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WING Interview with Bridget Ayling, Director of the Great Basin Center at UNR

Bridget Ayling, University of Nevada, Reno & Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy
Alexander Richter 28 Nov 2016

Interview with Bridget Ayling who works at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she is the Director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy and an Associate Professor with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, as part of our interview series with Women in Geothermal (WING).

In continuation of our series of interviews with the various ambassadors of Women in Geothermal (WING), we here feature an interview with Bridget Ayling of the University of Nevada in Reno, U.S.

Bridget Ayling works at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she is the Director of the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy and an Associate Professor with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. She is originally from New Zealand, and pursued paleoclimatic studies in her home country and in Australia during her undergraduate and PhD degrees. After completing her PhD in 2006, new government funding for geothermal projects in Australia sparked her interest. At a career crossroads between continuing with paleoclimatic studies or pursuing geothermal, she chose geothermal and hasn’t looked back! Bridget spent 10 years working for Geoscience Australia, largely on geothermal and then unconventional oil and gas projects after Australia’s geothermal sector collapsed. She recently accepted her current position and re-located to the United States.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My interest in earth science started at a very young age. I grew up in rural Hawkes Bay (on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand), and there were limestone outcrops in the area. One day I noticed these white rocks with shells in them, and collected a few samples to bring home. My parents recognized my interest in earth science at that point and encouraged me to pursue it (earth science books were common Christmas presents!). I was certain that one day I would be an archaeologist, volcanologist, astronomer or paleontologist! I was fascinated by all of it, and was fortunate to have supportive parents that nurtured my interest in those early days.

What motivates you?

Several things motivate me in my work: the excitement of scientific discovery, the prospect of contributing to renewable, clean energy solutions for society, and, the people factor. I find it extremely rewarding to work with equally-passionate, motivated people to solve problems and create positive change.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Finishing my PhD! I think in the early years of my PhD, I had imposter syndrome and didn’t feel that I know enough about anything. Even though I had excellent grades in my BSc(Hons), I felt that I wasn’t smart enough compared to my peers, and that everyone else seemed to have it all worked out. At one point in the first year, things were not going well and I considering quitting. But my stubbornness wouldn’t let me! I persevered, found a mentor in the school and finished the PhD.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?

Passion for my work, persistence, flexibility and open-mindedness (willing to recognize opportunities), and making the effort to get to know people.

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?

Great leaders are fair, calm under pressure, inspiring, encouraging, empathetic, personable, resilient and have high levels of emotional intelligence.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women in the geothermal sector?

I think one of the challenges in the geothermal sector is that there are not as many women in senior positions who can provide mentorship and demonstrate leadership for junior women starting out in the sector. When you join a company/organization and there are no senior women to act as role models, you might be inclined to wonder ‘where is my future in this organization?’.

Why do you think it is important for women in geothermal to join forces?

Women in the sector need to support each other and encourage each other to speak up when we observe actions/behaviors that are exclusive and/or further perpetuate the gender disparity (whether intentionally or unconsciously). It is important for women (and men) to work together to instigate the cultural changes that are needed to address the gender gap, in geothermal and beyond. It may take some time, but through progressive initiatives such as WING, change will happen, and it’s happening already! I am excited to see where WING will take us: both women and equally importantly, our ‘WING-MEN’. We need men to also be our champions on this journey towards gender equality – together we’ll make it a reality.

Bridget may be contacted regarding WinG and her activities in the United States at bayling@unr.edu

We would like to thank Laura Garchar a WING member in the U.S. and Staff Geoscientist with Geologica Geothermal Group Inc. who helped make this interview possible.