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Kathleen Campbell

Kathleen Campbell is a Professor of Earth Science, working at the School of Environment, University of Auckland.

Port Waikato - field geography course - photo by David Rhode

What do you do on an average work day?

This is highly variable and is one of the things that makes my job so interesting. Recently I taught an advanced field geology course around Port Waikato, south of Auckland, and sometimes I am teaching in lecture halls or laboratories.

In February I hosted foreign scientists and a group of post-graduate students on a field tour of hot spring deposits in the Rotorua and Coromandel areas, which we use to compare to ancient settings for early life on Earth (3.5 billion years old, in Australia) and maybe also on Mars.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
I studied across all topics in high school – English, French, Spanish, Humanities, Journalism, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Maths, History. After high school I spent about a decade obtaining BSc, MSc, PhD (Earth Science) and a post-doctoral research appointment at NASA in California.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
A university education makes for a well rounded, curious life and mind. Life becomes more interesting from knowledge gained in further study. Follow your passion – think about what you are good at. Explore to find out more.Try learning about new things.

What are some of your career highlights so far?
I made a scientific discovery early in my career that ultimately lead to a research scholarship at NASA and to my current job at the University. It all started with being curious about a strange fossil in an odd rock on a remote coastline, and then pursuing what it might mean – like Alice down the rabbit hole – following my intuition and receiving help from senior scientists who were generous with their knowledge and time. I haven’t forgot this generosity over the years when I am interacting with students.

I also really like it when the “light-bulb” goes on for students when I am teaching. During my field geology lecture at Port Waikato, one of my students followed my advice on how to look anew at his geologic map and aerial photos – he saw something that didn’t fit somehow, and that lead to his discovery of a major “hidden” yet very significant geological feature that tied together the whole story of what had been going on there for 150 million years. He was chuffed and I was happy to bear witness to his learning.

Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
An educated populace is essential to grow a vibrant country and its citizens into the 21st century. It seems to me that most problems – and opportunities – arise from something to do with STEM. We need to know what is going on in the world and be able to help politicians make good decisions that will benefit future generations living on this planet. STEM shows us the myriad ways in which we are all connected.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Because women have fantastic ideas and make terrific scientists, technologists, etc. They have strengths that men don’t. Why should they be left out of exciting careers, the thrill of making discoveries, or contributing to growth of the economy or the protection of nature, etc.? Let’s not leave it to the men. We are all in this together and the world needs more women in STEM.

Kathleen Campbell is a Professor of Earth Science, working at the School of Environment, University of Auckland. You can follow her on Twitter at @stonehistorian and she is also on Facebook.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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