A Vision of Hope

Vision holds a different meaning to everyone. For some, it is a new word with an old concept or an old word with a new concept. For me, it is the latter one. Before Standard Oil became the world’s first multinational corporation by the end of 19th century, John Rockefeller began with a vision. His vision was to create high-quality but low–price kerosene products which would standardize the outputs of growing numbers of oil refiners during his time. Hence, Standard Oil bore the name of his by-product gasolines. Upon visioning a market that caters easy access of resources to every customer, he realized that it need not to be complex, and his famous line quotes “I believe the thrift is essential to well-ordered living.” Rockefeller started to imagine a new concept unusual from the way other refiners were utilizing their resources and, as a result, he was able to put in service his vision by serving his customers well.

If Rockefeller had envisioned a world where market serves the common good, my vision is where women in STEM in general, no matter what races they are and where they are come from would be provided with equal opportunities and career provisions. It is a picture of two young women reunited in McDonald’s gladly telling each other their inchoate inspirations and humble beginnings. One woman is speaking loudly in excitement as she recalls her experiences unearthing the Burgess Shale and climbing the Canadian Rockies. Meanwhile, the other one cannot contain her happiness as she recalls the success of presenting her paper in front of a male-dominated audience. In my mind there is a meaningful silence with a sigh between these two individuals, because after so many years being 7000 miles apart, they are reunited with a hope that things would never be the same anymore.


As a former student entering a state of limbo without the prospect of future employment during my post-graduation, I came across the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the strongest lines that resonated to my situation at that time says, “It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.” These words make it hard not to reminisce those university days doing fieldwork and staying in the laboratory. At the same time, it’s hard not to be anxious about what the future might hold for me as a young female geologist. To graduate after studying almost 6 years in one of the universities in Manila is already a success not only for me but for my family as well. However, when you are in limbo or a state of transition, you tend to dismiss the success you have accomplished so far, and somehow, it makes you recall some moments fueled by uncertainties.

My grandmother once said that there would always be some sort of a struggle for a female to do technical work and, perhaps, my changeover from being a student to a professional is not an exception. Some of the questions that invalidate my present accomplishment after graduating are these: “What is the probability that I will get a job with the current challenges faced by the industry?”, “What are my strengths compared to my male counterparts?”, “What can I offer?” Post-graduation has now become a space for me to think all those doubts that are normal for a new college graduate to entertain. One of the possibilities that I can think of is to shrink back again to the university because, at least, it is a haven that would safeguard me just in case I get rejected or discovered that I am not capable.

In a success-driven society, I was told often that if I had the guts to pursue a professional career, then I should be able to answer these questions. Fortunately, the field of Geology was so exciting and fascinating that I forgot to dread the dilemmas that I would face once the graduation ceremony was over. Now that I have graduated and already have my professional license, I cannot help but think of my female friends. Surely, they have felt the same way. Each individual has their unique circumstances and challenges but not as close as Leah’s, Leah who migrated to Canada last year missed the professional licensure exam. The thought of her now in a different place makes me wonder how it is even harder for her to start over her career without the people whom she can relate to. Perhaps, if there is a platform or context that caters inclusivity regardless of gender, races, talents, and background stories, then, opportunities for Filipina women are not just stories of struggles but, struggles fueled by hope.

Leah’s Story

“You what, you’re going to Canada?”, I said.

I still remember the last exam, Mineral Economics. We would be saying goodbye right after. This is not the first time that I had to bid farewell; one of my best friends in high school did the same thing and left for the same country. Passing that last term examination is one step away from graduation and preparation for licensure examination for geologists. But for my friend Leah who had to leave as soon as possible because of logistical reasons, the trip would mean the start of her new life in Canada.

