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Jenny Smith, PhD

How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

I was first introduced to geoscience in my final year of high school where I was able to take geology as a subject. Although this stimulated an interest in geoscience, I was unaware of the diverse range of career opportunities as a geologist and so began a degree in geography at the University of Glasgow. It became apparent very quickly that geography just wasn’t for me and so within the first year I transferred to an earth science degree. Since then I have never looked back, I immediately began to excel in my studies, and was completely drawn in by the diversity of geoscience and the strong fieldwork component.

How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)

After completing my PhD at the University of Leicester, I was unsure of whether to pursue a career in the mining/exploration industry or continue in academia. Unfortunately, at this time, there were few opportunities in the mining industry, so I began applying for post docs and geotechnical positions. After closely missing out on a couple of post docs, I accepted a job with a geotechnical engineering firm, which I was introduced to through a contact. Subsequent jobs I have held have been secured through a combination of applying to advertisements, with no internal connections, and through being introduced to positions by a contact.

Can you briefly describe your career progression?

After completing my PhD, I lost some of my passion for geoscience. I think this was a result of the pressure I put on myself, a lack of confidence and not really having any idea of what type of career I wanted. I quickly became unsatisfied in my initial job as a geotechnical engineer and so I decided to move to Canada where I had secured a job with a metallurgical consultancy. From there it became apparent quite quickly that I wanted to get back into research and utilise the skills and knowledge gained during my studies. Shortly after joining the GSC as a postdoc I was successful in securing a permanent position as a base metal research scientist. I can now see a clear career progression at the GSC.

If you had to do it again, would you?


If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

Although it took a while for me to find the right career path, I wouldn’t really change anything. I’ve had some excellent opportunities and experiences along the way, and each position has given me a broader scope of knowledge which I can apply to my current role.

What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the challenges?

There are many positive and great things about my career so far but the top three would probably have to be:

1) Travelling and working in remote locations around the world, visiting places I would otherwise never get to visit and experiencing different cultures.

2) The continued opportunity to collaborate with a broad range of people from various disciplines within industry, academia and the government.

3) Having a substantial amount of freedom and flexibility in the research I undertake whilst also having the opportunity to be involved in a variety of different projects.

Before going on maternity leave last year, there were no real negatives about my job, other than the usual frustrations of government procedures and protocols (e.g. bureaucracy, processing/approval times etc). Now I am a mother however, I have some new concerns and see additional challenges. I am particularly worried about maintaining a healthy work life balance, while still providing valuable contributions to projects and continuing to progress my career. As a young scientist still trying to establish themselves in the research community I feel some pressure (largely self imposed) to publish/be active during my maternity leave. I am quickly realizing however that there are limits to what I can achieve and that unfortunately my planned career goals may be delayed slightly.

Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

Within the mining industry I would say there are more opportunities for women now than there ever has been. There is still a long way to go however before women are equally represented throughout the industry and especially in the upper management positions. Although the government is very accommodating for women with families and offers a lot of flexibility, unfortunately there are still very few female research scientists at the GSC. This disparity is even apparent within the young, early career scientists. Across industry, academia and government there are many people that still hold on to extremely outdated views and assumptions about women and their capabilities within the workplace. This needs to change!

What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?

Try to network as much as possible! Take advantage of the various organizations and resources out there especially when you are at university (e.g. student SEG chapters, Women in Mining, early career days, conferences etc.). These groups provide an excellent insight into the wide variety of career paths possible in geoscience and can open many doors including job opportunities. Being involved in these organizations can also be a lot of fun and offers the opportunity to develop a far reaching support network with your peers.

Speak up as much as possible and never be afraid to ask questions or for help. I regret not having more confidence in myself throughout my career as I know on many occasions I could have made a valuable contribution but have held back due to feeling overshadowed by more experienced colleagues.

Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focussed on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

Although progress is being made, representation in many organisations and at all levels is still unfortunately an issue. Through being fully inclusive, we are able to gain new perspectives and be exposed to new ideas/ways of thinking, which ultimately are essential if our research is to evolve. What is interesting is that in many geoscience degree programs, women often make up 50% or more of the students, so why isn’t this diversity continued into the workplace? I am sure there are many reasons but from my own experience I would say the largest problems are the work environment which can often be quite hostile and extremely uninviting for women and the lack of support provided.

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