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Physical geology

17 March 2021

Mount Pilatus, Switzerland (image credit: Simran Johal)

There has been a lot of important discussion recently around inclusivity in fieldwork, in particular highlighting the barriers faced by LBGTQ+ and disabled geoscientists. Even for those that do not face such barriers, it can be hard to adapt to the fieldwork element of many courses.

When I first began my degree in geology, I was stepping into the unknown, but felt I was up for the physical challenge.  However, while I was able to scrape through my first-year fieldwork on unforgiving Cornish cliffs unharmed, I struggled to keep up.

The next hurdle—a rite of passage for almost every UK geology student—was facing Scotland. I walked the escalators on the London underground in an attempt to train, but my fear of the tough Hebridean conditions on Cape Wrath in October led me to pass up that project for my independent geological field mapping component.

After a few more fieldtrips I gained confidence in my physical abilities, but I regretted not taking that mapping opportunity and knew I’d missed out on a fundamental geological experience.

For my Master’s degree, I moved to Switzerland—a country where exercise is embraced and where I had access to every sports facility imaginable for free. I took up strength training and swimming, and finally felt like I was making progress. For the first time, the physical element of field excursions didn’t faze me and I was eager to take part.

Physical fitness in geology is rarely discussed, yet most field excursions require it. It took me years to build my strength, agility, mobility and, most importantly, mental confidence. To help provide a more welcoming and supportive environment for students new to the geosciences, there should be more open discussion of the physical challenges associated with fieldwork, tips on how to prepare and reassurances that no student will be left behind.




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