Current Job: PhD researcher ‘crust-atmosphere coupling and carbon sequestration on early Mars’ at the University of Glasgow, school of geographical and Earth sciences.
Scientific Discipline/Field: Geochemistry of Mars/geology/rover robotics
Country: Scotland (which will hopefully soon not be UK!)
Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): T, B… I know, that’s a disease isn’t it? The difficulties labelling gender and sexuality!
What does your job involve?
I am researching the process of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the ancient Mars atmosphere being sequestered into stable mineral carbonate. Such carbonate minerals have been observed by satellite, rovers, landers and in meteorites from Mars that have landed on Earth. I examine these sources and attempt to resolve the mineralogy and reaction pathways involved. There is a lot of advanced microscope work of Mars fragments, which I love. I also conduct laboratory experiments in pressure vessels that mimic early Mars hydrothermal systems. But why is it important?
Because we can utilise the same reactions in rock formations on Earth to store atmospheric carbon dioxide as minerals. A method much more stable than other current carbon capture and storage methods. I am also working with Engineers in Space Glasgow to build a new prototype rover tool that uses ultrasonic grinding to expose a smooth rock surface, so that rock reactions can be observed more clearly.
How did you get to this job (education etc.)?
I studied part time with the Open University, who allowed me to overlap my undergraduate final year in geology with the first year of a masters in Earth Science. I was an escort during this time in Edinburgh. Unemployment is disproportionately high in the trans community as people do not want to employ early stage trans people as we can look like strange unicorns, thus many turn to sex work to survive, as I did. Upon finishing the BSc and halfway through the MSc I saw a fantastic PhD post funded by the UK Space Agency studying Mars and decided to send an enquiry to see what grades I would need for such work. I was encouraged to apply anyway and was lucky enough to be offered the PhD. If you are fascinated by a subject, or see a dream job, it is always worth sending that introductory email, just because you never know what wonderful places it might lead. I feel very lucky in where I am in life just now, and love my work.
Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?
Only by increasing my desperation and need to become qualified and safely employed somewhere.
Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?
Mixed. Generally supportive. My PhD supervisors have been highly supportive. But I transitioned long before entering my current workplace. The reaction most people have to a trans person is to smirk, hide a smile, and bury their contempt to a respectable degree of political correctness. The smirks and whispers still hurt people. That reaction is now, anyway. Initially when I transitioned, members of the public called insults on every street, spat at me in supermarkets, or were physically violent, I was addressed in the wrong gender at work as commonplace. I refuse to paint a rosy nice picture of how society treats trans people. There is an enormous amount of work needed before even a bare minimal level of acceptance occurs. It depends, ultimately, on how well one ‘passes’ in public, but it shouldn’t be like that. Early stage transitioning is simply a nightmare of social abuse and destruction of confidence, when in later stage transition the abuse diminishes or vanishes, but it is not because people are more accepting as trans, it is simply due to the fact they do not perceive you as trans. Sad but true.
Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?
The very wonderful Ani DiFranco has been a life long role model, as has Arundhati Roy. I’m not sure labelling them with letters is too useful. Google them, they are jewels of human beings and may change your life.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to stay in science as long as it engages me and I enjoy it. I hope Scotland gains independence and Scottish geology surveys and space agencies need to be created (Glasgow leads in UK space science). Developing the applications of mineral carbon sequestration to counter global warming is something I would like to pursue. I would ultimately like a cottage by the water somewhere beautiful, with maybe a goat and some chickens. Science does not define me, I love writing fiction and poetry too, climbing mountains and exploring remote places. Life is wide and beautiful, I don’t like the idea of being fenced into career paths, rigid structures, or fixed things to aim for.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Transitioning is a tough gig, depending on your sensitivity. Some people are naturally more aware of the responses of those around them than others. It has made me vastly more cynical and distrusting of people than I used to be, but also a lot tougher, more robust, more determined to push through and get what I want regardless of how I am treated. I am not a social warrior, but I have deeply learned to viciously take care of myself and not expect support external to my own strengths.