Leah is an irreplaceable gem among my friends. She is a 40% computer geek, 60% petrologist, an anime enthusiast, and a self-taught field observer. She aspires to pursue her MS that specializes in Petrology someday. I have always known that this is the way for her to go. We went to the same internship together back in the summer of 2018 at the University of the Philippines National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS) which is one hour away from our university. What I am missing most about her is she has been very vocal about the things that interest her. She has trained eyes for inspection of minerals under the influence of light in different angles, something that she had mastered from our Petrography course. She would always be expected to deliver the rock’s genesis report in front of the class and her eyes would just turn away in shyness—a display of a typical hard-core scientist. Still, her words are well–thought out, an evident result of sensitive works behind the scenes. I would constantly be recalling her hard work preparing the rocks in the laboratory so she could prepare thin sections of them. But keeping Geology aside, and before she had sought her immigrant life, our sharing of fries while talking about our plans together at a nearby McDonald’s along with the university was, by far, the most sentimental.

As a friend, I remember feeling both excited and disappointed; excited, because here was a unique opportunity for Leah to satisfy her cultural identity and plethora of scientific acumen, and disappointed, because she would be missing the license qualification exams necessary for her to practice Geology. I guess I would be missing her; fieldwork and research presentations would never be the same without her.

As of 2016, the Canadian Filipino population grew by about 26% making Filipinos the third-largest Asian-Canadian group (National Bank, 2018). The main reason for this statistic is affected largely by promising high paying rate jobs in Canada. Also, the large growing Filipino population, a wide network of social services, a discrimination-free job market, free health care system, and a better financial outlook attract new immigrants into the country. Although these are undeniably good and basic reasons why a family may go to a foreign country, these reasons only partly affected Leah’s family decision to migrate to Canada. According to Leah, it was her family’s dream, and they had long planned to move since some of their relatives were already in Canada; if none of them went next, it would be against the core of who they are and their close family ties. I guess it was a life-changing decision that she had to deal with and a major shift in her career as an aspiring geoscientist. I remember one time how difficult it was for her to realign her goals and concentrate on her studies as the days were getting nearer for her to leave. There were days before graduation where she had to ask herself if she was only completing the academic requirements so she could leave for Canada or for herself as a student.

But then every change has its struggles, especially for second-generation immigrants. Leah told me that everything would undergo readjustment, including her education. Since there is a big gap between the Philippines’ educational system and those abroad, she would have to study again to acquire more units to enter another university. Considering the financial and social factors that might affect her, I know that it would be a long journey for her to go. But being resilient the way she is, she is Still determined to pursue her career. She has assured me that although it may not be a priority for her first few years in Canada since she needs to keep two part-time jobs in a week, it doesn’t mean that she has already become frustrated by the hurdles. It means that although in a struggle, there would always be space for her to work for her dreams. Leah, being one of the most passionate women that I know, advocates for the public admiration of Geoscience.

For Kelly (2014), there could have been many reasons for this disparity among diverse immigrant groups, but, the most considerable factor is that the de-professionalization of Filipino parents may impair the self-esteem of the Filipino youth and somehow may affect much of their educational choices and expected roles in the labor market. This implies two things; either children will be motivated to pursue higher education to have a sense of fulfillment or belongingness in society or some may settle for lower jobs out of convenience. Furthermore, Piper & Roces (2005) stated that women ages 19-35 may likely face a decision between marriage and working multiple dead-end jobs to attain economic security (214). Perhaps, this implication is due to the lack of representation of members or role models of low-income neighboring communities in the fields of Science, Technology, Arts, etc.

Specifically, it would mean that if there is a network that Leah can identify with and if it encourages her to expand her knowledge and pursue her passion in Geoscience despite the presence of immigration obstacles, it is likely that she will progress not just professionally but personally as well (C.V., and Higgs, 2007). It may be a community or organization that is already familiar with her situation, one that can provide technical knowledge about geoscientific practices and assistance in lieu of hiatus before studying again. Moreover, a local group that understands and attends to her social, psychological, and emotional needs as a person. A study conducted by Prat et al., 2017 shows that some Filipino migrants are displaying Post Traumatic Immigration Syndrome (PTIS) in their first few initial years in a transnational field. Leah’s story is one of the many stories of women in Geoscience navigating their ways to professional opportunities and careers as scientists. Her story enables us to know that there are evolving cultural and societal barriers, and though small, may still significantly affect her access to Geoscience.

