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The Lyell Centre's #PressForProgress

International Women's Day at the Lyell Centre

By Amanda Gray

On 8 March 2018, the Lyell Centre celebrated International Women's Day. This is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Coffee and cake at informal IWD networking event

If you follow the news you will be aware of the continuing challenges faced in the quest for gender equality. This year there is a call to action to #PressforProgress; to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. Today the women and men of the Lyell Centre gathered to both recognise the achievements of women and to discuss what we can do to improve gender parity.

"If you asked a child what a scientist looks like, what do you think they would say?"
Lyell Centre ladies on spiral staircase

It is well known that science, and other sectors like technology, engineering and maths (collectively known as STEM), have historically not recognised the achievements of women, even going as far as to exclude them completely. The May Ogilvie Gorden Seismic Lab in the Lyell Centre is named in honour of one of many pioneering Scottish women who succeeded in science against the odds. May (1864–1939) was born in Aberdeenshire and attended school in Edinburgh. She was bright and won several school awards for academic achievement. She began a bachelor of science degree at what was then Heriot Watt College specialising in geology, botany and zoology. Upon graduation in 1890, May wanted to continue studying at Berlin University but was refused because she was a woman. She persevered and began field work in the Alps where she developed seminal works on the tectonic structure of the region. In 1890, May and Agnes Kelly were the first women to be awarded PhDs by the University of Munich, and in 1893 May was the first woman to be awarded a doctor of science degree in geology from the University of London.

During her lifetime, May was more than just a pioneering female geologist: as well as writing 30 papers on her research work, May was an advocate for women's rights and an active Liberal in politics. In 1923, she contested the seat of Hastings, coming in second place. She also served as President of the National Council of Women of Great Britain and Ireland, playing an important role in the post-World War I negotiations in the League of Nations.

It is estimated that only 20 per cen of STEM-sector employees are women (Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2012). In comparison, the gender statistics in the Lyell Centre appears optimistic. Here, Heriot-Watt women represent 60 per cent of PhD students, 71 per cent of research fellows and 50 per cent of co-directors, technicians and postdoctorate research associates. However, only 20 per cent of professors are women. On the other wing of the Lyell Centre, women make up 36 per cent of the workforce in BGS Scotland (British Geological Survey, 2016–2017).

Lyell Centre ladies waving on spiral staircase

Even in 2018, gender stereotypes associated with STEM subjects are still deeply ingrained. If you asked a child what a scientist looks like, what do you think they would say? The perception that science, engineering, mathematics and computer science are careers for men is proving to have a significant negative effect on the young people who are leaving school. For example, only 16 per cent of students entering engineering and technology undergraduate degrees in the UK are women (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2016/17).

However, organisations like Stemettes are working hard to reverse these perceptions and inspire girls to go into STEM. They believe in the phrase "you can't be what you can't see"; that having female role models to look up to is crucial for inspiring the next generation of girls to careers in STEM.

With that in mind and the #PressforProgress campaign, women from across the Lyell Centre have taken the time to inspire the next generation. They tell us what they love about their jobs, they share their advice for young women and they tell us what they would like to see change for better gender parity.

Inspirational Lyell Centre women

Maxine Akhurst

Maxine Akhurst

I am Maxine Akhurst, and I work for the BGS.

My role a principal geologist and project leader.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I loved learning about the world around me and the revelation of what rocks can reveal about the history of the Earth.

What I love about my job: I find out the answers to challenges by research, either by my own contribution or as a member of a team leading a research project.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: early in my career there was an expectation in industry that geologists were men, this was never the case throughout my education (school, university, research) and not now in industry. An industry interviewer suggested I carry on to a higher degree to get the job I wanted, which I did and have had a great 30+ year career in geology.

The change I would like to see to support women: equal recognition and support for raising a family for both men and women so that family leave is seen as normal and usual for all, within a career.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: have confidence in your ability and knowledge and act as if you do, even if you are no quite so confident inside, as no one else will know but you.

Amelia Baptie

Amelia Baptie

I am Amelia Baptie, from the UK.

My role: senior geospatial analyst and BGS Informatics skills leader.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because of a fascination with the Earth and earth science!

What I love about my job: the people and the variety of interesting work. Most people at the BGS are there because they love their science and that enthusiasm makes it a great place to work. In my job I love the variety of work and the huge range of opportunities to take on new challenges. In recent times I have facilitated an online cluster, worked with 42 geological surveys in Europe on joining up spatial data. I've been a project manager, line manager and a skills leader, as well as a GIS developer. There is very little opportunity for boredom!

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: it's the same old problem, which was taking time out for children while my colleagues advanced. Happily, I have been extremely well supported with opportunities for advancing my career since my return, so I have no complaints! Otherwise I don't see many future challenges specifically because of my gender. Having said that though, it would be nice to see more female role models on the board.

