GeoLog

GeoLog

Imaggeo on Mondays: The colourful sinkhole clusters at Ghor Al-Haditha

Imaggeo on Mondays: The colourful sinkhole clusters at Ghor Al-Haditha

Sinkholes that form on the Dead Sea shore at Ghor Al-Haditha, Jordan, often occur in clusters, with many holes packed into a small area. However the visual appearance of neighbouring sinkholes can vary significantly. Mineral precipitation in the foremost sinkhole in this picture, which has no fresh water supply, gives it a garish pink-orange colouration. The larger hole behind has a groundwater-derived supply of fresher (blue) water which allows it to harbour life: ground-nesting birds and frog spawn are both prevalent in the marshy area surrounding the holes. It is slightly paradoxical that such a destructive force can also be an oasis for life in an otherwise barren wilderness.

Description by Rob Watson, as it first appeared on imaggeo.egu.eu

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

GeoPolicy: One American’s way into the European Commission

GeoPolicy: One American’s way into the European Commission

An unsolicited email to a LinkedIn connection holding the title “science communicator” led me to the European Commission. My journalism master’s thesis was now complete, and I was in hasty pursuit of a career in citizen engagement of science. The EGU’s Policy Officer Chloe Hill responded to my spontaneous request for career direction and forwarded me a running list of science-policy traineeships and fellowships. I quickly spotted a perfect fit. It was my field and it was stationed in Italy. That posting would become a dream come true.

With luck and time on my side, the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) Exploratory Research Unit was recruiting a native English speaker for their science communication traineeship. The project leaders appreciated my interest in EU public understanding of science evident in my research and Erasmus Mundus journalism degree curriculum. Unfortunately, my nationality posed a problem. The EU generally doesn’t typically hire Americans and as a result, the hiring process took a few more signatures and steps compared with other EU employees. Traineeship applicants can however, come from anywhere. My future boss sought and secured permission from the higher-ups to grant my traineeship position and after a few months in bureaucratic recruitment limbo, I was in.

Orienting myself as a science communicator

The role of a science communicator depends largely on the financial relationship between researchers and their benefactors. Sponsorship warrants visibility. In the US, the prominence of research from universities and private labs creates a need for science communicators who can write grants. This cloistered audience has its own rigid guidelines for messaging and interaction. In the EU where supranational labs directly inform policy decisions, communicators must engage tax payers and the policy makers. That means science communicators here get to write to diverse segmented populations split along lines of political parties, borders of members states, and social boundaries among citizens. This dynamic environment invites creative and strategic messengers. A space I could grow into.

Life as a JRC trainee

I arrived at the JRC in Ispra, Italy with no indication of what my actual duties would entail. The original recruitment expression of interest was as vague as I was eager. Quickly though, I was set to my tasks and made an integral part of my unit. Work was fun and challenging. From week one, I was authoring reports, designing workshops, and envisioning communication strategies for groundbreaking science projects. As time went on, my advisor gave me the opportunity to choose my own projects that supported our unit mission. I bridged my background in climate science communication and media production to catalyse engagement efforts in nuclear safeguards, ocean conservation, and automated vehicles. The workplace mobility that I was afforded and significance of my contributions made me feel useful. That impression doesn’t always happen with a traineeship or internship. Work gripped my curiosity and I followed with fervor.

Life at the JRC is easy. The Commission has organised the initiation process and living situation so that employees can hit the ground running. Trainees get a loaner bike, a snazzy apartment across the street for cheap, free language courses, health insurance, and to the envy of UN interns… a livable stipend. Best of all, people are welcoming. The first day I was greeted alongside 15 other trainees from across Europe with the warmest of welcomes. My HR adviser picked me up and drove me around the research site to point out important buildings and ground me in my new home. This convivial atmosphere would continue throughout my traineeship.

Life at the JRC is fun. The self-hailed “traineeland” community comprises all trainees and involves daily get-togethers on and off campus. Traineeland provided ready-made friendships and opportunities to invest oneself into the JRC and local Italian community. Throughout my five months, we hosted and attended educational events across campus, did Saturday yoga on the lakeshore, ran as a group through the forests, cooked common dinners, hiked the alps, and always went to Mensa on Wednesdays. It was truly heavenly, as I often commented during gatherings.