My Story

I thought being a geologist was all about saving people’s lives or something equally noble. At least, that is what I assumed before I came to Manila to study. This grew out of perception and sci-fi movies that I enjoyed during high school. Usually, most of the women's roles in sci-fi films revolve around supporting the main characters as back-line scientists doing intensive research in laboratories. On the other hand, men have the most practical roles. I remember the uplifting spirit that I had felt watching the A Hero’s Sacrifice scene in the movie Volcano where a man named Olber jumped into a platform of slowed-moving rock while carrying another man in an attempt to throw him into a safe spot. With this in mind, I knew that a Geology profession patronizes physical strength and also takes pride as a male-dominated field. My Field Geology professor once said that strength is the foremost ability that everyone should have if one wants to stay long in this discipline. On the contrary, I was perceived back then as someone who is lethargic, soft, and steady, in other words, someone who is “misfit” to the “strength” requirements of the field. Although this may be true at some point, I didn’t see the traditional issue of being a “woman” in a male-dominated field as a setback for my growth and academic advancement because the institution that I belong to freely welcomes the participation and ideas of every student. Although, gender imbalance concern is no longer a major debate in Geoscience, the product of long standing and historical biases still impacted me during my university studies.

During my pre-summer internship in 2018, I remember how thrilled and, at the same time, nervous I was in joining the Structural Geology and Tectonics Laboratory (SGT) at the University of the Philippines - National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS) as a student intern. Before that, I was a typical female student lurking outside the Mine and Geology department who often found herself entertained with stereo-nets, Bree creek map, Almendinger notes, and three-point problems. Practically, these enhance visualizing three-dimensional geologic structures and spatial skills, and to be honest, I found most of my college days working with these in isolation mainly because I felt the need to improve my confidence before I discussed it with my male counterparts. Even though I truly enjoyed the subject at that time, unconsciously, I found myself feeding self-doubt while learning things in my way. Giorgis (2018) said that female students have lower spatial visualization compared to males because of greater contextual knowledge of the latter because of their high engagement with computer applications, programs, etc. Moreover, he emphasized that the result is not an issue of gender gap anymore but the wide and free opportunities to use spatial tools among individuals. Some female students agree that this is a designed skill for males and that they are “hands-off” to it because most educators in this field are pioneered by males and more often, females already assumed the role to always learn from the experts.

Unfortunately, while learning alone I developed a certain habit of believing that things only work out if done in isolation, which conflicts with the ideal of diversity of thought advocated by geoscientists. As a multi-faceted collection of disciplines committed to understanding the Earth, Geoscience celebrates the inclusion of every thought and this includes the inputs of both female and male geoscientists. I was drowning in individuality until I began working with my mentors (male) during my internship. They did not regard me as someone who has inchoate knowledge, someone who is still trying to catch up with the experts with respect to skill and knowledge. Working with them conducting seismotectonic studies, I found their input welcoming and more liberating. Not only did they break down my feelings of inadequacy, but they reached out to my insecurities as a consequence of gender fallacies that I long mirrored from the history of women in Geoscience.

The importance of mentorship among young female geoscientists

Ebert and Turner (2016) recognized the slow geological recognition of women in Geoscience despite their pioneering contributions. Historically, most of the leading women in Geoscience have served devotedly alongside their husbands and fathers in some of the oldest geological societies and fellowships in the world. During the launch of Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology (WiSET) in the University of Ireland, one professor stated that women are no longer discriminated in Science; however, there is a legacy that is yet to overcome. This legacy comes in a form of a distorted idea. A young female who just comes to realize that her profession has emerged from different historical perspectives about women and their struggles to be recognized may experience uncertainty in navigating and performing her duties in the discipline that she wants to employ. For some, this is partly true because most of the youngsters who are just starting on their careers always search for someone who they can identify with and look up to. A field that has suffered a long history of gender gap issues may either make someone inferior or superior to some considerable degree and as such, an extreme level would result to unhealthy professional practice. In such cases, both men and women who are already experts in their disciplines should step up to mentor young geoscientists and in the lack or absence of one of them in the midst of young minds, he or she must assume the responsibility to educate because it is rightfully so.

