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Women in STEM | Prof Jenni Barclay

In honour of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, we asked women in environmental sciences to answer questions about what it is like being a woman in STEM. The following is a compilation of questions and answers from the questionnaire with Jenni Barclay, Professor of Volcanology at the University of East Anglia.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

Geography (because it explained the world) and Physics (because it explained why forces worked the way they did).

How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a career in STEM become a priority or choice?

When I was a kid 'acid rain', hazards and the loss of tropical rainforests were something I was aware of. I wanted to work on something that helped to deal with that. Working out how and why science helps do that took me a while. It came a bit more into focus during my first degree.

What is/was your PhD topic?

It was on the role that magmatic gas played in governing some volcanic eruptions.

How did you get into your current field? What is your academic background?

My first degree is in Geology, my PhD is Geology/Volcanology and being in a School of Environmental Sciences has allowed me to expand my expertise beyond that. That's my most treasured thing about being an academic, always learning more.

What are the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome? Do you feel that your academic career would be easier/harder if you were male?

It felt initially like it wasn't an issue but as I got further on you notice problems, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. I was the first teaching academic in ENV to take Maternity Leave in 2002 - no-one really knew what to do about that. That was a surprise!

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?

Wider emphasis on what really makes good science instead of the myths: collaboration not competition - things like that.

Do you have a female role model?

She's not a scientist: Kirsty Wark - an unabashed polymath!

What advice would you give to other women beginning their PhD journey?

Value your support networks.

Do you have a network of women in STEM around you to share knowledge and remind you that you are not alone? If so, how did you go about creating that network?

My network goes beyond STEM academics, but yes, I have a brilliant peer support network who advise me and make me laugh at things that might otherwise frustrate me to boiling point. Laughing is important.

If you could go back and change one thing in your STEM path, what would that be?

I’d go back and tell the 'coming back from Maternity Leave' me that things will work out, give it time!

Do you have any plans for the future, both in your academic and personal life, and do you feel that there are any barriers to these plans?

Yes! My plans are to help dismantle the barriers I stepped over to get here! Let's see, shall we?


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