Advice to future applicants

The European Commission posts its trainee and contract vacancies through a running portal. The site constantly updates with new jobs in every field of science and level of staff management. For recent grads like myself, I recommend first applying to a trainee position. Unless you have a PhD with a very related focus and five years of experience, it can prove difficult to secure a well-salaried research position. A traineeship offers you a chance work and learn how to navigate inside the European Commission. Once here, you the support system and connection to pursue a career. Without inside experience, the hiring process can be daunting. There are a handful of contract types each with its own unique application methods. Best bet: apply for a traineeship. The exposure, community, and connections that you will receive at the European Commission as a trainee will equip you with the acumen and insights needed to build a career at an international organisation.

 What did my supervisors want in an applicant? Aside from my language skills for their writing position, my interviewers were looking for international experience, adaptability to multiple tasks, and willingness to contribute new ideas. I cannot imagine a more diverse place than the JRC. Language, research field, nationality, and experience were common factors in daily operations. My interviewers wanted to know how well I could collaborate in an environment with teams from diverse nations, backgrounds, and scientific fields. Their call for adaptability to multitasking is not a euphemism for a coffee maker or a “wasserträger”. The JRC has a myriad of projects that often overlap with other departments, therefore contributors must know how to switch tasks effectively and work with multiple timelines. Finally, many teams want a trainee who can deliver a new perspective. Trainees are seen, unofficially, as a source of spiritedness and vibrancy to the hyper-focused scientific output machine that is the JRC. This anticipation of ingenuity from trainees opens opportunities for them to make their mark on projects by contributing their perspective and expertise. I recommendation interviewees demonstrate their professionalism, exemplify their adaptability, highlight one or two related experiences, and let their enthusiasm for his or her field and community shine.

Saying goodbye?

In an effort to network outside my unit, I wrote and delivered a short speech on science communication. Several units allowed me to speak at their monthly meeting. I wanted to show others how sci comm could improve their output visibility, as well as demonstrate the utility of someone with my skillset. I took this effort further by drafting communication strategies in my free time for units without one. I often got as a response, “I wish you were staying, we have some interesting projects coming up.” I wished so too.

After a fast and full five months, I completed my traineeship. As I prepared to shut down my computer for the last time, an email popped up. It read that I had been accepted as an external expert for one year. An audience member from one of my past speeches recalled my purpose and had recommended me for the position. I was and am ecstatic. There is no one way to secure a position here. Aside from traineeships, I recommend familiarising yourself with a JRC initiative and aligning yourself with their efforts. Connect with people through LinkedIn, on collaborative international projects through university connections, and by applying on the vacancies list. Familiarise yourself with European Commission projects by following EU Science Hub social media channels. Also, feel free to reach out to me any time via LinkedIn or a.w.mckinnon@gmail.com.

 

I expect that each new work day will continue to surprise me and hope that every new connection could be one for life. The JRC gave me the opportunity to pour my acumen and education into projects that, from my limited perspective, made an impact on the lives of EU citizens. I am eager to get going again.

By Aaron McKinnon, Communication Strategy Expert at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

Imaggeo on Mondays: The polje between sky and Earth

Imaggeo on Mondays: The polje between sky and Earth

Poljes are one of the most impressive features existing in karst landscapes. These large flat closed depressions are prone to regular flooding that can form temporary lakes on their surface. Planinsko Polje [in Slovenia] is surely the most famous example of polje existing. The highest floods can reach up to 8 metres above the gauging station and last for more than two months. The lake is then more than 10km squared large, which strongly modify the daily life of the inhabitants living in the polje surroundings.

Description by Cyril Mayaud, as it first appeared on imaggeo.egu.eu

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Gender equality and equal opportunities – keep the discussion going!

Why do I feel uncomfortable as the only woman in a meeting? Why do they gossip about the male postdoc who is supervising three female MSc students? Have I really been asked to give this presentation just because I am a woman? It was thanks to all the work and reading I was doing for our study about gender inequality in the geosciences that I realised it is not ok I have to ask myself these questions.

In early 2018, it was my colleague and friend Andrea who came up with the idea to conduct an online survey about how geoscientists perceive gender stereotypes and inequality in their work environment. This was initially planned as a contribution to a session at the EGU General Assembly 2018. But once we realised how much this topic resonated in our community, we decided to aim for a publication in a scientific journal. ‘We’ are five early career hydrologists: Andrea Popp, Tim van Emmerik, Sina Khatami, Wouter Knoben and myself. None of us had prior experience conducting and analysing surveys, so we had to learn on the fly how to ask unambiguous questions and give the right number of possible answers. In just one month, more than 1200 people had participated in the online survey and we worked hard over the summer to analyse the results and write a story around them.

