Thanks to Jessica for being a part of this Women in Science project and for taking the time to answer some questions! This project focuses on women in the science industry and the impact they are making in this world. The hope is that girls and women interested in the science field will come across this blog and find many women they can look up to and strive to be like. Maybe they will even find a mentor along the way!
What is your specific job in the science field?
My degree is in Geological Engineering from Montana Tech, and I currently work as a Grade Control Geologist at the Stillwater Mine in Montana. This means I get to work directly with the miners underground, and act as the “steering wheel” to find the ore! Stillwater & East Boulder are currently the only active Platinum/Palladium mines in the United States, and are two of the highest grade PGM mines in the world.
Why did you choose to go into science? Were you inspired by someone?
Honestly like most kids, I had about a MILLION things I wanted to be when I grew up! Photographer, chef, professional dog walker, etc. I have always had an interest in rocks though, and my parents were always really encouraging of whatever I wanted to do! I decided on Geological Engineering specifically when we went to a career fair at school and saw videos of an open pit mine doing a blast and I was like “ok yeah I’d like to do that please”! Once I got to school though I decided underground mining was so much cooler!
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
There have been so many. I treat each obstacle, big or small, like it’s own hurdle so that way I am proud of whatever I overcome. A few of the major ones are:
Peoples reactions to mining: A lot of people just see red as soon as you mention mining, no matter how little they know about it. There will be days that I am wearing clothing with my company name on it and people will either not talk to me, or go on a 10 minute rant about what a bad person I am for working at a mine. It gets pretty nasty on the internet too. It for sure hurts to read/hear these comments, but I just try to keep my head up and educate the people that will listen to me!
Getting a working relationship with my miners: Like I said above I get to work directly with a group of miners. I have been with my current guys a year and a half now, and that first 6-8 months was a struggle. I have filled in on a couple different crews now and it’s really interesting to see how they react to women geologists. Some get mad easily, some don’t talk to you at all, some talk a little too much and it’s like “okay I’m ignoring you now…”. In a world where it seems everyone (male or female) has to watch what they say, I’m really grateful that my guys and I have gotten to know and trust each other.
Shift work: This is STILL one of the hardest things I struggle with. I really enjoy sleep! I work 5 on- 4 off- 4 on- 5 off schedule. That means after working 12 hour shifts for 4 or 5 days, I only have 4 or 5 days to flip my entire life 12 hours because I work days and nights with my crew. My stomach is usually the last thing to get used to the schedule, it’s not uncommon for me to be up at 2 or 3 am eating a full dinner. Shift work means I also work 2 weekends a month and have to miss a lot of things like birthday parties and weddings. On night shifts I leave before my boyfriend gets home and come home after he has left so there are weeks where I literally don’t see him for 5 days. For people with kids I can see why shift work would be a deal breaker! But, on the bright side, I only actually work 182 days a year, it just happens the days I do work put me away from home for 14-16 hours a day.
Insecurities- I question myself a lot! There are times where I wonder if I’m good enough to do something, if I made the right call, or if I can maintain my career. I get anxiety attacks where I feel like I can’t breathe and I worry about everything. Luckily I work in a very dark place (underground) and so when I start worrying I find that it helps to sit down, turn my light off, and just breathe in total darkness until I can calm down and think things out clearly.
Do you think women are underrepresented in the science world, if so, why?
I think it depends on what kind of science you look at. On a whole, yes of course we need to see more women in STEM fields. But, there are so many different types of science to choose from! Medical science, Oceanography, Astronomy, Psychiatry, Geology, Engineering, Computer Science, etc. I think some fields have more men than women, and in some fields it’s vice versa! I think the important thing is to encourage your kids, nieces and nephews, or students to be the best they can be at whatever they want to do. Don’t tell your daughter she can’t be a lineman just because of her gender, and don’t tell your son he won’t make it as a graphic designer. I also don’t think it’s necessary to push kids into college, I believe there are great values you can learn from going straight to work, or even better, going to a trade school. I personally wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything, but my parents never went to college and they both own their own companies and are successful in their own ways because of their experiences.
How can we increase the participation of women and girls in science?
There are a lot of programs out there doing really great right now in introducing girls to the different sciences. I know Girl Scouts in Montana/Wyoming has different science based badges and events now, as do places like the YMCA’s and many of the schools. Colleges host girls only science camps, and some companies allow you to come follow a woman in her daily job. I think getting girls interested is the main thing, then if they’re interested, getting them to stick with it. If they’re not interested, try something else.
What words of wisdom would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue the field of science?
Just be yourself and do the best you can do. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally, the best thing you can do is own up to it, fix it, and move on but remember it so you don’t make it again!
Where can people find you on social media and do you have anything else that you’d like to share?
Sure! I’m available for any questions anyone has, especially if they would like to learn more about the mining industry. You can find me on: