Encouraging Girls Into Geoscience

Sarah Boulton and Jodie Fisher from Plymouth University tell us about Girls into Geoscience, a UK initiative aimed at letting female secondary school pupils know more about the subject.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 2 - 2020


Encouraging Girls Into Geoscience

How can we stop the decline in the number of women studying geoscience degrees? Sarah Boulton and Jodie Fisher from Plymouth University tell us about Girls into Geoscience, a UK initiative aimed at letting female secondary school pupils know more about the subject.

  • Left: Dr. Sarah Boulton is Associate Professor of Active Neotectonics at the University of Plymouth and is a co-founder of Girls into Geoscience. Right: Dr. Jodie Fisher manages the earth science research laboratories at the University of Plymouth and undertakes workshops and geoscience sessions for schools. She is also a co-founder of Girls into Geoscience. © University of Plymouth, Alan Stewart

What is Girls into Geoscience?

GiG is an outreach initiative primarily based around an annual two-day event held at the University of Plymouth, and this year will be the 7th year it has run. Aimed at year 12 (16 -17-years-old) female students who are thinking about applying for university, we welcome all students who are interested in geoscience, from those who have studied geology, have some geological knowledge, or are completely new to the geosciences.

On the first day we offer an optional fieldtrip, to demonstrate that there are no barriers to female inclusion in the field, whilst the second day consists of talks and workshops, with topics from across the geosciences. These sessions showcase the range of geoscience career pathways that are possible across industry and academia, and importantly provide role models for the girls and an insight into the university experience.Why did you feel there was a need to set this up?

We knew the figures. Women still only make up 22% of the UK STEM workforce, and a similar pattern is seen in the geosciences. At degree level the numbers are better; however, only about 40 % of places on geoscience courses are being taken up by women. We wanted to do something to encourage more girls to consider the geosciences, but the final straw came when a prospective student told us her teacher had told her geology was not for girls! This was a mindset we could definitely try to change.

  • The 2019 Girls into Geoscience group. © University of Plymouth, Alan Stewart.

What difference has it made?

Running now for seven years we have seen more than 320 girls come to our events, and some of our first attendees are already embarking on their own geoscience careers and fulfilling their ambitions having completed their university studies. Feedback from the girls who have attended has helped us understand the impact of the events, and the difference we have made to them. Many attendees are the only girl on their A-level course, or the only female at school interested in studying the geosciences at university. These girls have found that GiG has given them the opportunity to meet like-minded students and to start to form their own networks, giving them the confidence to know that they are not the only one interested in geology! GiG gives them the chance to see if geoscience is really for them, through role models and fieldwork, and our surveys show that 100% of the girls attending would recommend GiG to anyone considering studying the geosciences.

Locally we have also seen an increase in the number of girls on our courses at the University of Plymouth, and at other universities we hope similar trends have been observed. GiG has also had an impact on our equality agenda. Overall, we are seeing a community of female geoscientists coming together to raise the profile of the geosciences to the wider community.

What are the plans going forward?

Over the last two years our initiative has grown; Ireland has set up GiG Ireland, running their third event this year, and the University of Glasgow started GiG Scotland last year, while 2020 will see the first GiG Wales event. With links to other international programs we are beginning to see a global network developing.

However, we realise there is still more we can do in order to break down the barriers that may exist in females when thinking about STEM subjects and careers. Many girls make their career choices by the time they are 14, and gender stereotypes about potential careers are set as early as the age of 4. So whilst we are promoting STEM and the geosciences to girls interested in knowing more, we may already be too late for many girls who have already ruled out STEM subjects. To address this issue we launched GiG Junior last year for girls aged 12-14 to inspire them into STEM and show them where the geosciences could take them. The University of Leicester held the first GiG junior event last October, and they are planning another event this year.

  • On the 2019 GiG field trip. © Sarah Boulton.

  • On the 2019 GiG field trip. © Sarah Boulton.

Is the oil industry discussed at a GiG session?

As earth scientist’s we see ourselves as the custodians of the planet, but there is no getting away from the fact that for modern life to continue we need the extractive industries and the materials they produce. Unfortunately, in recent years number of students studying Geology at university have fallen perhaps partly owing to the close links between the subject and the oil industry. However, we have been really lucky to have had a number of women from the oil and extractive industry attend GiG as speakers and role models. These industry experts have shown the diversity of what the oil industries do as part of their remit and daily operations but also what these companies are doing in terms of sustainability. We hope that the students leave the event with an understanding of how different industries are tackling the climate crisis and how Earth Scientist’s can be part of the solution across a range of industries.

How has GiG impacted you?

Since setting up GiG eight years ago we have been amazed to see the incredible network of scientists that has developed as a result. From the women we work with in Plymouth and the UK, who have been involved directly with the event and wider programme, to women internationally, as a result of initiatives such as ‘Where has geology taken you’ where more than 375 women from across the globe posted where geology had taken them on an interactive map. It’s been incredible to be part of something which has impacted those girls just starting in the geosciences, and to reach out to women who are role models and an inspiration to the girls. A personal highlight for us though was receiving, on behalf of GiG, the 2018 R.H. Worth Award from the Geological Society. As our careers have developed so has GiG, and so have the opportunities that have arisen for us, our colleagues and our students and we hope that we continue to inspire women to enter the earth sciences, until hopefully we are no longer needed.

Further Reading on Women and Diversity in Geoscience

AAPG Women’s Network Repurposed
It is more than a new name and logo. The AAPG Women’s Network is ready to move forward with a new mission and a new purpose – for everyone.
This article appeared in Vol. 16, No. 5 - 2019

Diversity in the Energy Sector
Francis Gugen
Ask not what the energy industry can do for you, but what you can do for the energy industry to improve diversity in the energy sector.
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 4 - 2018

Women in Oil & Gas
Jane Whaley
Making the oil and gas sector more inclusive by encouraging more women into the energy industry, with stories from successful women in oil and gas.
This article appeared in March, 2018

Women in Geosciences
Nathan Young-Ziolkowski
Increasing numbers of woman are graduating in petroleum science subjects and more are starting careers in the oil industry - but we are still not retaining them.
This article appeared in February, 2018

Making a Difference
Jane Whaley
Gladys Gonzalez, 2013–2014 President of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, is an enthusiastic geoscientist, committed to increasing diversity in the oil and gas industry.
This article appeared in Vol. 13, No. 4 - 2016


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