Geology for Global Development

Education

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2019

In May 2019, we led an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists to the UN Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Download our full event report here.

The annual UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives), civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

The 2019 Forum theme was ‘science, technology and innovation for ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, exploring SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (tackling climate change), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Through engaging, we hoped to increase the visibility of the Earth science community in sustainable development discussions, championing the importance of understanding the natural environment, enhancing public understanding of Earth systems and resources, and building strong professional communities of Earth and environmental scientists. We did this by coordinating and leading an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists, working in diverse contexts (e.g., Central Asia and Latin America). Together we helped to draft formal interventions delivered during plenary sessions, and organised a side event on Earth and Environmental Science Education for Sustainable Development.

We are grateful to the International Union of Geological Sciences and IUGS/UNESCO International Geoscience Programme Project 685 for their support.

 

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

One of the most frequently asked questions put to me is ‘how does a geoscientist develop a career linked to international aid or sustainable development?’. Here are some thoughts, recently curated for the 2018 GfGD Annual Conference report, together with examples of how GfGD’s work helps to mobilise geoscientists to engage in sustainable development.

  1. Geoscience matters, is critical to progress towards sustainable development, but is not always recognised. While geoscientists are critical to delivering many aspects of the SDGs, this is not always clear and understood by others engaged in development work. Geoscientists have many relevant skills, and their knowledge of Earth systems means they are well placed to be at the centre of sustainable development decision making, and not on the fringes. In 2018, GfGD were invited to submit a report to inform the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report, highlighting how geoscientists could fill a gap in professionals trained to engage in sustainable development. This report will be published later this year, and we hope that it will note the important role that geoscientists could make to sustainability efforts, raising awareness among other communities of geoscientists skills and understanding .
  2. Research into natural hazards can directly contribute to improved sustainable development decision-making. Photo Credit: Joel Gill

    Two pathways, both equally important. While there isn’t a straightforward career path or graduate scheme into ‘geoscience for sustainability’, we note two general, broad pathways that help geoscientists to put sustainable development at the heart of their career. Both are important and can result in exciting opportunities to see positive change. (i) Work for a traditional geoscience employer (e.g., energy, mining, environmental services, academia, risk modelling, geological surveys), championing the values and ethics GfGD promote. You can devote your career to supporting sustainable development in all the traditional geoscience career routes (academia, industry, public sector), being ambassadors for our values and ethics. For example, championing positive and respectful partnerships that build local science, technology, and innovation capacity, promoting good practice, engaging with geoethics, and taking part in capacity building. Our 2017 papers on ‘Geology and the SDGs’ and ‘Geoscience Engagement in Global Development Frameworks’ (both open access) give examples of how engaging in traditional geoscience sectors can help deliver the SDGs. (ii) The second approach is to work for a non-traditional geoscience employer (e.g., NGOs, DFID, development think tanks), but be prepared to invest in additional skills and knowledge to serve effectively in these roles. There are few jobs in the development sector for those with a pure geoscience background but if you combine your environmental understanding with further expertise in logistics, policy, communications, social vulnerability etc (see #4 and #5 for tips as to how to do this), you could be a very attractive candidate. While geoscience will inform and strengthen you in such roles, it is unlikely that your tasks will involve the day-to-day application of geoscience.

