s trips took them to Lyme Regis where they met and worked with Mary Anning, who later became a trusted friend) and studying the geology of the old continent.  Roderick’s first paper, presented at the Geological Society in 1825 is thought to have been co-written by Charlotte.

Not only was Charlotte a champion for the sciences, but she was a believer in gender equality. When Charles Lylle refused women to take part in his lectures at Kings Collage London, at her insistence he changed his views.

Florence Bascom (1862–1945)

By Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis - Creator/Photographer: Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis Medium: Black and white photographic print. Persistent Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection: Science Service Records, 1902-1965 (Record Unit 7091)

By Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis – Creator/Photographer: Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis. Persistent Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection: Science Service Records, 1902-1965 (Record Unit 7091)

Talk about a life of firsts: Florence Bascom, an expert in crystallography, mineralogy, and petrography, was the first woman hired by the U.S Geological Survey (back in 1896); she was the first woman to be elected to the Geological Society of America (GSA) Council (in 1924) and was the GSA’s first woman officer (she served as vice-president in 1930).

Florence’s PhD thesis (she undertook her studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen during lectures so the male student’s wouldn’t know she was there!), was ground-breaking because she identified, for the first time, that rocks previously thought to be sediments were, in fact, metamorphosed lavas. She made important contributions to the understanding of the geology of the Appalachian Mountains and mapped swathes of the U.S.

Perhaps influenced by her experience as a woman in a male dominated world, she lectured actively and went to set-up the geology department at Bryn Mawr College, the first college where women could pursue PhDs, and which became an important 20th century training centre for female geologist.

Inge Lehmann (1888-1993)

There are few things that scream notoriety as when a coveted Google Doodle is made in your honour. It’s hardly surprising that Google made such a tribute to Inge Lehmann, on the 127th Anniversary of her birth, on 13th May 2015.

The Google Doodle celebrating Inge Lehmann's 127th birthday.

The Google Doodle celebrating Inge Lehmann’s 127th birthday.

A Danish seismologist born in 1888, Inge experienced her first earthquake as a teenager. She studied maths, physics and chemistry at Oslo and Cambridge Universities and went on to become an assistant to geodesist Niels Erik Nørlund. While installing seismological observatories across Denmark and Greenland, Inge became increasingly interested in seismology, which she largely taught herself. The data she collected allowed her to study how seismic waves travel through the Earth. Inge postulated that the Earth’s core wasn’t a single molten layer, as previously thought, but that an inner core, with properties different to the outer core, exists.

But as a talented scientist, Inge’s contribution to the geosciences doesn’t end there. Her second major discovery came in the late 1950s and is named after her: the Lehmann Discontinuity is a region in the Earth’s mantle at ca. 220 km where seismic waves travelling through the planet speed up abruptly.

Marie Tharp (1920-2006)

That the sea-floor of the Atlantic Ocean is traversed, from north to south by a spreading ridge is a well-established notion. That tectonic plates pull apart and come together along boundaries across the globe, as first suggested by Alfred Wegener, underpins our current understanding of the Earth. But prior to the 1960s and 1970s Wegener’s theory of continental drift was hotly debated and viewed with scepticism.

Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp with the 1977 World Ocean’s Map. Credit: Marie Tharp maps, distributed via Flickr.

Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp with the 1977 World Ocean’s Map. Credit: Marie Tharp maps, distributed via Flickr.

In the wake of the Second World War, in 1952, in the then under resourced department of Columbia University, Marie Tharp, a young scientist originally from Ypsilanti (Michigan), poured over soundings of the Atlantic Ocean. Her task was to map the depth of the ocean.

By 1977, Marie and her boss, geophysicist Bruce Heezen, had carefully mapped the topography of the ocean floor, revealing features, such as the until then unknown, Mid-Atlantic ridge, which would confirm, without a doubt, that the planet is covered by a thin (on a global scale) skin of crust which floats atop the Earth’s molten mantle.

Their map would go on to pave the way for future scientists who now knew the ocean floors weren’t vast pools of mud. Despite beginning her career at Columbia as a secretary to Bruce, Marie’s role in producing the beautiful world ocean’s map propelled her into the oceanography history books.

Over to you! Who do you think the title of the Mother of Geology should go to? We ran a twitter poll last week, asking this very question, and the title, undisputedly, went to Mary Anning. Do you agree?

By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer

 

All references to produce this post are linked to directly from the text.

EGU, the European Geosciences Union, is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit international union of scientists with over 12,500 members from all over the world. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting over 11,000 scientists from all over the world.

This text was edited on 1 Septmember 2016 to correct the spelling of Weger. With thanks to Torbjörn Larsson for spotting the typo.

 

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