In the profession of a geologist there is a place for softness and femininity
At the age of 25, Ekaterina Pogoreltseva is not only the chief hydrogeologist at Stoilensky GOK, but also a young scientist, the winner of the contest “Talented Woman in the Mining Industry” in the nomination “Breakthrough of the Year”. Ekaterina has an internship in China and responsible work on the study of the impact of tailings ponds on groundwater. And this is a young beautiful girl – a clear refutation of the stereotype about the geologist as a “bearded and unkempt man.”
— First of all, I congratulate you on your victory in the competition. What emotions did you feel when you found out that you were a winner?
– The victory was very unexpected for me. In my nomination there were many serious competitors from such companies as KinrossGold and Polymetal. And I have very little experience in the mining industry, literally six months. That is, when I applied, I realized that maybe nothing would work. What if?
And I remember well the feeling of being invited to the stage, and it so happened that I was near the presenter. He pulls out a piece of paper with the name from the envelope, unfolds it, and I can already see the name Catherine. In my head the thought: “Come on, this is serious, is this really happening to me?” It was a big surprise, to be honest, I did not think that I would win, but it was very pleasant.
— How did it happen that you decided to connect your life with such a difficult profession as a geologist?
– On the one hand, everything went to this, and on the other hand, it happened by accident. At school I liked the natural sciences, I love nature, I am not afraid of bad weather. But at first, I had to choose between a medical profession and a military career. I decided to enter the military academy in Voronezh, but for certain reasons it was not possible to do this. Then it was necessary to make a decision quickly, and I have a relative-geologist, who advised me to apply for this specialty. But, as they say, whatever is done, everything is for the best. Now I can no longer imagine myself in military uniform and I am glad that I chose geology.
— While studying at the university, you had an internship at the Liaoning Technical University in China. What new things did you learn? Is there any difference in the approaches to training geologists in the two countries?
— I did not receive any new knowledge in terms of profession. Not because we were not taught well there, but simply because the program was built differently. There were 20 of us in the group, all from different courses, it was not possible to build a single program convenient for everyone. Therefore, we studied the disciplines that we have already passed at the university in Russia.
But in any case, it was interesting: other countries, cultural values, mentality. The approach to teaching was different: all the information was in the form of presentations in English. By no means can we say that this internship was superfluous.
– In 2019, you, already studying at graduate school, received a scholarship from the President of the Russian Federation to study abroad. In which country and which university did you undergo an internship?
– This internship, unfortunately, did not take place. It was supposed to take place in China, but the coronavirus epidemic intervened. Training was postponed several times, and then I received a job offer from Stoilensky GOK. In this situation, it was possible to sit on and wait for something incomprehensible: when the borders will open, what kind of training will it be, what exactly will I get from this internship? I realized that it was necessary to go forward, and not to get hung up on China, agreed to the proposal of the GOK.
— From the point of view of scientific achievements, the development of modern technologies, is China lagging behind Russia, is it ahead of it or is at the same level?
— They have more modern digital developments. In the four months I spent there, I didn’t get to see everything, but I was impressed by the opportunity to observe the work of the mining enterprise remotely. We were taken to the hall at the university, we put on glasses and were able to see everything that is happening in the mine: how the work is being done, what equipment is used. At the same time, you are blown by air, you hear the noise of trolleys, there is a complete feeling of presence in the mine, although in fact you are at the university. I don’t know if there are such technologies in Russia. Honestly, I haven’t. At the same time, the population in Liaoning is about 2 million people, by the standards of China it is a city of the fourth level, not even the center of the province.
Of course, there were no such technologies at our university then, but I think Belgorod should not be offended. Being one step behind China is not so shameful. There is a saying: “God created the earth, and the Chinese did the rest.” So here they are ahead not only of us, but of the whole world. In addition, now our university is actively developing, when I was there for the last time, a lot of new equipment has appeared, which, unfortunately, did not exist when I studied. So we have everything ahead of us.
What is China’s attitude towards women in the extractive industry? Compared to Russia, are there more patriarchal attitudes or, conversely, is there a stronger tendency to equality?
– As for the industry, I did not have time to see enough to draw conclusions. As for the attitude towards women in general, strange things happened here (laughs). So, I had to face the bias of teachers. There was a case: we were asked a question, I answered it, but the teacher pretended that he could not hear me. At first, I thought I had said something wrong. But then my classmate raises his hand, says the same thing, and his answer is called correct! I sit at a loss: what was it? Then it was explained to me that women there are simply less seriously treated, they seem to be in the background. But I must say that they are already moving away from this, and I did not notice such an attitude among young Chinese teachers.
In fact, there are enough stereotypes in Russia. For example, that a geologist is an unkempt, bearded man. And at the sight of a girl, and even in a leadership position, many are extremely surprised. I think many applicants choose such professions as manager, lawyer, economist, because they imagine themselves in a shirt and suit, in a comfortable office. And the geologist “sits in the field, lights fires and digs the ground.” But that’s not true. What matters is not where you work, but who you stay in when you leave that workplace.
– And how do you feel about the statement that your profession has a “male face”?
– I fundamentally disagree with that. Even in such a male profession as a geologist, there is a place for softness and femininity. It’s great that girls can work in the extractive industries. Diversity is always better than monopolization. There is no need to divide the whole world into black and white: here, they say, this is a man’s occupation, and this is not. It’s not about the field, but about the abilities, motivation of a person. And it does not matter whether it is a man or a woman.
Here I would like to add, there is an opinion, which is confirmed by my observations, that there are many girls among hydrogeologists. Men were few to meet. So it turns out that hydrogeology in our circles, on the contrary, has a “female face” (laughs).