  3. Be in it for the long-term. Getting to where you want to be may take time and involve a winding path. Think strategically about what postgraduate courses may suit your future career plans. For example, ask if there are options to do your dissertation overseas, take modules from other departments, or do placements with those working in development contexts (so you build your network of contacts, see #6). Partnerships with those in the Global South can also take time to develop and build trust. Prove that you treat partners with respect, fulfil your obligations to send them data and reports if they help you with your dissertation. Recognise that it can take time to develop and mature meaningful partnerships.
  4. Invest in new skills and ways of working. The skills required to make an effective and positive contribution to sustainable development are often missing from the traditional education and continued professional development of geologists. Examples include communicating across cultures and disciplines, diplomacy, community mobilisation, social science research methods (e.g., how to do a good semi-structured interview, and how can that data enrich your understanding of water resources or hazard impacts). Demonstrating an understanding of why these are important in development contexts, and some competence in these skills, may help to boost your employability in some roles. In 2016, GfGD published a book chapter on ‘Building Good Foundations – Skills for Effective Engagement in International Development’ that outlines these skills (email for a PDF copy). We believe these skills are vital in many geoscience roles, embedding them into our conferences and workshops (coordinating training at international events in Tanzania and South Africa).
  5. Read widely around development challenges. Development challenges (e.g., access to water, food security, energy poverty, climate change, disaster risk reduction, urbanisation) are rarely solved by one discipline. We get a good understanding of technical geoscience in our degrees but miss out on opportunities to interact with and learn from other disciplines (e.g., engineers, geographers, social scientists, health professionals). Careers outside of the traditional geoscience industries will require you to demonstrate a broader understanding of sustainable development than just the contribution of geoscience. This is a reason GfGD conferences are interdisciplinary with speakers from economics, social sciences, engineering, and public policy. There are texts relating to disaster risk reduction, water management, natural resources, climate change and urban development that will present new ideas from human geography or the social sciences. If another department includes modules on relevant development challenges, but from different perspectives, email and ask for a reading list and start to broaden your understanding.
  6. The GfGD Annual Conference is a fantastic networking opportunity for geoscientists.

    Network, Network, Network. Use any opportunity you can to network – including in person and through appropriate use of social media (e.g., Twitter). The latter can be a good way to find jobs and learning materials and introduce yourself to people in development. Keep online accounts professional and active. Look out for free events and talks at and outside of universities. Organisations such as ODI have free events where you can attend in person or remotely via a webinar. GfGD have previously facilitated networking meetings, arranged placements, and provided conference bursaries and hope to develop further opportunities in 2019.

 

Do you have any further tips or thoughts on mobilising and equipping geoscientists to contribute to sustainable development? We’d love to hear them, so please do use the comments below!

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

A mining state in Brazil, without geological knowledge? On the value of science communication

As the theme of this month is science communication, I’d like to share some of my own experiences with geoscience communication and public perception of geosciences.

I was born and raised in Minas Gerais – the most traditional mining state of Brazil. Nowadays it is internationally recognized for recent environmental disasters such as the failure of the Brumadinho and Fundão tailings dams. I studied Geological Engineering in Ouro Preto – where the Brazilian Gold Rush started, which was responsible for the establishment of the city. Until the present day, mining – especially iron ore – is the most important economic input for the municipality. Despite all the history and mining tradition, many people have no idea of what geology is about. I had no idea before entering university.

A study (Annals page 462) on public perception of geosciences was carried out in Campo Belo, a town located in the southwest region of Minas Gerais with 54.000 inhabitants, almost 400 high school students from public and private schools and their science teachers. The results have shown that the students struggled to answer simple questions regarding geology (such as the approximate age of the Earth or naming one mineral) and they were unable to relate Earth Sciences with the environment surrounding them, which came as a surprise to the teachers. Despite being local, this study may give us a hint on the perception of geosciences in Minas Gerais.

Why is connecting the community with geological knowledge so important?

Geology is the basis of everything! To produce the food we eat we need soil, water, mineral fertilizers. For housing, we need resources such as steel, cement, gravel, sand, and we need to choose appropriate sites for construction, avoiding areas with a high risk of geohazards like earthquakes, landslides or flooding. We need mineral resources for developing technologies and green energy. Some places on Earth depend almost exclusively on groundwater – so hydrogeological knowledge is crucial. Summing up – geology is in everything!

Bringing this perception to society is vital to promote conscious consumption and recycling practices (since resources are finite), improve communities’ resilience, help urban planners… just to cite a few.

So, how to communicate science effectively?

