A leading female seismologist has recently completed a teaching placement at the University of Aberdeen as part of an initiative to promote gender equality in the School of Geosciences. Under the auspices of the newly launched Visiting Female Researcher Programme, Simona Colombelli from the University of Naples (Italy) was invited to Aberdeen to teach students studying on the University’s recently created MSc Geophysics programme. Her trip was supported by the School as part of a bid from the School of Geosciences for an Athena SWAN award that will be submitted this year.

The Visiting Female Researcher Programme will invite top female postdoctoral researchers every year to teach in the School of Geosciences. The purpose is to allow candidates to share their expertise and improve the students’ learning experience, while also providing inspiring examples to female students interested in pursuing a career in research.

Simona is an expert in earthquake early warning systems and seismic risk who works in the world-leading RISSC Lab in the Department of Physics at the University of Naples. Aged just 29, she has 11 peer-reviewed publications to her name, including a Nature Communications paper. 

Simona Colombelli (front) with (from left to right) Kathleen Asena (MSc Geophysics), Elvira Papaleo (PhD Geophysics), and Lina Medina Centeno (MSc Geophysics).

SImona spent two weeks at the University, where she taught MSc and PhD students the course “Topics in Advanced Applied Geophysics”, which this year had an emphasis on seismo-volcanic hazards.

Describing the experience in an interview with Nick Rawlinson, Head of the Tectonic and Geophysics group of the School, she said: “This is the first time that I have taken a leading teaching role, and I really enjoyed teaching students from so many different backgrounds who are operating at such a high standard.

“I was also really impressed by the research environment here.  In Aberdeen there is a lot of applied research which often involves contact with external companies, which makes it likely that your research will find an application in the end. This makes it very stimulating.”

Simona added: “I had some prior awareness of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences, but I never realised the department was so big until I arrived.  The School is well structured and everyone has their own dedicated role, from the administrative staff to the researchers. This meant I was well supported and could concentrate fully on my research and teaching responsibilities.”

Among the students that Simona taught during her time in Aberdeen were MSc Geophysics students Lina Medina and Kathleen Asena, and PhD student Elvira Papaleo.  All three agree that the initiative has helped to encourage their development as female academics in a traditionally male-dominated area.

“The course was very well delivered and Simona explains things very eloquently,” Kathleen said. “She is young and she has managed to make it to a senior position very quickly, which goes to show that if you have the talent and work hard you can go far in a very short space of time.”

Lina added: “Simona has been a great teacher and it is really inspiring to see a woman like her who is really young become an expert. It makes you realise that there are no barriers to achieving success as long as you have the talent and ambition.”

Simona was considered as the ideal candidate for this initiative by Dr Luca De Siena, the coordinator of the course, due to her teaching expertise as support teaching staff at the University of Naples and her excellent research record.

After the experience, Luca said: “Simona is an exceptional scientist, who is able to explain complex concepts in a remarkably simple way. Her young age and research strength gave a fresh boost to the course, augmenting the expertise of the current teaching staff of the School.”