Working towards change: a focus on access and accessibility in geoscience 

Author:
Pamela Campbell
School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

Table of Contents

As is true across many STEM disciplines, barriers to accessing and succeeding in the geosciences are widely documented, with the geosciences being recognised as the least diverse of all STEM fields (Mattheis et al., 2022; Gonzales & Keane, 2020). Much change is needed to tackle the limiting and often negative perceptions that exist in the geosciences, and the lack of awareness of career paths and opportunities (Rogers et al., 2023). 

In this piece I’m sharing a brief reflective overview showcasing some of the SoTL outputs and initiatives I’ve been leading and working on alongside colleagues from School of Geographical and Earth Sciences (GES) and the the wider UofG community over the past year. aiming to investigate some of these issues locally and embed evidence-based approaches and practices to address some of the exclusionary barriers and perceptions at a school level. These approaches fall under two main categories in supporting our early years undergraduates: i) improving access and recruitment; ii) fostering inclusive and active learning. 

Improving access and recruitment to our programs 

Having an awareness of the full extent of backgrounds and experiences our student cohort is key to supporting our students and developing their academic literacies in the early years. In my ongoing SoTL project: ‘Mapping the challenges for alternative routes into geoscience: exploring student experience of, and barriers to, belonging’ we are working to profile the diversity of access routes to our geoscience degrees in GES, and investigate the experiences and barriers inherent to these. By creating a detailed view of student experience and wellbeing on these routes, we are working to enhance support around the transition and retention of undergraduate students.  

This builds on initiatives over the past year to strengthen relationships with Foundation Pathway students on the GES programme at the Glasgow International College. For example, GIC Foundation students are invited to Earth Science 1-day field classes for an opportunity to meet their cohort and build relationships at an earlier stage, and lab ‘catch up’ sessions are held for former GIC students in second year to help build their confidence with the practical class material.  

This year Amanda Owen and I hosted the return of the in-person Girls into Geoscience Scotland, welcoming 70 attendees from high schools across Scotland on campus for a day of interactive workshops and talks by invited speakers. We shared some of our findings on the influence of role models and the visibility of opportunities in promoting change in the geosciences. View the poster here.  

“I liked how it gave an insight on the different careers available in both geography and earth science and that there is a group of women that are breaking the stereotypes that science-based jobs are only for men, which gives me hope for the future” – GIG Scotland Participant 

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Alice Lacsny and I also organised a ‘Women in Geoscience’ careers session into this year’s Geography and Earth Science Widening Participation Summer School, inviting alumni from the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences to share their experience in the field and their career trajectories working in male-dominated environments.  

Fostering inclusive and active learning  

Creating a nurturing and welcoming environment in the classroom is key to transition and retention in the early undergraduate years. Much focus has centred around the design and delivery of our GTA-led practicals to be active and inclusive learning spaces across GES. Alice Lacsny, Hannah Mathers and I have been working on a model for the professional development and training of our GTAs and presented this work at this years’ L&T Conference. View the poster here. We have also been awarded funding from the Learning and Teaching Development Fund to work in partnership with GTAs to create digital training platform.  

Recent school-wide improvements have been made in the accessibility and sustainability of our field classes, such as subsidising the financial contribution of mandatory field classes and providing interactive virtual alternatives. I’ve been contributing to the GES Fieldwork Code of Practice to embed best practice, I facilitated a new session on toileting and menstruation in the field, which is a common area of anxiety for many students and can be a barrier to participation (Giles et al., 2020). This was delivered by Millie Bompard from SUERC. This year Ed Curley, Hannah Mathers and I presented a case-study at the HETL 2023 Conference at the University of Aberdeen on our interdisciplinary approach to course design incorporating accessible, local fieldwork to promote environmental sustainability based around research-led projects: The Urban Field: Advancing Inclusion and Employability for Geographical and Earth Science Students.  

The ‘golden thread’ of my SoTL interests are driven by my own experiences as a non-traditional student, having left school early without any formal qualifications (e.g. Scottish Highers) and with next to no experience of geoscience or the Scottish outdoors. Representation, subject-specific role models and mentors make a remarkable difference, and the need for these positive influences only increases with our growing demand for geoscientists going forward. Although steps are being taken towards change in a variety of directions. There is much work to be done, and I look forward to continuing with these efforts and exciting projects alongside my small but mighty team of LTS colleagues in GES and wider collaborators on my return from maternity leave in late 2024.   

References  

Campbell, P. & Owen, A. 2023. Steps Towards Positive Change in the Geosciences: Inspiring Girls into Geoscience Scotland. 

Campbell, P., Lacsny, A. and Mathers, H. (2023) Shaping Graduate Teacher Identity: A Model for the Training and Support of GTA Skills Development and Graduate Attributes. 16th Annual University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference, 29 Mar 2023. 

Curley, E. , Campbell, P. and Mathers, H. (2023) The Urban Field: Advancing Inclusion and Employability for Geographical and Earth Science Students. 2023 HETL Conference – Re-Imagining Education: Collaboration and Compassion, Aberdeen, UK, 12-14 June 2023.  

Fernando, B. & Antell, G. 2020. Recommendations for improving racial equality, diversity, and inclusion in the Department of Earth Sciences (University of Oxford, 2020) 

Giles, S., Greene, S., Ashey, A., Dunne, E., Edgar, K. & Hanson, E. 2020. Getting the basics right: a field-teaching primer on toilet stops in the field. 22nd  EGU General Assembly, 4-8 May 

Gonzales, L. & Keane, C. 2020. Diversity in the Geosciences. AGI Geoscience Currents. Data Brief 2020-023 

Mattheis, A., Marín-Spiotta, E., Nandihalli S., Schneider, B., Barnes, R.T. (2022) “Maybe this is just not the place for me:” Gender harassment and discrimination in the geosciences. PLoS ONE 17(5) 

Rogers, S. L., Giles, S., Dowey, N., Greene, S. E., Bhatia, R., Van Landeghem, K. & King, C. 2023. “you just look at rocks, and have beards” Perceptions of geology from the UK: a qualitative analysis from an online survey 

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