In the same way, individual females can be successful in their fields because they are supported not just by a network of other females but also by males. Burek and Higgs (2007) addressed the challenges that women are still experiencing today that men must consider as something normal and unapologetic. They emphasized that the burden of bringing up the next generation and becoming a parent still weighs more heavily on women. Therefore, mentorship responsibility should be embraced by male geoscientists. Although, much of our knowledge from the past has resulted in some inconsistencies in our advancement both academically and in careers. Bridging gender gap issues becomes a revolutionary work because both men and women are equally needed now to perform different roles in Geoscience. In candor, it could not be in any way better if there are conditions where women do not have to apologize for their specific needs, lack of physical strength, and personal spaces, in other words, an environment where they do not have to diminish themselves just to fit in. It is important to realize that if most scientific networks have provided women with these research positions, they would be able to see their larger purpose in a particular organization or discipline and the chance for them to be mentored.

A parallel view of two stories

At this point, I assume that the tendency of these stories to be shared somehow resound with anybody who has experienced the same struggles. However, some geoscientists may find these realities overly descriptive because we are perceived as people who are most technical in our range. Furthermore, Bjornerud (2019) counters that we are the best storytellers because we can tell the unfolding of Earth before its present outcome. We are accustomed to creating stories about rocks, fossils, mountains concerning the vastness of time, and other than that, we make them comprehensible to the general public as if they were just crafted in spans of minutes or seconds. Likewise, I position these two realities in a geological perspective. But unlike the complexity of geological processes, these stories do not hope to be repetitively stuck in a cycle from time to time. These stories are special in their own ways because they are products of two former students’ experiences and aspirations and hope to be addressed with rightful solutions.

As a geoscientist, I like to think that the best geologic metaphor that can then be built upon these realities is how plates move and interact with one another. One interesting topic in the course Geology of the Philippines and Southeast Asia (GeoPSeA)is the manner the Molucca Sea Plate subducts from East to West as represented by Halmahera Subduction Zone (HSZ) and Sangihe Subduction Zone (SSZ) respectively (Macpherson et al., 2003). Both these subductions are manifested by volcanic arcs that have been active since the Neogene. In her book entitled Timefulness, Bjornerud (2019) explained that geologic processes can match our human’s appetite for seeing how life and things unfold. Profoundly, we know that both arcs would be non-existent had there not been subduction process in the first phase, partial melting in the second phase, and so on. Furthermore, they also exhibit the same genetic pattern since they materialized from the same plate. In the same way, I like to think of these processes as parallel to how our current lives are going on now. We have been educated in the same institution, went to the same internship together, diverged from the same identity until each of us found our challenging paths. As subduction is necessary to produce mountains and volcanoes, so are the struggles for the majority of Filipina geoscientists to recognize their potential someday. Leah’s quest to continue her aspiration and passion globally as well as the call for mentorship among female individuals in Geoscience are inseparable because they both strive for inclusivity. Time will only tell what phase already each of us is in and I have this hope that unlike the rocks, it would not take millions of years.



About the Author(s)


Kelly, P. (2014). Understanding intergenerational social mobility: Filipino youth in Canada. IRPP Study, (45), 1.

Higgs, B., & Burek, C. V., (2007). The role of women in the history and development of geology: an introduction. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 281, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1144/SP281.1

Higgs, B., Burek, C. V., & Jackson, P. W. (2005). Is there gender bias in the geological sciences in Ireland? Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, 23, 132-133.

Piper, N., & Roces, M. (Eds.). (2004). Wife or worker?: Asian women and migration. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Giorgis, S. (2015). Google Earth mapping exercises for structural geology students—A promising intervention for improving penetrative visualization ability. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63(2), 140-146.

Bjornerud, M. (2020). Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world. Princeton University Press. https://www.nbc.ca/personal/advice/immigration/life-in-canada-for-filipino-immigrants.html


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