One and a half years later – after struggling with rejections from several geoscience journals – our study was finally accepted for publication in Earth and Space Science. We are happy to be able to contribute to the current conversation on this topic, which has been receiving more attention online (such as the Nature Geosciences Editorial “Of rocks and social justice” and a blog post from the EGU Hydrological Sciences division blog by Bettina Schaefli from the University of Bern.

The bottom line of our study is that we have serious problems with gender bias and inequality in our scientific community, and that these problems are not generally recognised in our community. Most strikingly, more than a quarter of the female respondents reported experiences with negative gender bias at their workplace (compared to under 10% of their male colleagues; see figure below).

Experiences with bias in scientific organizations among female vs. male respondents. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The respondents generally considered male geoscientists as more gender-biased than female geoscientists, and this became particularly obvious at the level of female professors, nearly half of whom perceive their male colleagues as gender-biased. Among the male respondents, however, it’s the postdocs who seem to feel most affected by negative gender biases. One explanation for this might be that some male postdocs expect disadvantages from policies that support early-career female scientists who might compete with them for the same positions.

Experience with gender bias in institutions by female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to Fisher’s exact tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

A crucial problem with a gender-imbalanced faculty, especially at higher career levels, is the lack of female role models at the workplace and conferences. Most of the female participants (84%) stated that role models are important to them and about a third of them prefer same-gender role models. But how can we make sure to have more female role models in academia? One could argue that gender quotas for academic positions would be a good way to attract and employ more women. However, our survey shows that gender quotas are a controversial issue, even among female respondents, with a quarter of them being rather critical of such quotas.

Approval vs. disapproval of gender quotas for academic positions among female and male respondents in each career level. Asterisks indicate statistically significant gender differences in each career level per category according to χ2-tests. Credit: Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S.,van Emmerik, T., & Knoben,W. J. M. (2019).

The key implication of our study is that those in leading positions – whose actions might have the largest impact – are the least affected by gender inequality in their job and might thus not see a good reason for taking a stand for more diversity and equality. In my own experience, I have had discussions with male senior scientists who are indeed willing to improve the current imbalance, but also believe that by inviting more women for job interviews or waiting for female students to move up the career ladder, the number of female senior scientists will gradually increase and the problem will finally be resolved.

In our paper, we argue that we as a community need to do so much more than this. We stress that, while the science community should certainly make an extra effort to look for qualified women when hiring new staff or awarding prizes, it is at least as important to challenge and improve the way we do research on a daily basis, interact and collaborate with each other and acknowledge our colleagues’ work.

Based on recent must-read literature (for example, Holmes et al., 2015) and personal discussions, we suggest several strategies in our paper to promote gender equality, among which are mandatory gender bias training, a transparent and standardised selection of job candidates and research grant awardees, more gender balance on the decision-making level of research institutions and scientific organisations such as EGU, and more flexible and family-friendly working conditions to support parents and informal caregivers.

And, above all, we should promote an open and continuous discussion about these matters, together with male colleagues of all career levels. Having such discussions can raise more awareness of the negative impact of exclusionary climates that exist in some institutions and scientific communities. These kind of environments can be harmful and daunting not only to female scientists, but also to ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and everyone else who might not fit in with the ‘old white boys club’ culture. By having productive conversations on inappropriate and sexist comments, the feeling of being patronised or even silenced in discussions, or the pressure of having to work twice as hard to be recognised, we can work towards addressing these issues collectively.

So if you care about good science and happy scientists, please try to bring up this topic during meetings or personal conversations, and – if you are a woman scientist – find allies among your male colleagues who fight alongside you. Why should we all make an effort? Because we need a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce that ensures diverse perspectives, a more enjoyable work life and simply better science!

By Stefanie Lutz, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Germany  

References

Holmes, M. A., OConnell, S. and Dutt, K., Eds.: Women in the Geosciences, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

 

Anon: Of rocks and social justice, Nature Geoscience, 9(11), 797–797, doi:10.1038/ngeo2836, 2016.

 

Popp, A. L., Lutz, S. R., Khatami, S., Emmerik, T. H. M. and Knoben, W. J. M.: A Global Survey on the Perceptions and Impacts of Gender Inequality in the Earth and Space Sciences, Earth and Space Science, doi:10.1029/2019ea000706, 2019.