(It’s a gem pun.)

Theoretically on honeymoon, distracted by basalt. Photo taken by patient spouse.
The author, and some rocks.

Obviously my introductory post is a little late.

It’s late because I’ve been sick and there wasn’t a specific hard external deadline with which I could force myself to power through an illness.

It’s obvious because I’m sick more often than not. In fact, I’m actually sick all the time, so it’s really more about degree of illness than anything else. I have a chronic illness. It isn’t really what I wanted to open my tenure on this exciting blog project with. But my chronic illness has a way of insinuating itself into everything, whether I want it to or not.

My chronic illness showed up halfway through my undergraduate degree. There’s a longer story there, but suffice to say alone in a bunkhouse on a tiny Scottish island with naught but an honest-to-god old-fashioned payphone and some scary health literature, while two trains, a taxi, a ferry, and a long drive away from home, is not the ideal circumstances under which to become seriously ill. Or, as the kind Scottish lady at the second train station said, “Ooh, nightmare!”

Being a chronically ill and/or disabled geoscientist is difficult. In fact, the impression I got was that it’s just Not Done. It’s almost like you’re being a touch impolite, showing up with your passion for metamorphic facies and your wobbly floppy legs. Practically all our lecturers wore tough waterproof boots, had windswept hair, and bounded up mountainsides like a trip of geochemist goats. That’s not to say they weren’t supportive and kind but, they didn’t really understand. Anyway I was somewhat traumatised by fieldwork, having been (inadvertently) left behind on one mountain, which is one mountain too many. But I got my undergraduate degree in Geology.

So, I’m a chronically ill geologist.

I did my Masters in geophysics, which is a type of geo- you can, and in fact should, do at a computer. It is almost impossible to get left behind on a mountain while doing geophysics, and no one can tell how wobbly your legs are.

They also, my brain helpfully decided, can’t tell if you’re good at geophysics or just deceiving everyone, and eventually they’ll figure it out and laugh at you and kick you out. I was the only woman on my team (although there were women on the team next door and elsewhere in the building) and my brain offered the theory that if I did badly, Some People would say it was because I was a woman and women are obviously bad at physics. This definitely wasn’t coming from anyone on my team, who were all amazing and so helpful, but there were a few people in my wider orbit at the time who were… how does one put it delicately? Sexist assholes.

It was a bit of a struggle between “I’m not actually enjoying this as much as I could maybe enjoy something else”, “but maybe that’s just the anxiety”, and “if I leave it PROVES that I’m both terrible at geophysics and a disappointment to my gender”.

Turns out Impostor Syndrome is a liar, but also geophysics, while very cool, is not my calling. But I got my Masters in seismology.

So, I’m a feminist seismologist.

During my Masters, I was funded by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, and got to attend one of their conferences. There’s another story there but suffice it to say, at one event for young scientists, the mic was passed around and we each had to say what our career ambition was. I’ve never been able to succinctly answer “what do you want to do when you grow up?” (or, in fairness, any question). I found myself saying I wanted to work on outreach and education and, to my surprise, it was even true. I could see the science was there to implement a global nuclear test monitoring system, but some countries weren’t signing up. But maybe they would if their citizens demanded it, if their citizens had access to the information we had. People should have access to geoscience education, especially these days. How do we expect countries to make difficult decisions about their environment, if the citizens of that country don’t have access to good information about how the physical world actually works?

I started a PhD in geoscience education. I live on a pretty small island (okay we’re the 20th largest island in the world but there are some pretty big gaps in size within the first 20!) and I am, as all right-thinking millennials are, near-paralysed by the crushing terror of impending climate change. We’re on an island!

I’m studying geoscience education in Irish primary and secondary schools, using a feminist children’s-rights-based methodology. I’m hoping to influence education policy and practice to improve geoscientific literacy in Ireland. I hold an Irish Research Council Scholarship for this project, which allows me to both research and eat.

So, I’m a funded Irish educational geoscientist.

Meanwhile, I got a job at the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland (CTYI), teaching 6-7 year olds and 8-12 year olds about Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Tsunamis, and continue to teach on and off there. It’s exhausting (15 small children are capable of putting out energy approximately equal to a magnitude 4 earthquake, but like, constantly). I absolutely love it.

I also lecture undergraduates, Masters students, occasionally doctoral students, and adults with intellectual disabilities at my university. I love that too.

So, I’m a geoscience teacher.

Early in my PhD I got the opportunity, along with my feminist scientist mother, to go to the 2nd Commemoration of the United Nations Day of Women and Girls In Science. That’s also a whole other longer story but suffice it to say it was supposed to be in Malta but wasn’t. And there I met two justifiably angry young feminist geologists who’d flown halfway around the world to attend this event, only to find out at the last minute that it was now taking place on the continent they’d just left. You’d have to ask Leila and Mackenzie if it was worth it, but I certainly think so, as we attended remotely, hid cake and wine under the table to enjoy when the camera wasn’t on us, and became friends.

And then later, started a blog!

The blog came at the perfect time for me, because I have – for reasons that are perhaps still unclear to my very supportive but slightly overwhelmed supervisor – decided to write my PhD in a non-traditional creative non-fiction format. I’m writing it as an epistolary, a collection of (semi-fictional but scientifically accurate) emails, journal excerpts, articles, stories, and even poems, that together tell the story of the research. That too is a whole other longer story, and one I certainly plan to tell in another blog post!

So I’m a writer.

All of which is to say:

Hello, nice to meet you all and thank you for reading. I’m a chronically ill, feminist, Irish geologist, seismologist, teacher, working on my PhD in geoscience education, and writing, writing, painting, and writing my way through it.

Yours in Lady Geoscience,
Emer Emily

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