Geothermal Power Communicator, Dr. Hazel Gibson @iamhazelgibson: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Dr. Hazel Gibson loves rocks!

NAME: Dr. Hazel Gibson

CURRENT TITLE: Research Fellow in Public Perception of Geothermal Power

AREA OF EXPERTISE: I work in Geoscience Cognition and Communication; basically how people think about geoscience, and how that influences how they talk about it.

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: Experience for me is complicated. I finished my Master’s degree 11 years ago and since then have worked in engineering geology and science communication at different times.

EDUCATION: BSc Geography with Geology, University of Plymouth (2005); MSc Geohazard Assessment, University of Portsmouth (2006); PhD Geocognition and Communication, University of Plymouth (2016)


What’s your job like?

My job is fascinating! Here at Plymouth, we are working in partnership with a company that is trying to construct the UK’s first deep geothermal power plant. This is not the kind of geothermal power that most people would be familiar with, like they have in Iceland for example, as the rocks in the target location of Cornwall are hot, but not wet. In order to make geothermal work here, the company has to drill down to the hot rocks and add water to make steam, which will drive a turbine, making electricity! My work focuses on how people think about geothermal in the geological subsurface, what they feel about it, and how that impacts how we talk about it. The aim of my research is to make it possible for people to have the best and most productive conversations about this as possible. Making sure that conversations are effective is important as companies want permission to do the work, which is granted (or not) by the residents, but also local people have a lot of useful information that companies need to listen to. Throw the government into this mix and conversations can become quite heated, but a lot of frustrations often come from misunderstanding. My job is to try to reduce the chance of that happening.

What’s a typical day like?

My job involves a mix of desk work and field work, but the field work is probably not what you would commonly associate with a geologist. I spend my field time out speaking with local people about their opinions and thoughts about geology and geothermal power. This involves a mix of interviews and surveys that I conduct, usually face-to-face. I also spend a lot of time on the other side of my job: science communication. As a geoscience communication specialist, I do a lot of public talks and workshops with a range of different people. Alongside that, I spend a lot of time managing the day-to-day of the project including coordinating research trips, getting ethical permission for my studies, writing papers and articles, designing and evaluating communications.

A typical day right now is a mix of planning and reading as we are right at the start of our project. I am speaking with local councils and community groups about organising visits, but also reading a wide range of scientific papers to see what other people have already discovered about this area, so I can better plan my own questions.

What’s fun?

My favourite part of my job is undoubtedly speaking to people. Conducting interviews, discussing the issues with local people, delivering workshops about geology, working with school groups, just the conversations you can have about geology! I love it! Science communication is a real passion for me, and it is definitely the most fun part of my job. I am never happier than when I am having a great conversation with someone about geology or science. People have such brilliant ideas about science, even if they think they don’t know anything about it. That is my favourite part – that excitement in someone’s eyes when they realise that science IS something they can engage with and discuss.

What’s challenging?

Honestly? Writing. As an early career scientist, my job depends on my being able to write and publish papers, but ever since writing my PhD, I have struggled with writing, somewhat out of fear of failure which is a shame for me as before my PhD I used to really like writing! Part of the problem for me is the culture of academia, where you feel pressure to be the best; even if you feel you don’t measure up to that, which leads to worrying that you will be discovered and kicked out (known as impostor syndrome), but my enjoyment of writing is also something I know I will regain with practice. Right now it is a bit of a hard slog, though.

What’s your advice to students?

I would start by saying don’t be limited by what you think are your options right now. I never even realised that the job I’m currently doing existed when I was an undergraduate! I have always applied for jobs that I thought would be fun and that in the end has led me away from traditional geology work into this crazy interdisciplinary study, which excites me so much!

Also be persistent. If there is one piece of advice I always give to students, it is to be persistent with something you want. I have gotten to do some amazing things, like working as a Ranger on Mt St Helens, helping to run sleepovers under dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum, doing stand up comedy about the questions scientists get asked, and even doing a PhD six years after leaving University, because of my persistence in chasing opportunities and following up after interviews.

You can do it!

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