Monday, November 2, 2015

Bearded Lady Project film trailer premier at GSA annual meeting in Baltimore... plus a shout-out to AWG

I got to the 2015 Geological Society of America annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday morning, November 1, just in time to see the talk that premiered the Bearded Lady Project trailer, accompanied by a short background talk by the director and photographer (

The Bearded Lady Project “Challenging the Face of Science” is “a documentary film and photographic project celebrating the work of female paleontologists and highlighting the challenges and obstacles they face” ( The central collaborators on the Bearded Lady Project are Lexi Jamieson Marsh (director), Kelsey Vance (photographer), and Dr. Ellen Currano (paleontologist and lead subject). I first became aware of the project as a Twitter follower of Dr. Claire Belcher, who tweeted about the project during filming of the segment featuring her research (; post of November 2, 2015).

One audience question was “Why “bearded lady” for the project name?” The answer was that some women geoscientists felt that they would be more acceptable to audiences or students in the world of science if they could hide behind a male disguise. I understand that perception. When I first started publishing in the geosciences in the early 1980’s, I had thought I would only use my first and middle name initials for authorship to disguise my gender (don't anymore). And, although Dartmouth College, where I got my Master’s degree in 1982, was very welcoming to women students (it truly was like a very close family), I got the feeling, in a department where many graduates at that time went into careers in hard rock or hazards mapping and ore deposits, that to be accepted as “one of the boys” one had to be able to share stories of bushwhacking through the woods in the rain, backing a field vehicle into a ditch (twice), and/or encounters with bears (luckily only saw fresh prints going the other way). I, therefore, chose a mapping thesis, although another strong reason was a love of metamorphic petrology and regional geologic synthesis.

However, I was hoping the answer to “why bearded lady?” would include the “bearded circus lady” metaphor explained on the Project’s webpage bearded ladies in the circus were seen as deviations from the traditional accepted standard of a woman, just as science was not seen as an acceptable career for women. The documentary aims to show women geoscientists (or rather geoscientists who are women) in all research venues, both out in the field and in the lab, documenting the adventure, similar to goals of Lego STEM women sets (

Another questioner asked why just paleontologists in the documentary? The reply was paleontologists are a starting point, and the hope is to expand to other geoscience disciplines. (The featured scientists are not chosen but volunteer.) Actually, one of the featured geoscientists is not a paleontologist: Dr. Claire Belcher, mentioned above, specializes “in the study of natural fires in the Earth system” ( She and her students study fossil charcoal and paleo-wildfire combustion products in combination with modern fire science research techniques; coal petrography is also part of her research toolkit. Last year at the 2014 GSA annual meeting in Vancouver, I had posts on two talks by Claire and her students:

A very early promotional visual to encourage women in geoscience was the Career Planning Program slide presentation by the Women’s Geoscientists Committee (1977-87) of the American Geological Institute (AGI; now the American Geosciences Institute). I remember borrowing a copy to show at Dartmouth in ~1981. One of the featured geologists was Jo Laird, since then professor at the University of New Hampshire. Jo was also this year’s Outstanding Educator Award winner of the Association of Women Geoscientists. Jo received her award at the AWG breakfast, November 2, at GSA. I might point out that coal petrologist, Sue Rimmer, who has been a co-author with Belcher, was AWG Outstanding Educator in 2007. AWG also offers various student grant awards; I was fortunate in ~2000 to get a small Chrysalis scholarship, aimed at women returning to grad school after an interruption in education.

The Bearded Lady Project also includes large-format still photography of women geoscientists at work, likewise highlighted in the GSA talk on Sunday. They announced exciting plans to possibly display those photos in a gallery-style exhibition at the 2016 GSA annual meeting in Denver!

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