Hello! This past week I have been curating the Minorities in STEM Twitter account, and I shared a few threads with followers. Monday, I introduced myself and a bit about my PhD work; Tuesday was how my Caribbean heritage and physical disability influenced me to becoming a volcanologist; Wednesday was diversity in earth science and Thursday and Friday was about mental health and support networks in academia.
I will be putting these threads into blog posts, so to make it easy for people to find. So first thread I will share is my journey into volcanology.
The journey starts with me being diagnosed with a chronic physical disability called Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis at the age of 2. I struggled to walk, had inflamed joints and terrible fevers. From 2 to 18, I spent a lot time taking medication and in hospital because I was so sick.
But I became interested in geography (particularly natural hazards at secondary school) and the sciences. My family would take me to places to keep my curiosity going outside of school. For the sciences, particularly biology, I was interested in it because I wanted to understand my disability. I was well known in my clinic to be the one asking questions. My former paediatric physiotherapist said they loved/feared it! And I say fear because they didn’t want to disappoint me by not answering my questions!
Being in constant pain has made me equal parts stubborn and determined. Going on geography field trips (and later volcanology ones) were and are a struggle. But if you love something, you put yourself through the pain and bare the consequences later.
As well as all this, my disability was treated with “tough love” in my Caribbean family (which I am sure it is not just limited to our culture) – it was all, yes we love you, we know you’re in pain but get on with it, you still got your brain now use it. Reflecting back on it, I suppose it was a way in investing in me: my disability may have hurt my body, but it made my mind sharp, and my family knew this! With Caribbean families, it is all about hard work, appreciating what you got and being full of love – since my mind was sharp, I had to put it to work!
By the time I got to go to Coventry University to study Geography and Natural Hazards, my disability was under control, and my family were proud for me for just going to university. During my course I learned that when my disaster management lecturer told us “it’s not a hazard without the people”, it was so true. So because I had become such a nerd for natural hazards, I studied both: the hazard and the people they impacted.
Near the end of my 4 year course, I knew I wanted to keep studying natural hazards but I had limited options. BUT then I saw some Masters programs for volcanology. I asked my family for some advice and then all the sudden they started telling me about this volcano called La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines erupting in 1979! I loved hearing the stories of Jamaica, so imagine when I heard about St. Vincent’s volcano! I was captivated, I wanted to know more about this volcano. So, I did a Masters for the sole purpose to learn about this volcano that had impacted my family and my ancestors. I was determined to do it for my MSc dissertation, so I created a project with the lessons from my undergrad and family in mind: it’s not a hazard without the people.
Independent fieldwork on St. Vincent doing a volcanic risk perception study was the best month of my life: I stayed with a family friend, I met family I’ve never even knew about, I met so many other amazing people, the weather, mountains, the volcano…everything about the trip was just pure magic. And of course…I got to do some science!
The dissertation I wrote was noted by the examiner in being “a novel piece of work, in which Jazmin drove herself”. And that determination/stubbornness, born from my disability and the encouragement of my Caribbean family made it possible. BUT I was not done! I needed to continue researching La Soufrière, so I applied for PhD projects. None I applied for allowed me to look at St. Vincent specially, and I got rejected. But then, my best friend talked me into applying for one more: the one I am doing now!
Following on from my Masters dissertation, I asked the simple question that opened up a whole new other world: “what did this look like in the past?” So I have ended up looking at three eruptions of the volcano: 1812, 1902 and 1979. I think the biggest thing I have learnt during my PhD about St. Vincent are the two groups of people that came before colonialism: the Kalinago (“Yellow Caribs”) and the Garifuna (“Black Caribs”). From this, I reached out to American, Canadian and Australian academics about “territorial acknowledgement” – where you state that where you do your research, and the land you occupy on, was not originally your own. Their voices are almost entirely silent from the narrative, and that really gets my goat. So, with my stubbornness, I have made sure I found as much evidence of possible of what happened to them during the eruptions.
What’s all this talk to do with me being a British-Caribbean early career researcher? Well…I’ve learnt that I am in fact, a descendant of the “Caribs” but unfortunately, I do not know which group. But, my PhD has become super personal and I am in too deep now!
In summary: my chronic physical disability made me stubborn/determined, my Caribbean family encouraged me to pursue my love of science. I carved out my path as a social and historical volcanologist with the combo of both with a splash of creativity.