Representative VolcanologyRepresentative Volcanology: Striving for a Comprehensive Understanding

Representative Volcanology: Striving for a Comprehensive Understanding

This is part 2 of a look at the evolution of women in volcanology, particularly at the US Geological Survey. You can read Part 1 here.

Hawaiian eruption was an unexpected destination for Alexa Van Eaton. This was her second stint at USGS. She previously worked at CVO as a postdoctoral researcher and felt she didn’t really fit in there as a female scientist early in her career. The predominantly male CVO staff over 40 was nothing new to her. Her professors at Florida and her Ph.D. councilors in New Zealand were also men.

Van Eaton decided that before committing to volcano research, he wanted to work with a woman. She received her postdoctoral funding from the NSF Amanda Clarke, a world-renowned volcanologist in the state of Arizona. At first, Van Eaton did not internalize the strong gender biases in her undergraduate and graduate experiences, thinking that “this is the water we swim in.” Still, some of those early experiences made her wonder if she wanted to spend a career in such an environment.

Van Eaton’s experience resonates with Michelle Coombs, the current SIC at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. During her college years in geology, she thought the male predominance of earth sciences “is just what life is like, that the professors are men.” Until I started working as a field assistant for the USGS geologist Judy Fierstein did she realize how correct her perceptions were. “Judy said it was great to be in the field with a woman because I’ve hardly ever been in the field with a woman.”

Michelle Coombs studies the aftermath of a 2006 lahar on the slopes of Augustine, Alaska. Credit: USGS.

Coombs decided to work at the Alaska Volcano Observatory in 2004 after his Ph.D. at the University of Alaska and stay as part of USGS Volcanic Hazards Team in Menlo Park. She found AVO a very fair place with mentors like Tina Neal and Terry Keith.

Just 12 years later, she was named the second woman to lead AVO, taking over as SIC in 2016. When that happened, she joined Neil and Maggie Mangan as a trio of women leading USGS volcano observatories (60% ) – a remarkable change considering that only 12% of all senior scientists are women across the country history of the USGS.

Changeable winds

Things changed in the two years between Van Eaton’s first and second stints at CVO. In what felt like an explosion of gender diversity, five women were hired, and Van Eaton noticed that the culture had completely changed. “The jokes that used to be acceptable just didn’t happen as often anymore,” she recalls, “suddenly it felt like we were a team.”

Perhaps this was the beginning of a generational change at the USGS, where, due to the hiring freeze in the 1990s, it was very “heavy” with older scientists. Perhaps the Me Too movement put sexual harassment and performance in the spotlight. “Maybe we should consider hiring team players, not just high-ranking researchers, regardless of their behavior,” Van Etten said.

The Earth sciences – including volcanology – are in an identity crisis. Most of the audience would probably describe a geologist as they might describe an old prospector: outdoorsy, bearded, white, and male. The discipline deserves much of this label.

According to an analysis of Rachel Bernard and Emily Cooperdock (2018) in Nature Geosciences, since 1973 the percentage of men earning Ph.D. in geosciences it is 73%. That number drops to 55% when considering doctoral degrees since 2016. Both numbers are well above 49% of men in the general US population.

Racial diversity is even worse, with only 4% of earth science PhDs going to Hispanic students and 1% going to black students according to Barnard and Cooperdock, when these groups represent 30% of the total US population.

These grim statistics point to the much broader problem that the status quo in the earth sciences can be particularly unattractive or even hostile to people who identify with more than one underrepresented group (such as race, sexuality, physical ability, and more). This intersectionality, overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and disadvantage plague people in such categories and compound the obstacles they face within the discipline and throughout their careers.

Intersections and biases

“I’m not what people think of as a typical geologist,” he begins Gary MayberryUSGS and an employee stationed at United States Agency for International Development Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA), where she served as Team Leader for Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction and Geoscience Advisor (a role Neal also held from 1998 to 2000).

Gary Mayberry on Pikes Peak in Colorado. Credit: USGS

She directs international disaster relief and helps manage USAID-USGS Volcano Disaster Relief Program and Earthquake Disaster Relief Team. She is not a fan of beer, sometimes it does not feel so “crisp”. Most importantly, she is one of the few black female volcanologists in the country.