The change I would like to see to support women: As mentioned above — more female role models in senior posts.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: Do something that you love, and that interests you. Work hard and the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Helen Bonsor

Helen Bonsor

I am Helen Bonsor, ‎from the UK.

My role: a BGS liaison person between research and local and national government.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because of my fascination of trying to understand how of the modern day landscape has developed and how it 'ticks'.

What I love about my job: working with people and different organisations to understand how research can be applied to support society and people.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: don't perceive yourself as different as a woman or anticipate differences or challenges until they arise.

Heidi Burdett

Heidi Burdett

I am Heidi Burdett. I'm a country bumpkin from North Devon, now living in Glasgow and working in Edinburgh.

My role: a marine scientist, taking inspiration from the different science disciplines to better understand how the ocean works. Specifically, I investigate how the biology, chemistry, physics and geology of coastal ecosystems interact and affect each other. This is important because coastal ecosystems are the most diverse in the ocean, but are extremely affected by human activities. By understanding how they function, we can make better decisions about how to ensure coastal ecosystems are sustained for future generations to enjoy.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because growing up in North Devon, the coast and sea are in your blood, so it's perhaps not surprising I ended up in marine science. I've always had a fascination for the bugs and beasts that lived in and around our coast — rockpooling was one of my favourite things as a kid, even in winter! I was also lucky enough to have inspirational science teachers that encouraged me to continually question how life works and to always ask "why?".

What I love about my job: that academic scientists have a freedom and flexibility not available in other science jobs — within some constraints, you are essentially free to research what interests you. My work has taken me all over the world, from the coral reefs of the Maldives, to the kelp forests of Nova Scotia and the maerl beds of Scotland. Few other jobs give you that opportunity. I have recently begun to take on more teaching responsibilities too — training the next generation of scientists is very rewarding and I'm enjoying learning how to become a better teacher.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: honestly, none. Academia is one of the most flexible professions in terms of working hours, working from home and taking time out for appointments. Having also worked in a business environment, I really appreciate the unique flexibility of an academic lifestyle. In some disciplines (including mine) there is a greater proportion of men, but I've never felt intimidated or limited by that.

The change I would like to see to support women: success in academia requires individual confidence and drive, and the first few years after a PhD tend to involve moving to several different institutions and working on fixed-term contracts. These factors can be a problem for many — not just women — and has led to many of my PhD peers leaving academia for more immediately stable jobs. That said, everyone I did my PhD with now has an excellent job relevant to their PhD topic and, most importantly, they are all very happy with their career choice.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: just go for it! If you have passion and drive, they will ultimately shine through and allow you to achieve whatever it is you wish to achieve. If you think that postgraduate education may be for you, start boosting your CV early on as it is very competitive. Good grades and wider experience count for a lot, so look into helping out at a local conservation group, or doing an online course to widen your knowledge.

Eileen Callaghan

Eileen Callaghan

I am Eileen Callaghan.

My role: geoscientist at the BGS.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because at school, I enjoyed geography, maths and physics, which led me to a 15-year career in dispensing optics. However, I always had a soft spot for the outdoors and the landforms that we see around us. So, I started a degree with the Open University in earth Ssiences whilst working full time. On completion of my degree, I was fortunate to start a new career at the BGS. I continued my studies and gained my honours degree supported by the BGS and now I am undertaking a masters in GIS and science.

What I love about my job: I am very much involved in Scotland's industrial past and how we can benefit from abandoned coal mine workings, whether this be through the geothermal potential of mine waters or research of disused open-cast coal sites. This work enables me to engage in the areas in which I grew up — Glasgow and Ayrshire. It allows me to undertake work that is both beneficial to the local communities and local government. It also allows me to go out into the field whatever the weather!

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: that when I started with BGS the number of female employees especially in my discipline was low. However over the years the number of female employees has increased, which is wonderful. I now see women fulfilling management positions and travelling to countries to advise and collaborate with fellow geoscientists, NGOs and government bodies.

The change I would like to see to support women: to see the number of women in management positions continue to rise and I hope to see women filling senior management positions in the not too distant future.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: my career path has not been straightforward but by keeping in mind what you love doing and what you are interested in, then it is possible to have a career that is both fulfilling and enjoyable.

Marta Cecchetto

Marta Cecchetto

I am Marta Maria Cecchetto, from Italy.

My role: PhD student researching anthropogenic impacts on the deep sea. My research focuses on the impacts of climate change and deep-sea mining on the deep sea. I am all for saving the planet!

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I fell in love with the oceans more than science. I went diving for the first time with my father when I was 12 and since then I wanted to know a lot more about what was happening under the surface of the ocean.

