Working at Lochaber Geopark as a Geologist

As Lochaber has been named as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, offering many outdoor enthusiasts the choice of various activities, it is also the ideal place to open a Geopark. Lochaber Geopark was therefore set up to benefit the local area through providing tourists and locals with information about the local geology which can also help experts to figure out how this fits with wider environmental issues. Former Lochaber High School student, Isla Mackay loves working as a staff Geologist at the Geopark, working either out on site or with with numerous school children to educate them about her field. She has no regrets about choosing to follow a STEM related career as she states below:

What inspired you to study a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subject at University?

‘At school STEM subjects were my strongest. This was mainly due to me being more interested in those subjects and having inspirational teachers. I knew that when I left school, I wanted to study something that was not solely indoors and was science-based: Geology was the perfect combination.’

What did you enjoy most about studying a STEM subject?

‘In my degree I was fortunate enough to go on field-trips every year. Although we worked for long hours it is a great environment in which to learn practically and get to know your course mates. Most of us on the degree were like-minded in the respect that we enjoyed learning in the outdoors.’

‘Geology is a great foundation for STEM-related careers with physics, chemistry, mathematics and aspects of engineering being covered within the degree course as well as many other earth science topics. STEM subject degrees are not isolated in their field of study as inter-disciplinary approaches are used. Throughout a STEM career this is a theme that continues: working with other disciplines and expertise for a shared goal.’

STEM subjects can lead to many exciting and varied careers:  what are you doing now after studying either Science, Engineering, Technology or Maths?

‘Currently, I am working as a staff geologist at Lochaber Geopark based in Fort William. A Geopark contains “several geological or geomorphological sites of national and international importance”. The geology of Lochaber is fantastic and that steered my path into studying geology at University.’

‘My job involves a lot of outreach education, be that through taking groups out and around Lochaber’s best geological sites or going into schools as a STEM ambassador to provide workshops/classes on STEM-related topics. Being able to educate the younger generation on topical science is the best part of the job. Their enthusiasm for learning rubs off!’

According to statistics, only a small percentage of women/ young girls choose to study/ work in a STEM related subject. What advice would you give to encourage more to do this?

‘Being a woman in a STEM subject job can be an advantage. Companies are looking to employ and support women in this field of work. The generations of women that have gone before us had no opportunities in this sector at all. We have opportunities now and it would be a waste to not go out and make the most of them! Dr Ellen Stofan, former Chief Scientist at NASA, was an inspirational figure of mine when studying at University. A female geologist in one of the most prominent jobs in the scientific world. There are many brilliant female STEM role models from the past and present.’ 

Professor Ian Parsons, Vice Chairman of the Lochaber Geopark, also recommends Geology as an excellent STEM career choice as he states:

‘Geologists contribute to our daily lives in a host of ways. It is a very satisfying, challenging profession, vital to the modern world.’

Many thanks to Isla for sharing her Geology career path journey and to Professor Ian Parsons for his views regarding a career in Geology! If you would like to find out more about Lochaber Geopark see https://lochabergeopark.org.uk/ or for more information about STEM careers, please get in touch with your local DYW West Highland team on: info@dywwesthighland.org / 01397 705 765 / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram