Profile: Professor Tamsin Mather
Professor Tamsin Mather, Supernumerary Fellow in Earth Sciences and Professor of Earth Sciences, researches volcanoes and their role as natural hazards, natural resources and a key planetary scale process throughout geological time. Professor Mather also teaches basic chemistry to first year undergraduates and specialist volcanology classes to third and fourth year undergraduates. She has won many prizes including Rosalind Franklin Award, the Philip Leverhulme prize, and UNESCO/L’Oréal UK & Ireland Women in Science.
What sparked your interest in Earth Sciences and the study of volcanoes in particular?
I’ve always liked science and being outdoors. Earth Sciences is the perfect way to combine these passions. I actually did my undergraduate degree in chemistry though and arrived at Earth Sciences for my PhD after taking two years out of science. Volcanology was also something of an accident. I was going to do a project in ancient ocean chemistry but got the impression for the Cambridge application that you needed to put a second choice project down. The project on the “tropospheric chemistry of volcanic plumes” was one of the few others that I understood the title for and I had visited a volcanic eruption on La Reunion Island in 1998 so I put that down and then ended up getting completely inspired when I learnt more about the project. It all makes sense – in retrospect!
How do you motivate yourself when you are tired or stressed?
I try to save less taxing tasks like filling in paperwork for when I am tired at work. There are lots of ways to deal with stress – break tasks down into smaller chunks and taking breaks are two strategies that I am a fan of.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Everyone is very different and there is rarely just one way to do something well. University is a great time for trying lots of things out both within your course and outside it – you can’t do everything though!
Have you faced any challenges pursuing academia? How did you overcome them?
Yes, plenty and in lots of different ways and at different times during my career. I think that learning when to ask for help is key and sometimes you also just need to take things a day at a time rather than get overwhelmed by the big picture. I do not think that I am tough but I have learnt to be more resilient and take setbacks less personally as the years have passed and also to remember to put things into perspective.
How did it feel to win the Rosalind Franklin Award in 2018?
Amazing! I was nominated by Carol Robinson here in Oxford who is someone I like and admire greatly so just being put forward by her was a massive boost. To win it was incredible and very unexpected. The evening of the lecture was great, after I had gotten over the nerves, and is a wonderful memory especially the part where my son – who was sitting in the front – gave me the “loser” sign at the end while I was taking applause! It has also given me the opportunity to undertake an outreach project to promote women and girls in STEM and I am really enjoying working on this with some of the PhD students in the department at the moment.
How do you feel about the celebration of 40 years of women at Univ?
It’s incredible that women have been at the College for such a short time given its long history. A lot has been achieved but a lot remains to be done. It’s a very happy coincidence that the College is announcing its first female Master this year.
Women at Univ 2019. Celebrating 40 years of achievement by women students, academics and staff, and recovering the history of women in the College from 1249 to the present day.
Published: 16 September 2019