What I love about my job: the never-ending discoveries. There is always something that we don't know, and we are here to find it out. I love the challenge, the curiosity of thinking new ways to explore the great unknown that the deep sea presents to us.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: I am still early on in my career and I haven't faced any significant challenges yet. So far, I've found out that physical capabilities have been the main obstacles. I did require some extra help when packing a container with scientific equipment and some heavy lifting was needed to move heavy boxes and crates.

The change I would like to see to support women: So far, I have received very good help and support from my friends and colleagues.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: don't be afraid of taking the chance and have a dream. Talk to the people around you and always ask a lot of questions! Opportunities are there; you just need to find them.

Eimear Deady

Eimear Deady

I am Eimear Deady and I come from Kerry in Ireland.

My role: geologist working at the BGS. I work on mineral resources, so I look at where metals come from and how deposits that we can mine are formed. I previously worked as an exploration geologist for two mining companies. I completed a degree in genetics at Trinity College Dublin before moving to University of Edinburgh to do a degree in geology, so don't be afraid to change what you don't like!

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I always had an interest in the outdoors and the natural world. I finally found geology, which gave me a job that allowed me to explore that.

What I love about my job: that I get to travel to lots of different places. In my relatively short career (since 2011) I have visited 20 countries for work, including seven on the continent of Africa!

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: where people haven't respected me or my input because I am a woman. I have also had my activities limited because I am a woman. This can be frustrating; however, I have a strong female manager who has allowed me to take on challenges and encourages me to do my best.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: If you are interested in something that has historically been perceived as 'male-dominated' (for example the mining industry or engineering) don't listen to the nay-sayers, go for it! Do maths, chemistry, biology, physics, geology, woodwork or whatever it is you are interested in, and enjoy it! Look for mentoring opportunities, internship opportunities, university and college open days, these will help you identify what you might like to do in science. Go to career events, there is now recognition by industry to encourage greater diversity in STEM subjects, you will see people you identify with, go and speak to them! Join Twitter (you can have multiple accounts) and follow people who do things you are interested in and see the wealth of opportunities STEM subjects can offer. Good luck!

Babette Hoogakker

Babette Hoogakker

I am Babette Hoogakker, I am from the Netherlands, moved to the UK in 1999 to take up a PhD at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

My role: research fellow at the Lyell Centre, studying how oxygen in the ocean has changed over geological time.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I have always been fascinated with solving mysteries, putting the pieces of the puzzle together to discover the wider picture.

What I love about my job: learning and unravelling ideas and concepts, and a scientific research environment really nurtures this. My work is my hobby.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: it hasn't always been easy. There are a lot of invisible obstacles when you start a research career, which you only become aware of after. For example, career breaks or working part-time, relating to starting and having a family, are only just starting to be acknowledged by research councils and trusts. Hopefully this will continue to improve.

The change I would like to see to support women: it would be great if representation of women was equal across the board, including more women in leadership roles.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: believe in yourself. Seek out mentors that are supportive.

Annabell Moser

Annabell Moser

I am Annabell Moser, from Germany.

My role: PhD student; "Developing the next generation of sediment profile imaging cameriplanar optode system for use on autonomous platforms"... In basic terms, I am developing new ways photograph marine sediments to look for signs of oxygen.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I was curious about biology, nature and the world. Biology was my favorite class in school due to an awesome teacher. This inspired me to study biology.

What I love about my job: I can be creative and learn something new every day. Additionally, working at the university gives me more freedom than other jobs would.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: I'm glad that up to now I haven't experienced that many challenges because I'm a woman. Only once when I was on a research vessel people would underestimate what I could help with and work on because I'm a woman, but I did convince them that I can do the work.

The change I would like to see to support women: I think it is important that it is possible to have a family AND a career. In my future career I don't want to have to choose.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: believe in yourself no matter what! If you really want something you will get it in the end even if it takes longer to achieve or the way might be longer than expected.

Gemma Nash

Gemma Nash

I am Gemma Nash. I'm originally from Nottinghamshire, but have been living in West Lothian for a little over a year.

My role: a senior web developer and the internet manager for the BGS. My main responsibility is to maintain the BGS website ( and its hosted sites, and I am also a STEM ambassador who is regularly involved in outreach activities.

When I was young, I was inspired into computer science because I have always been fascinated by computing and technology, and started coding on my first Commodore computer when I was ten. I knew I had a confidence in maths and logic, so did an A-level in both maths and computer science. My maths teacher during my GCSEs was incredible, which really helped.

What I love about my job: I love to get a new database application released that will deliver new data to improve public understanding of BGS science. I also find informing people about BGS activities at our outreach events particularly valuable.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: I started at BGS as a lower-grade developer as apparently I didn't sell myself enough in my interview. I think that as women, we often don't have quite the gift of the gab that many men have and are more modest and reserved.

