University at Buffalo’s Tracy Gregg on creating a more diverse STEM field

The Pomona College geology department’s 39th Woodford-Eckis Lectureship was held on Feb. 12-13 of this year and featured professor Tracy Gregg, an expert on planetary volcanology from the University at Buffalo. (Courtesy: University at Buffalo)

Professor Tracy Gregg, the guest at Pomona College’s 39th Woodford-Eckis Lectureship last week, is paving the way for women in STEM.

As the first woman hired in the geology department at the University at Buffalo, she said she has dealt with her fair share of gender discrimination, but ultimately worked her way to the top of her department.

Gregg completed her undergraduate degree at Brown University and got her doctorate at Arizona State University.

“[During] my first year in college I took a geology course for fun … and then I was hooked,” she said.

After college, Gregg felt like there was still a lot that she didn’t know about geology, which led her to Arizona. After that, she did volcanology research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Eventually, she had to decide if she wanted to stay at Woods Hole and continue doing research there, or leave.

“I was told that if I stayed at Woods Hole that I could expect to spend at least four months a year at sea,” she said. “I was at that age where I knew I wanted to have kids and that seemed incompatible to me.”

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During Gregg’s time at Woods Hole, much of her work focused on writing grant proposals. Ultimately, she realized that she’d rather spend that time outside of research giving back to the STEM community. Thus began the search for an academic position.

“I felt like, as an academic, I could have a family in a way that I couldn’t if I were doing submarine research all the time,” she said.

As the first woman in the University at Buffalo’s geology department, Gregg said her experience was “fortunately, more hilarious than tragic.” When describing some of the conversations she had with her colleagues, she said, “It was classic. It was things like, ‘Tracy, what do women think about this issue?’”

She said she would reply saying, “‘Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you what I think.’ And if you look around the room, you can tell that I’m not representative [of all women].”

Her experiences didn’t stop there. Even during her career as a graduate student, a man came up to Gregg at a conference and told her that he thought “women should not be geologists because they were not strong enough to carry their own rocks.”

The exciting thing about her work is that she has inspired others to pursue geology and academia.

“The second woman we hired said to me straight out, ‘I wasn’t sure about this department, but I knew if you were there it would be okay,’” Gregg said.

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Caitlyn Fick SC ’19 is a chemistry major who enjoys mountains, trees, water and dogs.

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