How did you stumble into geoscience?
I had no idea about geoscience before university! When I started my undergrad, I was pursuing a double major in Dance and Chinese Language & Literature, two subjects that had occupied a considerable amount of my time growing up and seemed to be a logical choice, but honestly neither of them resonated with me. I took a Geology 101 class to fulfill one of my science credits, which piqued my interest and hit different than the rest of the subjects I was taking. I was also encouraged by the strong women professors and teaching assistants who taught me, so I was emboldened to pursue a STEM subject.
What was the first geoscience job outside of your academic work?
My first foray into geology was being a sweaty and frazzled mapping intern on a structural project run through Colorado Mesa University during one summer between my undergrad semesters. I found the internship through online searches; this was before LinkedIn really took off. I’m pretty sure I googled “geology internship, paid” and slogged through pages of results.
Can you briefly describe your career progression?
For sure, in brief it went from undergrad, undergrad internship, grad school, grad school internship, exclusively contract field work, then a full time job in a management role involving field work, technical expertise, and office work. Plus a corporate card, that’s how you know you’ve made it!
If you had to do it again, would you?
Hm, short answer: yes.
Long answer: I wouldn’t change the avenues I took during my career progression, but I like to believe I’d pursue things faster than I did. I say this because the fear of failure largely held me back from chasing what I wanted. Thoughts associated with imposter syndrome were a strong constant in my early to mid 20s when I believed I lacked the substance to go after what I wanted. Not only was this a self-confidence issue, but also in a world where people from different communities are frequently subjected to biases it felt like I was also battling society alongside my internal concerns.
What was the most fun job you had? What about the worst?
The jobs I’ve had range the entire spectrum! The most fun I ever had on a job was a summer till sampling program in Saskatchewan. Because of company safety policy, the number of samples taken per day was capped and once you reached it, you could return to camp and have the remaining time of the day to spend at your leisure. As you can imagine, the whole crew got up early and blazed through our quotas with fantastical and nimble speed while navigating through the woods, eating while working to avoid taking a lunch break to complete our sampling lines just after 1PM or so. The rest of the day was spent at the lake side, playing volleyball in the water and taking wistful walks along the shore in the sunshine.
The most unpleasant job I suffered through was a drill program that was mismanaged beyond belief. The approach the managers took to treating workers was preposterous in both professional and personal expectations. My coworkers and myself were unabashedly gaslit, ignored, and argued with when we were just trying to do our jobs. Instead of improving workflows, the managers decided to hire more people, bogging down the already strained and inefficient system. Instead of involving the drilling geologists’ technical input, the managers decided to make key decisions without the most up to date information, delaying plans and logistics when they inevitably flopped. It was the most frustrating and emotionally exhausting project I had ever been on.
The good news is most of my experiences overall trend towards the positive and while the second project I described wasn’t pleasant, I choose to recognize it as an enormous learning opportunity to visit the other end of the work quality spectrum.
What do you enjoy about your job? What do you dislike about your job?
I really enjoy field work like core logging on a drill program, you really do see a lot of rocks that way. Plus it’s very gratifying to develop ideas from having seen the rocks and progress to working on the 3D model, seeing it come together.
I dislike writing reports. Gimme a drill rig line-up any day.
Do you see, in either your workspace or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more mainstream, about the same as when you started, or worse?
All throughout school, my classmates and professors were mostly women, but something happens during the jump between academia to industry where the number of women seem to fall dramatically. I do see more women at my field jobs compared to when I first started where I was frequently the only other woman in camp aside from the cook or admin. But the largest difference is that I consistently witness a swell in the number of women speaking up about issues like bias and discrimination, which I applaud. I hear an increase in those conversations from women colleagues, plus men colleagues and members of management as well asking questions about increasing diversity and inclusion. I’d say it’s progressing towards the better.
What three pieces of advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?
Talk to everyone, even to people who can’t give you a job right away.
Ask questions, all of them. Anyone who is a true leader will offer guidance and help.
Trust your instincts, but don’t ignore red flags. If a situation feels off, be it a personal or work relationship with others, a safety situation, or a policy you don’t agree with, recognize that your thoughts are valid and approach someone about it.
And a few bonus ones:
Don’t compare yourself to others too much. Remember that you typically only see other people’s highlight reels
Don’t talk to people who speak to make you feel small or unimportant.
In your opinion, what should be focused on to improve diversity within geoscience?
I’d say diversity is important to me because I identify with several historically marginalized communities and to see more relatable people in geoscience that are part of those same communities is important representation not only for myself but upcoming generations as well.
I strongly believe what should be equally focused on is intersectionality between bias in geoscience, gender, abledness, identity, etc. Everyone has their own unique experiences so unfortunately a blanket policy with vague language like, “Don’t discriminate.” while technically qualifies as a diversity policy, it is ineffectual against the reality that discrimination is much more complex than that (especially microaggressions which can be more insidious than outright discrimination).
Another point of focus should be workplace culture. I savored this quote from an HR representative in a focus group I attended where she said, “Your workplace culture is going to eat your policy for breakfast.” If the culture is to maintain an old status quo, there will be no change, regardless of new policies.
Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?
Two reasons: to be relevant in the modern world and to retain content motivated workers. Workplaces retaining archaic policies that are biased against certain groups, such as disallowing certain people from holding specific roles or being inflexible when it comes to time off for childcare, will find it difficult to maintain their place in the progressing world compared to those that enact and pursue change for the better. With an open, flexible, and indiscriminate workplace, it is possible for companies to maintain their production and duties, resulting in happy and motivated workers and no loss in overall revenue. It’s a shame that money needs to enter the conversation on how to convince the industry to care about diversity, but it’s a positive point in our arsenal.