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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Highlighting women’s achievements in geoscience – with false beards

Published: 11 October 2016
Jessica Lawrence and Kate Acheson

Southampton Vertebrate Paleontology PhD student Jessica Lawrence Wujek is one of 18 women chosen to take part in an international initiative to highlight the achievements of female geoscientists. The Bearded Lady Project involves women in science being photographed at work wearing false whiskers to highlight the gender imbalance in the discipline.

“We can do anything men can do, only we haven’t got the beards,” she explains. “Maybe we need them to gain respect as most scientists working in the field are male and, more often than not, are bearded. This project aims to show everyone, in a light-hearted way, that women are working hard, succeeding in science, and are powerful role models for the next generation of female students.”

Photographs and videos of the ‘bearded ladies’ were launched at the Geological Society of America conference in September 2016 and will be shown at this year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting.

Jessica was ‘volunteered’ to take part in the project by her friend and fellow Southampton PhD student Kate Acheson during a trip to Lyme Regis in Dorset. This is where pioneering palaeontologist Mary Anning discovered and dug out some of the first fossil marine reptiles in the early 1800s, although she had to pass them on to men for scientific study. Jessica, too, studies ichthyosaurs (a word meaning fish lizards). They were creatures up to 16 metres in length that lived from 248 to 90 million years ago and many of their skeletons have been found in the UK.

“I was fortunate to have many female mentors during my education at home at Ohio Wesleyan University and Bowling Green State University and want to play my part in encouraging female geo scientists to fulfil their potential,” says the final year student who is now seeking a postdoctoral position in the US. “I have had a great time in Southampton, made many friends for life and enjoyed the experience of living in a foreign country.”

The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science was set up to celebrate the inspirational and adventurous women searching for clues to the history of life on Earth and to educate people on the inequalities and prejudices that still exist in science, especially geoscience. The organisers’ goal is to make a feature-length documentary film early in 2017.

Twitter: or @beardedladyproj


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