I was knocked back for promotion twice because I "hadn't done the time", but I'd heard that said to several other women back then, so I was convinced it was because I was female.

The change I would like to see to support women: more women in top jobs. Promotion for being a specialist, not to become another manager.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: Be determined. Don't give up. You are the future of STEM. Sell yourself as the genius you are.

Julia Rosa de Rezende

Julia Rosa de Rezende

I am Julia Rosa de Rezende and I'm from Brasília, Brazil.

My role: Lyell research fellow working on geomicrobiology, or in other words, the interaction of microorganisms and the Earth. I am especially interested in subsurface life, as it is a fascinating environment that until very recently we didn't even know could host living organisms, and today we know that subsurface microorganisms are a significant part of the unseen majority of life on Earth!

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I was always fascinated by life and its incredible and diverse ways of playing with physics and chemistry to keep alive. It is amazing that a bunch of 'bags of molecules' have helped shape our planet into what it is today.

What I love about my job: when I work together with others to combine forces and different expertises to find something new. I am even more excited when my work helps others in one way or another, for example by using our new scientific knowledge to help finding solutions for industrial problems. This is part of the reason why I find it so interesting to study the microbiology of oil reservoirs, one of my favourite subsurface environments, and oil biodegradation, harnessing microbial power to solve problems we create.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: as a woman in science, I think we are still beginning to identify the unconscious biases and the unfair expectations that affect gender equality, and I hope that we can improve in speaking out and in listening so that we can all learn faster and take action, because too many have paid the price of our slow progress.

The change I would like to see to support women: I have been very lucky to have great mentors throughout my postgraduate studies and my career, and I hope to pass on the good examples I benefited from.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: find the good examples to inspire you, be the good example to others, and believe in yourself and in your hard work!

Gemma Richardson

Gemma Richardson

I am Gemma Richardson. I grew up near London, then moved to Liverpool for university before heading to Edinburgh to work at the BGS.

My role: a geomagnetic hazard specialist. I work in the geomagnetism team, studying the Earth's magnetic field. My work is focused on the natural hazard caused by space weather. Space weather is everything in near-Earth space that can cause a hazard to us and particularly our technology. The most well-known space weather phenomenon is the aurora borealis (or northern lights). When we can see the northern lights in the UK, that can be a sign that the Earth's magnetic field is very disturbed, which can cause damage to things like the power grid. My research is all about trying to understand the risk so that we can make sure the lights stay on.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because I enjoyed maths, particularly problem solving, and decided to study maths and physics at A-level. I also decided to study geology as something a bit different and discovered that I really loved it. It was my geology teacher who recommended geophysics at university and that led me to where I am today.

What I love about my job: the problem solving aspect of my job and it's really satisfying to see a real world benefit from my work. The role also gives me the opportunity to travel and meet new people at conferences and during collaborations on projects around the world.

The change I would like to see to support women: I think a lot of the changes that are needed to better support women are cultural, and benefit men just as much as women. This includes better family support and understanding that both men and women can have both a family and a career. I also really hate that childrens' toys have become so polarised with everything being either pink or blue. I think it is really important that all children get the chance to develop and grow without preconceptions about what they can and can't do just because of their gender.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: do what you enjoy; it's much easier to keep working when things get tough if you enjoy and are passionate about what you do. And never get put off by anyone who tells you "that's not for girls"!

Lavinia Stancampiano

Lavinia Stancampiano

I am Lavinia Stancampiano and I am Italian.

My role: PhD student researching how early humans used to live. For this I am using both geology and archaeology knowledge. I am studying organic matter to better understand where early humans found drinking water, and which plants existed and where they were located. It will help us understand how humans behaved according to their environment.

When I was young, I was inspired into science because when university time arrived, I had to choose what I wanted to study and it was very difficult. Most of my friends wanted to enroll at economics, law, medicine and finance schools, but I found those subjects very boring. So, I had to think more about my university career. I selected geology and it was a fantastic idea! Learning the basics of our planet, how it has changed since its formation and how dynamic it is, made me happy and proud of my choice. I was studying something special (not very popular), a subject that I could not share with much of my friends.

What I love about my job: I am extremely happy about being in the science world. It is incredibly dynamic and I notice how my ideas evolve and how it widens my perspective. Geology is very interesting and often challenging, but now I am working with an added component; the world's inhabitants and their interactions.

A challenge in my career I faced as a woman: personally speaking, I have never faced troubles because I was a woman in my career. The environments in which I was studying were gender equal and I never felt uncomfortable.

The change I would like to see to support women: that more people start thinking that science is not just for men. It is a prejudice that demotivates women to study scientific subjects.

The advice I have for young women following in my footsteps: follow your instinct, always. If you want to do something, just do it and give your best to reach it. We can all do whatever we want to, as long as we are highly motivated.