International Women in Science Day: Meet Madeleine Vickers geoscientist at Copenhagen University
The NSRG is a young and upcoming organisation - this also means it has been founded during the course of recent discussion surrounding social acceptance and positivity towards gender, sexuality and of course women's rights.
In our organisation we celebrate diversity and the inclusion of everyone. For the International Day of Women and Girls in Sciences 2021, we reached out to Madeleine Vickers, a Post Doc at the University of Copenhagen. We wanted to hear in her words what brought her into the world of geosciences, who or what inspires her and about any challenges or gender barriers she has encountered throughout her career.
Check out her replies to our questions below.
What made you decide to become a geoscientist?
I was always interested in the natural world, even from a young age, and became concerned about climate change and the effect humans are having on the planet. I chose to study geoscience in order to learn how the Earth’s climate has varied throughout geological time, as understanding the Earth’s past climate, triggers and feedback mechanisms, is crucial to forecasting and mitigating against current and future climate change. I love being outdoors and therefore love the fieldwork aspect of geoscience. I also derive great pleasure knowing how landscapes and rocks that I hike in and climb on formed.
Madeleine and a collection of the Danish glendonites at the Mors Museum in Nykobing Mors, Denmark. Madeleine is currently working with glendonites to understand their place in Earth's history in relation to global climate. Photo © Dr. Nicolas Thibault.
What do you enjoy the most in your career?
I love solving little geochemical mysteries and mineralogical conundrums. It is so exciting and deeply satisfying when I finally work out how to answer a long-standing question, no matter how small. I also love the field campaigns, which, whilst they involve much planning and preparation, allow me to spend much time outdoors, in nature. It is doubly satisfying to be collecting samples that I know I will use to help solve an interesting geological puzzle.
"The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated on 11 February, is implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women, in collaboration institutions and civil society partners that aim to promote women and girls in science. This Day is an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. Gender equality is a global priority for UNESCO, and the support of young girls, their education and their full ability to make their ideas heard are levers for development and peace."
What are the topics you are currently interested in researching about?
My current work focuses on examining glendonites, calcite pseudomorphs after ikaite, a carbonate mineral that grows today at the sediment-ocean floor interface under conditions of near-freezing temperatures. Glendonites are found throughout geological time and have been supposed to be associated with freezing conditions, yet paradoxically they may be found in sediments deposited in some of the warmest periods of Earth’s history, when no sea-ice was thought to have formed anywhere on Earth. I am working towards understanding how local climatic conditions might have changed such that these minerals precipitated, despite globally high atmospheric CO2 levels, in the Greenhouse periods of the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic.
"I have noticed that there were fewer women taking the geoscience undergraduate courses than men in the universities where I studied."
As a woman, what's your experience being a geoscientist? Have you encountered many obstacles or had to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
So far, I have been lucky in this respect; I have not felt that I was discriminated based on my gender, at least not when it came to applying for and getting undergraduate and post-graduate positions. Yet, I have noticed that there were fewer women taking the geoscience undergraduate courses than men in the universities where I studied. I have been part of projects such as Girls into Geoscience aimed at encouraging young women (school-age) to consider undertaking a geoscience degree.
Madeleine in one of her many other elements, conducting fieldwork in Svalbard. She loves to be outdoors and naturally loves the fieldwork aspect of geoscience. In her words, she also derives great pleasure knowing about the how landscapes and rocks that she hikes and climbs on have formed. Photo © Dr. Kasia Sliwinska.
Who or what inspires you?
My biggest inspiration is probably Sir David Attenborough. I grew up watching his wonderful wildlife documentaries, and as the years have gone on these included fascinating documentaries about geology and palaeontology too. His work demonstrates the fragile beauty of the Earth and how the whole Earth System is linked – oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere, etc. – and the need to mitigate against further anthropogenic damage. All of this really inspired me to be part of geoscience research, both to appreciate and understand how the Earth works, and to help protect it.
What are your plans for the future?
I have just been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship, so I will soon be moving to the University of Oslo (Norway) to work on early Cenozoic climate in the Nordic and Arctic regions. This will involve fieldwork in Svalbard and Denmark, and reconstructing local and regional climate during the extreme heat of the Early Eocene.
"I would advise going to both small and large conferences and workshops when possible and really getting to know the other scientists in your field; this network would support you and bring new and unforeseen opportunities."
Do you have any tips for other women in geosciences?
I would say that having a strong network of fellow geoscientists has really helped me to get involved in some cool projects, access funding, and get great job opportunities. I would advise going to both small and large conferences and workshops when possible and really getting to know the other scientists in your field; this network would support you and bring new and unforeseen opportunities. If you are limited by funding e.g. from your PhD project, then there is almost always some kind of external fund you can apply to in order attend a meeting/conference/workshop. In the field of sedimentology this includes various organisations such as the IAS, GSL, BSRG, ECORD.
How can others find you online and follow your activities?
My scientific endeavors are regularly updated on my ResearchGate profile. I am a Early Career Scientist Representative for the Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology division of the European Geosciences Union, and update the EGU SSP Division Twitter and Facebook pages with geoscience news, conference and job opportunities.
Check out the EGU SSP Division here: