NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

Kathryn Bethune

Dr. Kathryn Bethune

You will need to work hard and persevere

Professor, Precambrian Geology & Tectonics, and Head of Geology
University of Regina

Dr. Kathryn Bethune is a Professor of Precambrian Geology and Tectonics at the University of Regina. She grew up in Mississauga, Ontario where she was introduced to Geology at Glenforest Secondary School in Grade 11. She went on to obtain her B.Sc. Honours in Geology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (1982-1987) and her Ph.D. at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario (1987-1993); this was followed by post-doctoral fellowships at the Geological Survey of Canada (Ottawa), and Queen's (1993-1998). Dr. Bethune was appointed Assistant Professor at U. Regina in 1999 and has been actively engaged in teaching, research and graduate and undergraduate student supervision (3 Ph.D., 14 M.Sc., 24 B.Sc.) since that time.

As an academic, what is your favourite part of your job?

Teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in scientific theory, concepts and research methodologies – Doing science in the field, applying my skills to “real-world” problems, doing basic geological observational (mapping) research – Incredible joys at new findings/discoveries, both during field and follow-up laboratory study, no matter how small…!

What are you researching and what excites you about it?

I study the Precambrian geology and tectonics of the Canadian Shield with emphasis on the tectonic evolution of the Rae craton and its marginal orogenic belts. I am also interested in regional metallogeny and the structural-tectonic controls of Precambrian mineral deposits. I am currently studying a major tectonic boundary in the SW Rae craton that may represent an ancient plate margin, the geological setting and controls of a newly discovered uranium-rich corridor in the western Athabasca Basin, and the controls of gold mineralization in polydeformed rocks of the Reindeer zone, Trans-Hudson orogen. I love my research because it involves piecing together the complex puzzle of geological events and processes of the past in an effort to better understand the evolution of our planet, much of which occurred over Precambrian time, ~4.0 to 2.5 billion years ago.

What types of professions can students graduating in your field enter?

My students have almost universally been employed in the mining industry, as Exploration Geologists; and in government, as mapping and Research Geoscientists for Geological Surveys. Several have also pursued higher level degrees and academic careers.

Is your workplace male-dominated? If so, how do you negotiate being a woman in a male-dominated workplace and/or field?

Both the discipline of Earth Science and the Faculty of Science are male dominated. The mining industry, with whom I collaborate, is also hugely male dominated. This has had its share of challenges over the years but I have held my own by adopting a number of strategies – primarily dedication, hard work and perseverance. I believe I have made inroads in being "recognized" both in research, the mineral industry and in teaching/admin at the university, but I feel that this has taken much longer than the average male because men are routinely given the benefit of the doubt, whereas women have to work harder to gain equivalent recognition. In my generation there are still challenges to overcome in gender equity, but the younger generation (my students, who at the moment are mainly young men) have a very different perspective, which is extremely encouraging for women of the future.

How do you foster and encourage diversity in your workplace?

I always try to focus on the strengths of the "individual" without any bias, and I continually try to encourage, recognize and praise the efforts of all individuals under my supervision. I am perhaps more sensitive to recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of female colleagues, given the situation and some of the issues they face.

What kinds of systemic support could institutions provide to help encourage girls and women to pursue careers in science and engineering?

They need to feel they "belong". That they will feel comfortable (respected, valued) in the work environment wherever it happens to be, that their judgements and opinions will be listened to. Role modelling and mentoring is key. When I came to U of Regina I felt very much "alone". Universities need to do better – both for male and female junior faculty alike.

All male professors and administrators need to take training in gender equity and awareness. In addition, a major impediment for women is the prospect of having children in their career-development years. Women typically get hired as junior professors in their early thirties, thus needing to take time off to have children early in their careers. There are no serious provisions in the universities and federal granting agencies to allow women leeway (and an ability to "catch up”). I lost my NSERC Discovery Grant because of this and it took years to get back on track. University review committees and federal granting agency committees also need to strive to have gender and diversity balance as well, as there is no doubt that this plays a role.

What advice would you give to girls or young women who are interested in careers in science or engineering?

If that's your first love, go for it, however recognize that you will face challenges, and that you will need to work hard and persevere to become known and recognized (relative to your male counterparts). In fact, you may have to be a bit "feisty", but try to be gracious and diplomatic at the same time. It's a tough balance but I know that the hard work eventually pays off…!

As a professional in science or engineering, who are your role models and mentors?

My most important mentors have been progressive-thinking men, including my Ph.D. thesis advisors, who have always viewed women as intellectual equals. They have also included some amazing female Geology professors elsewhere in Canada (there are only a few in my area of expertise, among these are Drs. Rebecca Jamieson, Dalhousie University; Sandra Barr, Acadia University; Aphrodite Indares, Memorial University) who have excelled in their careers. A number of past/present male and female Research Scientists at the Geological Survey of Canada have also been important mentors: Dr. Janet King, Dr. Louise Corriveau, Dr. Anthony LeCheminant, Dr. Garth Jackson, Dr. Jack Henderson, Dr. Anthony Davidson, Dr. Charlie Jefferson, Drs. Jeanne and John Percival. Thank you to all.