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Cork Profile: Bettie Higgs

Wednesday, 6th September, 2017 6:01pm

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?
I wanted to work in a sweet shop. That didn’t work out. 

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:
My career path did not involve much planning ahead. I studied at the University of Sheffield in England to bachelors and doctorate level in geology. I headed to Edinburgh for my first job, working for the Institute of Geological Sciences, and then for the Geological Survey of Ireland based in Dublin. However, I found my feet in UCC where I’ve worked since 1987.  What became clear in that time is that the boundaries between the sciences are arbitrary and artificial. A geologist may need to integrate many subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, maths etc. We sometimes lead students to see these subjects as separate silos of learning when in reality everything is connected. I try to help students to make those connections. I was fortunate to be 
able to work part-time while my children were growing up – crèches then were not so frequent or well-monitored and the challenges of the school timetable required some flexibility. Once my children left home, I focused more intently on my work in UCC. I retired two years ago. After retiring I took up the role of Staff Ombudsman at UCC which takes up about one day a week.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?
I’ve had the enjoyment of working with students, young and old, and seeing their enthusiasm for all things geological.  A day might involve preparing and presenting lectures and workshops, or packing a rucksack with a geological hammer and hand lens and heading out into the field. A geologist is a type of detective and there are many clues still to be found by both amateurs and professionals.

What motivates you?
I see something that I think needs to be done. I’m interested in doing it. 
Achieving a goal I believe in motivates me. Once I start the people I’m working with keep me motivated - and the fear of failure kicks in and keeps me on track!

What is your greatest life achievement todate?
Definitely having children and enjoying their company, though I got as many congratulations from running the Dublin marathon! In terms of most satisfying career achievement, I’ve invested a lot of time in evening classes for the general public, in particular setting up the Diploma in Geology in 1990.  Now that I have more time - part of my day might be plotting and planning the monthly lectures and regular field trips for the Cork Geological Association. As a retired person I haven’t stopped my work. This month I’ll be at a conference on field-based teaching, and next month one on the theme of plate tectonics. I’ll then contribute to a conference in 
Calgary hosted by an international society that concentrates on how students learn and how best we can support them. Some of my day is preparing for next year where activities will involve taking a group of geologists on a field visit to Lanzarote. 

What advice would you give your 15 year old self?
Have a little more confidence in yourself. Take opportunities that come along and that you are interested in. In the words of my favourite singer/ songwriter, strike every chord that you feel. Ignore those who say ‘girls can’t do that’.

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?
I would probably be trying to earn a living as an artist. Given my level of talent, it’s just as well I didn’t go that route!

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
Apart from my parents and my children, my husband has had the greatest influence on me in my life…for better or worse! Ken is a geologist too. He specialises in palaeontology. We’re very fortunate that our interests overlap to the extent that geology is both work and hobby. We can assist each other professionally, and can get absorbed in exploring mountains and coastal cliffs while on holiday. 

What is the life dream now?
I intend to continue to be involved with and contribute to the Cork Geological Association. I’m pleased that younger members are carrying on the tradition as well as bringing new ideas on board. I hope to be inspired 
to get painting by the forthcoming exhibition of paintings by the 19th century geologist George V. du Noyer to be held soon in the Crawford Gallery.

What is your favourite Cork memory? One of my favourite Cork memories is coming into Cork for the first time on the car ferry from Swansea, through the harbour and all of the way past Blackrock Castle into the city. It was stunning. I hope that the first impressions that future visitors get is not spoiled by inappropriate development. 

What is your favourite place in Cork? I love travelling along the Carrigaline– Crosshaven Road on my way home after a day’s work. The views of the village nestled on the edge of the harbour are a joy. 
Do you have a favourite quote or motto? I got by in UCC by remembering the phrase ‘the art of life is knowing how to adapt’. It’s important in a modern higher education institution to keep an open mind.

When are you at your happiest?
When I see that my family are happy.

Any regrets? I don’t focus much on regrets, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t change anything. I think I should have striven harder to create more equality, for example between boys and girls, so that all feel they can make the most of opportunities that arise. 

What is your hidden talent?
My hidden talent…I think I could have been a social scientist. I love observing people and interpreting their body language, motivation and inner thoughts! Watch out.

What might we be surprised to know about you? The first flight I ever took was to the European Commission building in Brussels to join a protest in support of small island monocultures that would be affected when the UK joined the EU. Now I’m unhappy with the whole Brexit thing!

Anything else you’d like to share with us? Having an interest like geology gives us something to share socially – with the Cork Geological Association we have great local field trips and weekend adventures further afield. We have even travelled abroad to places like Iceland (twice), Spain and to several parts of the UK. I’ve made life-long friends through these activities. 

Readers might like to get in touch with the Cork Geological Association by emailing s.weldon@ tcd.ie or by coming along to a forthcoming lecture on the last Wednesday of each month.

Factfile:
Name: Bettie Higgs
Lives: Crosshaven, Co. Cork
Family: Partner Ken Higgs and 2 children and 4 grandchildren (so far)
Pets: None
Favourite thing about Cork: The city has a heart. It’s bustling and busy and that’s how I like to see it. But I also love the fact that the people have a thirst for knowledge
One thing you would change about Cork: The traffic layout and flow. It suits no-one. The pollution caused by traffic in jams undoes the good intended by trying to restrict the number of vehicles. I’d redesign the layout from scratch to suit pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and vehicle drivers. I’d redesign bicycle lanes to be more logical and practical, and have feeder cycle lanes and footpaths coming into the city. I’d fine tune traffic lights to work better at busy junctions. I’d require cyclists who use public roads to have a licence
 

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