Meredith Bush: A Powerful Woman Chiseling Away the Limitations of a Male-Dominated Field

Meredith Bush is a visiting professor in the Colorado College Geology Department as well as a CC alumna. Currently occupying the office of her previous academic advisor, Christine Siddoway, Bush talks about growing up in Seattle, Washington. Bush attended public school in Seattle through 12th grade, and then attended CC on scholarship for her undergraduate education. “Looking back on it now,” she said, “I pretty much came because I got a scholarship to do it, otherwise I definitely would have ended up at a big public university.” Bush arrived at CC with the intention of studying geology, and graduated as a geology major in 2008. “I took mostly science classes,” she said. “I feel like I took full advantage of the Colorado College experience.” Upon graduating, however, Bush wasn’t ready to leave the CC community. From 2008 to 2009, Bush worked as a paraprofessional in the Geology Department before attending the University of Texas in Austin, where she obtained her MS and Ph.D. Bush’s MA is based in science and information studies, a departure from her BS in geology. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick with geology for a number of reasons,” she reflected.

Photo Courtesy of CC Geology Department

Bush worked as a librarian at the University of Texas, and in the library in the research facility of Exon Mobile. “After doing that for a little while, and being around geologists still, I realized I did want to keep pursuing research,” Bush said. Between 2011 and the fall of 2016, Bush began the process of getting her Ph.D. in geology at the University of Texas. “I really love the teaching aspect,” said Bush. I was in the process, through my Ph.D., of getting a teaching license to teach at the high school or middle school level, and I’m almost done with that, so I’ll be back in Austin to finish my student teaching in the fall [2017].” In the fall of 2016, however, Bush began her year as a visiting professor at CC, replacing Christine Siddoway, who is currently on sabbatical.

Due to the flexibility of the Block Plan, Bush was able to take a block off in November, using the break from teaching to return to Austin and complete her Ph.D.

“I went to a big inner city public school, we definitely did not have geology, we had pretty pathetic excuses for science courses,” Bush recalled. So why geology? “I knew one person who was a geologist,” she said, “who worked with our outdoor education club when I was in high school, and he would take us rock climbing and we’d go canyoneering in the San Rafael Swell in Utah. Growing up in the Northwest, geology isn’t in your face the same way it is in Utah, or here. You’re reminded of the volcanoes and the earthquakes and the weather, that’s how you think of geology in the Northwest.” Bush talked about visiting Utah over spring break trips with her high school, “it was just so striking to see that contrast between growing up in the Pacific Northwest and being out there,” she said. The combination of her geology mentor and various expeditions out West, as well as her love of math and science, led Bush to the field of geology. “Of course, with any field you can really narrow down your focus a lot, but I’ve managed to try and stay as broad as possible because that’s the way my brain works, to be able to combine all these different sciences plus the landscape is the way I can process stuff most easily,” she explained.

Bush talked about the somewhat inaccessible nature of geology, as it is not a subject commonly taught in high schools. Bush highlighted her interest in teaching high school students in the future. “The people we get studying geology [in college] have already sort of self-selected themselves,” she said. “For me, teaching at a lower level is where you can really reach out to people who have never been exposed to these disciplines before.”

Bush also talked about the importance of opening up the field of geology to women, as it exists as a primarily male dominated study. “It’s a pretty homogenous group that you see at geology conferences.” Bush said about the limitations of being a female in the world of geology; “When I was doing my Ph.D.,” she said, “you have a committee of five different faculty, and the school that I went to was the largest geology school in the entire United States, probably just about the largest one in the world.” At the University of Texas, there are around 200 faculty members in the Geology department alone, which is about the same size as CC’s entire faculty, “and I did think about wanting to have a woman on my committee.” Bush continued, “Out of those 200, there was no one who would be appropriate in my field to do that, which is pretty alarming to recognize that when it’s such a huge number.” Bush went on to discuss the limitations as a female conducting fieldwork.

“That sort of fieldwork has always been ‘good ol’ boys,'” she laughed, “there is a lot of sitting around the campfire drinking beers and smoking cigarettes, and sometimes people say something offensive, and you can either say something, or not. It’s a tricky culture to figure out where you fit into it, for women and for other people who aren’t just a part of that sort of ‘good ol’ boys’ hunting and fishing and doing geology crew.” It is not only the field environment that is limiting, however, but the location of study itself. Bush talked about colleagues of hers that work in places like Kurdistan, Peru, South America, and the Middle East. “They wouldn’t have allowed me to go on my own,” she said, “It just wouldn’t be smart to do that, you don’t want to put yourself at risk, even for the science.”

Bush continued to break down the limitations of her study through education. “It’s just a much more tangible way to think about it, whether it’s chemistry or physics or mathematics, it’s something that you can actually go outside and experience.”

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