Mayberry arrived at Wesleyan College as a freshman thinking she would major in sociology or photography, but after struggling to get into popular classes, she wasn’t so sure about either path. Then she took a volcanology class her freshman year, “it’s like, oh, finally, thank God, this is what I want to do.” She found herself surrounded by supportive but mostly white, mostly male professors .

This continued as a student at Michigan Tech, in Michigan’s racially homogeneous and remote Upper Peninsula. Although she persisted in volcanology, she faced systemic obstacles during her education that sometimes excluded her from experiences for reasons that appeared to be based on her race and gender.

It wasn’t until she arrived at the Smithsonian Institution to work as the USGS liaison to Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program that she met Marian Guffanti, her first female volcanology mentor. Mayberry was hired by Guffanti when most of the women in the Global Volcanism Program were in support roles rather than lead scientists. Guffanti was the first female coordinator of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program and a pioneer in her own right. Mayberry was hired by Guffanti when most women in the Global Volcanism Program were in support roles rather than scientists.

Even with Guffanti’s strong support, Mayberry recalls running into problems throughout her career with people assuming she wasn’t in a leadership role and being denied an open office instead of a corner basement library crammed with temporary staff , only to be told they can No because “some other people would be upset”.

Years later, she got the office and an apology, but the damage was done. “Sometimes you see your worth in people’s eyes, and that can be quite discouraging.” She cites the importance of not only having a mentor, but also a sponsor like Guffanti, who advocates for employees throughout their careers, as vital to retaining staff from racially underrepresented groups.

The change that is coming

Like volcanology in general, the USGS still lags well behind the general civilian workforce in terms of women at over 50% male (compared to 38% male in the general workforce). The same can be said for its racial diversity, where less than 4 percent of the entire USGS workforce is black, and most are in lower-paying positions.

Tina Neal studies volcanic deposits at Aniakchak in Alaska. Credit: Tina Neal / USGS.

According to Van Eaton, Mayberry, Coombs, and Gardner, movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter have begun to change the conversation and allowed for the beginning of more critical research with the volcanology community. Van Eaton believes it has made a huge difference in how “we’re able to stand up for each other,” she said, “and how racist or sexist jokes are no longer tolerated, not because people you tell them stop telling them, but because people are no longer willing to stand and listen to it. It’s not funny anymore.”

“Science is not a one-man show,” he commented Anita Grunder, professor emeritus of petrology and volcanology at Oregon State University. She believes that discipline needs to be a more accepting and supportive environment. “Women should rule, not just symbolically.”

Neal wholeheartedly agrees, adding, “Diverse ideas and voices add to science, not a monolithic culture—diverse ideas and approaches. There is some evidence that having a very diverse team, a diversity of perspectives and opinions and backgrounds, approaching a scientific problem actually leads to better science.”

“We lose as a profession without multiple voices.” That’s Gardner’s takeaway from volcanology’s past monolithic culture, especially in leadership positions across the field. The field of volcanology is now different. Neil is now the Director of USGS Volcano Science Centeroverseeing all volcanic observatories, Coombs remains SIC at AVO, and women are employed in volcanology at both the USGS and academia.

“Progress has been made, but it still defaults back to the norm, which is still predominantly male,” says Coombs. Now she is the only female SIC, “it doesn’t take much for the entire management to become all male”. Combined with continued racial disparities in the earth sciences, there are still many difficult conversations and substantial changes that need to be made to truly diversify the discipline.

When Van Eaton and the five women recognized each other in that empty firehouse parking lot, they knew they were there to help keep people safe by watching the eruption. But they also felt stunned. They knew this was a historic moment. As Van Eaton recalls, “We all looked around and realized it wasn’t 1980 anymore.” It wasn’t just a world of “volcanic cowboys” or brave leading men like Pierce Brosnan saving people. With that in mind, Gardner laughed, “maybe Linda Hamilton should have been the volcanologist in Mount Dante let’s start with…”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *