Today’s Raising Horizons trowelblazers are connected through their domain of expertise, and their commitment to the promotion of women’s education.
Dr Catherine Alice Raisin and Professor Cynthia Burek
It’s amazing really that Catherine Raisin’s name is not more widely known, given her achievements. From quite a quite humble background, through education she worked her way to a very senior career, managing this at a time when most women were only just beginning to tap at the glass ceiling, never mind break it.
Catherine had to wait until her mid-twenties to get a degree, because until that point- 1879- they were not open to women. She took geology and zoology, and made waves by not only being the first woman at the University of London to gain a geology degree, but that year, 1884, the highest scoring student. 15 years later, having specialised in the microscopic study of rocks, she became only the second woman ever to receive a Doctor of Science qualification, after already winning the Lyell Fund from the Geological Society, and the previous year being appointed Vice Chancellor of Bedford College, University of London.
She was Head of the Geology Department at Bedford, but also jointly held both the Botany and Geography Headships during different periods. In 1919, the year before she retired, she became a Fellow of the Geological Society, one of the first women to be admitted. Throughout her life she was committed to advancing women’s education, founding the lady’s intellectual society The Somerville Club aged just 25, and taking action for the rights of women to study at and be employed by universities.
Our modern counterpart, Professor Cynthia Burek, has had a similarly long and distinguished career, with similarly diverse interests and ‘ordinary’ origins in the East End.
Cynthia works at the University of Chester and the Open University in Wales teaching geology, forensic science, sustainable development and conservation. Her geological research includes limestone pavements, and she combines her interest in geology, ecology and the environment as the world’s first Chair in Geoconservation. She is involved at national and international level in many large organisations and projects including UKGAP (Geodiversity Action Plan) steering group, English Geodiversity Forum, Geoconservation Wales/Cymru Forum, Association of Welsh Regionally Important Geodiversity Sites (RIGS), and Stakeholders committee for the Irish Sea Conservation Zone. She directs the Heritage Lottery Fund project Saltscape landscape of Cheshire, and the UNESCO recognised GeoMôn (Anglesey) Geopark. She is also a Fellow of the Geological Society.
In addition to her many research-related roles, she has a deep commitment to promoting education, especially concerning gender equality and women’s access. She is Deputy Director of the Centre for Science Communication, is on the Athena Swan committee at University of Chester, is a Director of the British Federation of University Women and British Federation of Women Graduates and is Chair of the International Fellowships Committee at the Graduate Women’s International (GWI) conference, aimed at empowering women through education. She gave the 2015 Sybil Campbell Annual Lecture for the University Women’s Club, and has published several papers on the role of women in geological history, including in particular, Catherine Raisin.
Written by Becky