Westhill Academy, Aberdeenshire; University of Edinburgh; Heriot Watt University
Standard Grades (English; Maths; Geography; Chemistry; Physics; Art; Graphic Communication); Highers (English, Maths, Chemistry, Geography, Art & Design); BSc Geology and Physical Geography; MSc Petroleum Geology; PhD Marine Geology
Science presenter at the Aberdeen Science Centre; PhD in Marine Geology; Exploration Geoscientist at Shell; Researcher in Petroleum Geology ay Heriot Watt University; Researcher in tsunamis at Heriot Watt University; Lecturer in Geology at University of Aberdeen.
Lecturer in Geology at University of Aberdeen
Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m a geoscientist. I love the outdoors and the ocean. I explore the rocks below the ocean floor to understand how ocean currents and submarine landslides have shaped the seabed in the past.
I live in Scotland, but love to explore the World. My work has allowed me to live in Norway, The Netherlands, Spain and Texas.
I love riding my bike and camping. Most of all, I love the ocean, and kayak and swim whenever I can to meet the animals there. The puffins are my favourite, but have also kayaked with seals, dolphins and even alligators!
When I am not outdoors, I enjoy art: drawing, and sewing. I do a lot of cross stitch, and for Christmas I got a new sewing machine so I can design and make my own clothes.
I investigate the bottom of the ocean and the rocks below the sea floor to understand how ocean currents and submarine landslides shape the sea floor now and in the past.
I have had two careers – one as a petroleum geologist, and one as a marine geologist.
I used to work for an oil company, looking for oil and gas so that we can keep the lights on and everyone has access to the electricity we take for granted in the UK. I worked for some time in Gabon in West Africa where there were regular black outs and the electricity was so unreliable that it exploded my iphone! It made me realise how lucky we are in Europe to have a good electricity network.
My favourite part of that job was going offshore to drill for gas. I had to ride on a helicopter to get to the drill ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There were only 4 other women on the ship, but the men were really nice, and even baked me a birthday cake! Working offshore was very exciting. We were in pirate territory and had to practice emergency drills incase we were invaded!
Now we are now thankfully transitioning over to cleaner energies, I am a lecturer in the University of Aberdeen, teaching students to make sure we continue to keep the lights on in a sustainable way as we move to net zero.
Now I research the deep ocean and how ocean currents and submarine landslides shape the seabed and the rocks below. I still get to go offshore to collect data from the sea floor, looking for clues of past climate change in the rocks below the seabed. I also see lots of microplastics in the sediments I study.
I most recently worked on tsunamis in Indonesia. Looking below the seabed for evidence of ancient submarine landslides that might have caused tsunamis. It is really important work because the Indonesian Government is moving the Capital City to the area at higher risk of tsunamis. This research made the BBC news (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52388352) which was really exciting.
My Typical Day:
I hate mornings! Unless I am offshore, my job is flexible so I get up about 9am. I check in with my students and help with teaching. In the afternoons I do my research, either in the lab looking at sediments in the microscope, or in my office interpreting the data and making colourful maps of what the world looked like in the past.
If I am offshore collecting data then the days are long. I will work a 12 hour day, seven days a week while we are offshore, often right through the night. But the time passes quickly, especially when sediments arrive on the ship.
When back onshore, it is a very busy day filled with teaching. I teach a class of 20 University students, and we learn how to look at the rocks below our feet and reconstruct the what the World looked like millions of years ago.
When I have time, I work on the data collected offshore in the laboratory in the University. I look at the sand and mud we collected under the microscope and use lasers to understand the size of the grains of sand. I use this information to make colourful maps and models that reconstruct what the World looked like in the past.
After work, I love to cook a good home-cooked meal (usually Mexican) and do art and crafts on front of the TV all evening. I recently finished a very big cross stitch of the geological map of the rocks of the UK.
What I do to help Planet Earth:
Every year I try to replace one main source of household waste with a sustainable alternative. I now re-fill my shampoo (and have not bought a new bottle of shampoo for 4 years!) I make my own yogurt, and always bring a packed lunch to avoid wasteful packaging and utensils. I wrote a blog with some of the products I have replaced here: https://rachelbrackenridge.wixsite.com/polkadotexplorer/post/plastic-free-july-reducing-your-hydro-carbon-footprint
The CHRISTMAS LECTURE related to my work:
Since the Earth, Ocean and Atmosphere are all connected, all the lectures are relevant to my work! I research a lot of the themes discussed in Water World such as deep ocean currents, and look for clues in the rock record like the Engine Earth lecture to reconstruct what ocean circulation and the World looked like in the past.
My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:
The dinosaur being hit by the asteroid in this year's 'Engine Earth' lecture!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
A modern explorer
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
The Duke of Edinburgh Award - learning about glaciated landscapes on the expeditions.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Physical Geography & Art
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had no clue!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was ALWAYS late for School - I hate mornings!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I would be an artist
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I love anything with a trumpet in it (I played at school)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Scuba diving with sharks in Malaysia
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Visit space; Be a better singer; Feel a real-life earthquake.
Tell us a joke.
Why did the geology student drown? Because their grades were below C-level!