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Council view...

Malcolm Brown

Over the next few months, Fellows will be voting for new members of Council. The decision is no mere formality – Council members play a vital role in the future of the Society - and of the Earth sciences, as Sarah Day finds out.

Geoscientist 20.02 February 2010

The Society’s Council is almost as old as the organisation itself - in fact, although the Society’s Bicentennial is two years past, Council will celebrate its 200th birthday this June - though perhaps not so publicly.

Candidates aspire to join a distinguished group: past Council members have included such luminaries as William Buckland, Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. For those who are successful, membership offers a unique opportunity to make sure that their particular interests and views are represented, and members’ backgrounds are wide-ranging, from academia to industry.

As Malcolm Brown, one of the newest members, explains: “The strength of the Council is the combined backgrounds of the members – I will be inputting as a representative of the gas and oil exploration industry, and also as a geologist who has worked internationally. Other members will have almost the reverse background – primarily academic and UK based. All views bring value”.

Valsami-Jones As well as serving on Council itself, members serve on one of the Society’s standing committees, which deal with more specialist issues - such as external relations, education, or finance. This offers an opportunity to pursue specific interests, as Edward Derbyshire has found.

“During my term of office as Chair of the External Relations Committee, I’ve taken personal responsibility for interacting with UNESCO and monitoring the UK involvement in the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP)….To be a useful Council member, you need to accept responsibility for a specific line of action in which you’re interested and have experience and views”.

As a recently elected member, Malcolm Brown is looking forward to the opportunities ahead. “My particular interest is how we bring enough new geology graduates through to replace the current working geologist population. I’m still in my first six months, so finding my way a little. I think it’s important to focus on a couple of areas you have enthusiasm for and contribute there”.

Lynne Frostick (President) Eva Valsami-Jones served on Council between 2006 and 2008, and was equally motivated by the chance to contribute her experience and views. “I stood for Council because I felt that my gender and area of expertise were underrepresented. I spoke up for environmental geology and tried to help revive the Environment Group.”

For some, serving on Council is an opportunity to contribute to the Society’s business activities as well as to the science. “My main contribution”, says Nick Rogers (Publication Secretary, 2005-09) “was to be involved with the development of the Lyell Collection and the Lyell Centre, in particular working on developing the business model for the Collection. I learned a lot about electronic publishing and running a successful business”.

Lynne Frostick is Council’s current President, and previously served on Council as a Secretary during the 1990s. “I think I have helped to keep the GSL on its course for change, and helped it to become more externally focused and more businesslike. The business planning process is now well established and our media coverage is on the increase. I am also proud of getting the lecture theatre named after our first female President, Janet Watson- we needed something with a female focus in the Society”.

Such achievements require commitment beyond attending the five annual Council meetings themselves. The responsibility of Council membership can be daunting, as Council’s most famous member, Charles Darwin found. Prior to serving as Secretary for three years in 1838, he listed his reservations as no less than: “my entire ignorance of English Geology”, “my ignorance of all languages and not knowing how to pronounce even a single word of French” and “the loss of time…I cannot look forward, with even tolerable comfort, to undertaking an office without entering on it heart and soul”.

Ed Derbyshire “Being on Council does take up some time” admits Nick Rogers. “As with all things, the more you put in the more you get out of it, and the more enjoyable and rewarding the activity becomes”. Lynne Frostick agrees: “Being President does take up a lot of time - more so than almost any other role. However it is very rewarding – I wouldn’t have missed it for anything”.

“Any Earth scientist who gains benefit from membership of the Society should be prepared to consider seriously any approach that he or she should stand for Council” says Edward Derbyshire. “There must be commitment and belief, relevant experience and, above all, a feeling for the role of the Society in nurturing the advancement of Earth science”.

Malcolm Brown agrees that Council membership is a way to contribute to both the Society and the science itself. “After more than thirty years working as a geologist, I felt I should “give something back” rather than assume other people would be doing it for me.”

For those voting for Council members, as well as considering standing themselves, the decision is important. Whether making choices about strategy, external relations or educational policy, members are representing the views of the Earth science community as a whole, and contributing to discussions that will affect the future of Earth science in the UK.

“With the environmental challenges that face us, Earth science training in thinking across time and space and the ability to observe and synthesise data across all sciences has never been more important” says Lynne Frostick. “My advice is - always think about doing what is best for our science and the next generation of geologists.”

For the group of scientists who first met two hundred years ago and declared their ‘main object, that of discovering the geological structure of the Globe’, these words would not sound unfamiliar.