– There is an opinion that it is more difficult for a woman to make a career in the extractive industry, that, other things being equal, they will always choose a man, not a woman. Do you think this stereotype is relevant now, or is it gradually becoming a thing of the past?
– Specifically, I’ve never come across such a thing. If you take the big picture, yes, you can often hear that a girl needs to take care of the family, and not make a career. And leadership positions are occupied by men, because this requires “rigidity”. And women can’t do it because they’re “soft.” But it is not necessary for a girl in a leadership position to behave like a man: banging on the table with her fist, screaming. You can hint or just say that you can’t do that. There are different approaches to such situations. Well, in general, these stereotypes are still beginning to become a thing of the past.
— How difficult is it for a woman in your profession to combine work and family, raising children?
I haven’t had time to have a family and children yet. But I think it’s important, and I’m likely to have it all in the future. However, I am definitely not going to leave the profession. I think it is possible to combine if a life partner will help, and it will be possible to share responsibilities. I believe that it is always possible to agree, there would be a desire.
There is another stereotype here, not very pleasant. Many men believe that since a girl is in a male profession, in a leadership position, it means that it is better not to deal with her. That she does not know how to cook, she will not be able to run a household. But if a person thinks so, then this is his problem. If, without recognizing you, he begins to draw such conclusions, then it is not worth dealing with him.
— You have realized yourself as a young scientist. As far as we know, your research interests lie in the impact of tailings ponds on aquifers. What results have you already achieved? What materials do you rely on in your work?
— Yes, this is the main topic of my scientific articles. Before starting work at the plant, I relied on the results of monitoring. Samples are taken every month at regime wells, and on the basis of these data, it is possible to trace how the chemistry of water and levels are changing, and draw conclusions from this.
Now we have come to understand that there is still a lot of work ahead. When you’re at your college desk and you have a limited amount of information, and you’re trying to interpret it, that’s one thing. And when you get to the enterprise itself, everything looks very different. To say that everything is bad is impossible. Our water is very good. It is clear that there are some deviations that need to be studied. So far, I have specific developments that could help the company prevent undesirable effects on aquifers. Everything turned out to be not as simple as it was thought in students. It takes time to systematize and correctly understand everything, and then my developments will be able to benefit the enterprise.
— You have been working at Stoilensky GOK for a relatively short time – since the spring of this year. How did fate bring you to this enterprise? Was it hard at first?
— I have known Stoilensky GOK for a very long time. I had scientific articles related to it, that is, I already understood what kind of enterprise it was. When the question arose where to go to practice, I said that I did not want to sit in the office, but I wanted to go to the quarry. This is how I first found myself at GOK during my internship. When I graduated from the university, I did not immediately realize myself. For a while, I even thought about leaving geology. And then there was a call from the plant: there was a vacancy, I was offered a job. It was unexpected, but I decided to give it a try.
I already knew some people, I did not have any problems with adaptation in the team. As for the job, it wasn’t easy. There are a lot of things at once: work in a mine, a quarry, some regulatory documents, psychological things that also needed to be learned. Here I am still “in the process”, I hope that everything will work out.
— At GOK, you are engaged in geo-ecological monitoring of groundwater. What conclusions did you come to: to what extent are the environmental requirements of the enterprise complied with? To what extent are your recommendations, or perhaps comments, listened to?
— I have reviewed a lot of monitoring reports, there are no exceedances. This water is of high quality, it is quite possible to drink. The only thing is that the hardness is increased, but this applies to all groundwater, this is not terrible. In any case, such a large mining enterprise has an impact on the environment, and strict monitoring is needed so that then there are no problems, and we do not pollute the water. If I see that there is a well that needs to be decommissioned, the management supports me in this. It is clear that this does not always happen immediately. Such things depend on the budget, and my direction is not the only one at the plant. But at least when I offer something, I am not dismissed, but listened to.
— You have already achieved a lot as a professional in your field. What do you think, how do you manage to achieve success? What qualities help you in this?
– Modesty suggests writing everything off to luck, a coincidence. But that’s not quite right. In fact, it helps me to always get to the bottom of it, to find out how and why it works. For example, if I have a question at the plant, even if it does not directly concern my work task, I will still open the Internet and “dig” to know for myself.
Still stubborn. When my trip to China was disrupted several times, I was repeatedly told: “Why are you climbing there, did you not understand that you will not go to China and do not need to beat your forehead against the wall?” That is, there is a certain stubbornness, sometimes even unnecessary, in me (laughs).
Another not even a character trait, but rather a desire for something interesting to happen in my life. I never aspired to the boss’s chair, I wanted to travel and emotions. Now I have all this – a new, interesting job. Plus, of course, it is nice that it provides material prosperity.
— You are a very busy person: work at the enterprise, scientific research. Do you have time for any hobbies that are not related to the profession?
— I really like photography, for some time I was engaged in it professionally, I conducted studio shooting. Now competition has grown very much in this area, however, Stary Oskol is a small city, and it would be possible to turn around here, there are still few competitors here. Unfortunately, now there is not enough time for this, although I really want to. For several years I have been saying to myself: go, look for models, take pictures, sit in Photoshop, but so far it has not worked. Maybe in the future.
— What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
– A couple of months ago, I also asked myself this question. By the age of 25, she had achieved something that not everyone has at the age of 40. What’s next? After all, a person goes to something all his life, overcomes some steps, and I immediately succeeded – once, and on the top. I do not rule out that I will move even higher and set new tasks. I’m not going to stop. But for now, I need to adapt at the level where I am now. I think we should not rush things, they are already very “hurried”. I will work, develop – and then how it will turn out.
And, of course, I see myself as a wife, a mother anyway. Just the opportunity will arise to check whether it is possible to combine career and family.
Interviewed by Andrey Khalbashkaev