From Bearded Lady Contributor: Penny Higgins

I am a woman geoscientist. I’ve always been outdoors-y. I’ve always been independent. I always wanted to be a scientist. I thought dinosaurs were cool when I was a kid. I decided I wanted to make a career of studying them. (It hasn’t exactly worked out that way, but that’s a different story!)

Women do not fit the stereotype for geologist or paleontologist. The classic image of the tall man with tall boots, a tall hammer, and a waxed mustache typifies what  people imagine when they think of a geologist.

More than once, a person I have only just met has expressed surprise that I am a geologist, and that I carry a big hammer and break rocks and that I am happy to spend a month camping. Many are shocked that not only will I tolerate such hardships, but that I rather enjoy it.

Badass. Photo by Bill Bishop

I have occasionally been treated like a second-class scientist by men (whether professional colleagues, ‘friends,’ or mere acquaintances), who seem to think that my interest in science is just a passing fancy and that I’m not actually capable of handling the rigors of real science.

Some pretty cold things have been said to me. I’ve been scolded for doing field work alone, because it’s clearly too dangerous for a woman. I’ve been told that once I start my own family I’ll just quit, so why waste my time with all this studying?

Now I lead expeditions with students and other professionals into the wilds of Wyoming. And I have done so despite starting a family.

They were wrong.

Of course they were wrong!

And this is the point of the Bearded Lady Project. It’s that image. The classic image of the geologist, with his pick over his shoulder and a rock in his hand, standing there in the middle of nowhere looking totally badass.

One of the things that makes the badass man look badassier than the most badass woman is the grizzled look afforded him by the lovely locks hanging from his chin.

Yes, it’s the beard that makes the image. And though women can be totally badass, without the facial hair, we just don’t cut it.

Until now.

The Bearded Lady Project takes women – real, full-blown, outdoor, science-type women – and takes them into equivalence to that classic image by the simple addition of a beard.

The large-format film camera, and me, looking more badass than ever. Photo by Marieke Dechesne

Like those images of yore, the fine ladies of the Bearded Lady Project took large format film photos of us in the field, in our field gear, and wearing beards. These images will be used to promote women in fields of science that are stereotypically dominated by men.

It was a real treat to be a part of the first excursion for the Bearded Lady crew. Watch the awesome trailers they created to promote the project.

And if you’re a woman doing field-based science, please join in the fun! The project needs more women to wear more beards!

Dr. Pennilyn Higgins is a Research Associate at the University of Rochester, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.  You can learn more about her and her musings on science and life at