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Joanna Young

Co-founder, Girls On Ice Alaska, part of Inspiring Girls Expeditions

 

And - Glaciologist, PhD candidate, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Photocredit: Todd Paris Photography

It's okay to have a more meandering path to discovering what you love to learn about.

What do you do?

I study and teach about glaciers! On the best days, that might mean that I am taking a helicopter into a remote mountain range and getting dropped off to spend a week ‘on the ice,’ traveling around with a team on skis or with snowmobiles to take measurements and install equipment that tells us how much snow or melt the glacier is seeing. Or, I might be leading a group of teenage girls into the mountains, to learn about the glacial landscape and how important it is to our global ecosystem. On the more normal days, I can be found in front of my computer at the university where I work, programming and running computer code that can help expand on our measurements from the field and tell us even more about how our glaciers are doing in climate change.

Why did you choose this field?

"Being outside in nature has always been a really important part of who I am."

Growing up, I’d always really enjoyed looking at the night sky, and I also wanted to study something really challenging in university, so decided to do a physics/astronomy degree for my undergrad. As much as I loved it, I grew to understand over the five years in that program that if I continued studying astrophysics, there was a strong chance I would find myself behind a computer and indoors for the rest of my life. So I started looking into options that might allow me to combine both my background and skills in physics as well as opportunities to be in and study the incredible wild corners of our world. I eventually found glaciology, and realized that studying glaciers would allow me both of those things, and would also connect me to other like-minded individuals who are also motivated by exploring our incredible planet.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I shouldn’t stress so much about not knowing exactly what I wanted to do early on! I think in high school and university, we are trained to think that we need to study only one thing and have one single career. I don’t feel that way now at all. I would love to go back and encourage my younger self to explore many different subjects, to shop around and take classes, and to seek out learning opportunities in a variety of different fields. I don’t think we even know when we are young what kinds of interesting fields and jobs might even be possible! In fact, I am still learning about new fascinating fields all the time. It’s one of the beautiful things about science - there is always something new and exciting to learn. So it’s okay to have a more meandering path to discovering what you love to learn about.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I look forward to helping solve mysteries and answer interesting questions about our planet. I am a very curious person, and doing research and being surrounded by other scientists gives me the chance to learn more and more about the fascinating world we live in.

Best advice for the next generation

Don't think of STEM fields as boring, tedious, uncreative work just for one type of person. Science benefits most from people who are curious, creative, imaginative, and who love to gain a deeper understanding of the amazing world around them. If that description fits you, then pursuing STEM may be for you!

 

There are also countless different types of jobs in STEM fields for all kinds of people - from research to computer programming to field work to science journalism to industry to working in museums to teaching. There is something in science for everyone, and that everyone has something to offer in science

Fun fact

There was a moment when I was 19 that it looked like I might leave science and pursue a career in modern dance instead. I grew up dancing and was deeply in love with the art form. I am very happy with the way things turned out in the end, but I think back fondly to my days as a dancer as well. I think having many passions is a wonderful thing, and what makes me, me!