Profile: Rhiannon Jones

This week, we spoke with Rhiannon Jones, an MSc student studying Engineering Geology and Geotechnics, and we had a chat about what it’s like to be a female student studying at CSM!

To start with, tell us a bit about you. What course are you on? Why did you decide to study in Cornwall?

I originally came here to do Applied Geology, which is a field work based course with lots of exploration geology, but I realised I preferred the engineering side of things, so I switched courses. I decided to stay to do my masters here because I really wanted to go deeper into the engineering and computer based side of the industry, and also, because the job market isn’t great for anyone, I thought a masters could give me a leg up.

I come from the Channel Islands, which are obviously very small and very coastal, and Cornwall is basically like home but a bit bigger! We’re in a really nice location here, and also the course is really good – it’s industry based, and a bit more practical than other courses at other Universities.

In your experience, do you think that your course is particularly male dominated?

There are only eight people on my course but I’m the only girl, and when you look at the other MSc courses, they’re all guys. When I did my undergrad, there was one girl for every five girls, and I know on the undergrad Mining Engineering course there are only one or two girls. So yeah, it’s very male dominated!

Why do you think this is?

I have thought about this quite a lot. I went to an all-girls school, and I was the only girl in my year who went to do an engineering based degree. Mining is male dominated already, and this definitely puts people off. When I think about entering the job market, it is intimidating to think about entering a field full of men and managing them, or working on male dominated construction sites. Mining and geotechnics isn’t very well known in general, and there are a lot of people who don’t even know that we need mining anymore. There’s not very much awareness about the scope of careers you can have in what people perceive to be a very black and white industry. There’s the environmental aspect, health and safety – there are lots of careers that girls would do well in if it was more advertised.

I’m the president of the Women In Mining student chapter, and we try and get people who are interested in the mining industry, or anything related, to try to come to meetings and industry events in London.

Why do you think that some people might perceive there to be a certain “lad culture” within CSM?

I think the reason why it’s perceived to be like this is because we started off as a completely separate institution from the Universities; it was the kind of situation where you knew everybody in the school, and when you graduated, those people would help get you careers, and that mentality has really stuck. People think it’s very important to be friends with everyone and socialise within CSM, and I think that social aspect comes across as lad culture – but what it really is is an attempt to stick together in an industry that’s so big. It helps a lot to have that close knit community.

What problems or issues have you personally come up against being a female student at CSM?

I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced anything specifically. I haven’t been discriminated against or anything, and nobody within CSM thinks girls can do less than boys.

The only thing I can really think of is this; I was the Vice President of the Camborne School of Mines Student Association, but I didn’t run for president because I thought that, as I’m a girl, I wouldn’t win. I went for vice because I thought that was a little bit less upfront, and, at the time, I genuinely thought that I really wanted to be Vice President. Now, though, I think I really should’ve pushed myself to go for President. I shouldn’t have stopped myself doing something because I thought I wouldn’t win because I’m female.

In the industry, I did a placement over the summer of my second year in a concrete factory. I was a lab worker and I was the only girl there, and they found it difficult to have me coming into their workplace. They had to give up a toilet for me and stuff, and they had to have a talk from management about what to say and what not to say. I had to really work to fit in and not be treated like an outsider, and I did feel like there was clearly a separation between me and them. In the whole six weeks that I worked there, I never really became one of the team.

But over my time at CSM, I’ve not really had any issues within the school – it’s been very good.

How do you think we can get more women involved in CSM?

CSM are trying to get more people applying for mining, because people in general, not just women, just don’t know about it as a subject. I know a lot of the girls on my course are only doing it because they switched after they got here, because they just didn’t realise that it was a thing. It’s not advertised enough because it’s so niche.

I think really going into schools is the most beneficial thing to do, especially in Cornwall because of the existing heritage of mining in the area, and demonstrating to young people that it’s not as boring as it sounds! I think it’s particularly important to get girls talking to girls about it – if you see a woman who’s been working in a mine in Africa, for example, that really demonstrates that you can do it, you can get there, and makes it come across as not quite so laddish.

Do you think that opportunities for careers your chosen field are limited for female identifying people?

Yes, especially because it’s historically been extremely male dominated. It is getting better, and some big mine companies have pledged to get to a 50/50, male to female split, but in practice there really aren’t many women, especially on the engineering and management level.

There’s the whole issue around people believing that women get hired just to fill quotas. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I wouldn’t want to feel like I’d been hired to fill a quota rather than for my skills. With time, however, all the people in top positions will retire, giving all the women in mining I know a chance to move upwards.

What does running the Women In Mining chapter involve?

We’re a very new society, and this year is the first year that we’ve been up and running, and doing things. We go up to London a lot to attend conferences and talks, where they bring in influential women in mining. We’ve had talks from Frances Wall, for example, who is a really important woman in the industry and who works at CSM, and people who are involved with the PR side of things, and others who are involved with economics. They’re really good to go to, to see what careers you can aspire to, plus we get in for free because we’re students! We’re also trying to organise some talks here this term from lecturers and from people working in the industry for anyone to come along to and see the potential career paths in mining engineering that other women have followed.

What would you say to any young women who are thinking about getting involved in mining engineering?

I don’t wanna say “Go for it!” because that sounds lame, but honestly; it’s not as difficult as you think it is, and it’s not as intimidating as you think it is. CSM is male dominated, and it might seem daunting because it’s this culture and community that’s been around for ages, but they’re incredibly welcoming.