In my context (Minas Gerais – Brazil), I see that geology is not tangible for the biggest part of the population. Besides, communication is neglected by scientists. Therefore, after researching, attending conferences and talking to people from diverse backgrounds I think the best way to bridge scientists and population is, first of all, to understand the target audience (background, language, culture, customs, etc). After that, decide if you are the most appropriate person to access that community. Try to simplify the vocabulary and avoid jargon. Make a presentation that is clear, simple, illustrative, fun and scientific, if possible.

Science communication has the power to shorten distances, connect people, empower communities, work towards disaster risk reduction and promote the value of geological resources and heritage. Let’s bring geological knowledge beyond the university walls!

 

Water and Sustainable Development – 6th GfGD Annual Conference Event Report

Water and Sustainable Development – 6th GfGD Annual Conference Event Report

Understanding, managing and protecting water resources is critical to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., education, water and sanitation, healthy oceans, zero hunger, good health, gender equality, energy, industry, and biodiversity). Increasing urbanisation, industrialisation, and climate change, however, are increasing pressure on water supplies and reducing water quality. Our 6th Annual Conference explored the role of geoscientists in managing conflicting demands for water, ensuring that the needs of the poorest are met while enhancing the health of ecosystems. We recently published a full event report online, and here we share some of the highlights.

Our Annual Conference is a highlight for many involved in the work of Geology for Global Development, bringing together people from across the UK and beyond to explore how geoscientists can contribute to sustainable development. This year approximately 120 attendees gathered at the Geological Society of London to talk about all things water, Sustainable Development Goals and geoscience.

The conference was opened by Lord Duncan of Springbank (UK Government Minister for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a fellow geoscientist). Lord Duncan gave a passionate description of the important links between politics, geology and sustainable development. Another distinguished guest was Benedicto Hosea, visiting the UK from Tanzania and working closely with the Tanzania Development Trust. Benedicto gave us an insight into water resources in Tanzania, and the realities of implementing projects and taking practical action to improve water provision.

Our keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Bob Kalin from the University of Strathclyde, who gave us an overview of the interactions between water, geoscience and human impacts – and why it is important that geoscientists engage in the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. You can find a recording of a similar talk Professor Kalin presented at a TedX event.

The first panel discussion of the day focused on management, with insight from industry, academia and the Overseas Development Institute. We discussed the challenges involved in listening to and considering many stakeholders, the management of transnational aquifers and how best to enforce policy – then attempted to come with some solutions to these challenges. Our event report includes links to key reading suggested by our panellists.

Water contamination is a significant environmental issue in many countries at all stages of development.  We heard about research into salinization and arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh. Mike Webster, head of WasteAid (check them out here) gave a different perspective on water contamination, talking about the work the charity has done in improving solid waste collection, thereby improving drainage and water quality.

Probably the most hectic, yet fun part of the conference was the UN style activity – we split up into groups representing different stakeholders and came up with a research and innovation statement relating to water and the SDGs.

We were also joined by The Eleanor Foundation, a charity working in Tanzania to provide access to safe, clean water provision to communities through pump installation and education programmes. It was so inspiring to hear about a charity that has undertaken effective work in ensuring the sustainable supply of water to communities, and made a real difference in improving lives – it is estimated that the Eleanor Foundation has improved access to water to over 250,000 people. In 2019, GfGD will be supporting the work of The Eleanor Foundation, helping to deliver SDG 6 in Tanzania. We will be using surplus income from our conference, together with other funds, to facilitate an evaluation of The Eleanor Foundation’s water programme. This will generate recommendations for The Eleanor Foundation team to ensure long-term impact and sustainability.

In true GSL conference style, we finished the conference with a reception in the library, giving us all the chance to chat about the conference and meet people sharing an interest in geoscience and development (of course admiring William Smith’s geological map!). I think it would be fair to say that a fun and interesting day was had by all, and I left feeling excited by the number of geoscientists I met that all share enthusiasm for the role that geoscientists have in helping to achieve the SDGs.

The 7th GfGD Annual Conference will be on Friday 15th November 2019, hosted again by the Geological Society of London. Please do save the date, and we hope to see you there!

Laura Hunt is a member of the GfGD Executive Team, and a PhD Student at the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey.