Joanna Brims is in her first year of her PhD at Cardiff University. Her PhD surrounds the Panama Isthmus – the land bridge which joins North and South America – and how and when it got there. She mainly does this by travelling to incredibly remote places, looking at the rocks which comprise the isthmus, and working out how they have formed and their relationships with other rocks. She can then use geochemistry to confirm these interpretations, and can date them using certain minerals, constraining the interpretations further. Her Soapbox Science talk will be on how the formation of the Panama Isthmus changed the world as we know it, how important it is to constrain its formation, and how she plans to do this. You can catch Joanna on her soapbox on June 10th in Cardiff when she will give a talk called: “The formation of the Panama Isthmus: how ancient volcanoes joined two continents and separated the oceans”
SS: Joanna, how did you get to your current position?
JB: I did my undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and applied for a NERC GW4+ PhD studentship at Cardiff University, where I am currently in my first year.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
JB: I think that I have been incredibly lucky to find myself here, and probably owe it all to a lot of people! From a young age I was interested in Science – I was lucky enough to have parents that encouraged this interest, and who always took me into the outdoors and into nature. Subsequently, throughout school the sciences were generally my favourite subjects, along with geography.
However – when it came to applying for university, I was a bit lost. I did really enjoy learning and definitely wanted to continue into higher education – but I wasn’t really sure about what to study. I essentially then took my interest in science and combined it with my passion for the outdoors and geography, and thought that I might enjoy Earth Sciences. Thankfully, the system at the University of Glasgow allowed me to take three subjects in my first year and narrow it down later on, which meant I had some security if it didn’t work out!
Very quickly however, I discovered that Earth Sciences really were for me. I really love investigating and understanding the processes which form the world around us, particularly within igneous geology. I think that I was also lucky to have a lot of incredibly supportive lecturers in Glasgow, who really encouraged me to push myself and to do a PhD.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
JB: I think being able to travel to incredibly remote, unexplored places. As large amounts of my field area have not been mapped or studied in detail, it is a bit of a treasure chest for any geologist – no matter what we do, we know we will find something new and exciting that no one has seen or recognised before.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science Cardiff 2017 in the first place?
JB: I thought that it was a really good way to communicate my science in an informal, accessible, and fun way. The soapbox means there’s very little of a barrier between you and the public, and I think that’s really unique.
It is also incredibly important as an event which showcases women in STEM subjects – as a geologist, people are often surprised when I tell them what I do! Although the male/female ratio is fairly equal at undergraduate level, it decreases at PhD level and even further beyond, so it is incredibly important to show that women can be successful within these subjects.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
JB: I think the insane amount of pressure to publish in high-impact journals over focussing on the science itself and communicating it through other methods. Although academics are incredibly busy, it is also important to communicate science to the public too.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?
JB: That is pretty much me right now! But I would say that if it is what you’re passionate about, just go for it. If I was speaking to myself ~8 months ago, when I had just started, I would definitely say to not get wound up in what you DON’T know. Yes, everyone else around you may seem to know a lot more, but they’ve also been doing this a lot longer than you.