Meet Dr Janet Richardson – proud winner of Water Woman Award 2021 (Societal Impact)

Dr Janet Richardson

A prestigious award has been won by Dr Janet Richardson, an Impact Translation Fellow with iCASP, for both her achievement in the world of research and power to inspire other women.

On International day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) she was amongst those honoured with the Water Woman Award 2021. 

Dr Janet Richardson, who was winner of the award category for Societal Impact, said: “I am delighted to receive this award. I hope my career pathway and different ways of working across disciplines, departments and with stakeholders can be inspirational to women at different stages of their career.

“The impact of research is high on the agenda for most universities. I think others can learn from my work translating research into practical solutions, how effective relationships are key to success and that knowledge comes from an exchange of ideas.”

Which iCASP research projects has Janet got involved in? 

Janet is about to help launch a project that uses modelling to determine the flood related impact of different natural flood management (NFM) interventions in the Don and Rother catchment to understand which interventions are likely to be most effective. This new work builds on the Hidden Heritage Streams project which mapped NFM opportunities to help slow the flow, decrease diffuse pollution and increase ecological connectivity at the landscape-scale. It helped secure funding for the first NFM officer dedicated to the area.

Other iCASP projects Janet has led relate to data collation, mapping and monitoring on the River Derwent, a tributary of the River Ouse Invasive Non-Native Species , Payment for Outcomes and smaller projects such as Skell and Ryevitalise.

What is Janet’s background?

Janet has a background in Earth Sciences, especially in fluvial geomorphology (looking at how water can mould landscapes), hydrology (the study of the movement, distribution, and management of water on Earth) and sedimentology (how sediments such as sand, silt, and clay are formed and move through different systems). Janet uses a range of methods for her work including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), laboratory work (for example, dating sediment, grain size analysis) and fieldwork.

Her PhD on the evolution of ancient river systems in South Africa involved investigating erosion rates and source-to-sink analysis and answered questions on how much erosion has occurred in south Africa, how the river systems have changed over thousands of years, and where the sediment is now – a novel way of investigating the entire sedimentary system from its ultimate upstream source to the ultimate sediment sink (deposition of sediment) most commonly on deep basin plains and analysis of drainage basins. She has also worked on characterising mixed bedrock alluvial rivers in Wales.

Janet completed a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded fellowship to work closely with Yorkshire Water to use high resolution satellite imagery and GIS to map sediment sources and pathways within the River Derwent. She has also spent a year in industry as an environmental consultant where she gained experience of assessing water company drought plans and completing environmental and habitat regulation assessments.

How did you become interested in earth sciences – and at what age?

I became interested in rivers at secondary school – I was very lucky to have fantastic teachers that always pushed me to do my best. One of my favourite school trips was to look at rivers in Ireland, with the classic ‘through a tangerine in the river’ exercise to see where the thalweg was (a line joining the lowest points along the entire length of the river bed defining its deepest channel and its natural direction).

I didn’t actually know anything about earth sciences when I applied to university but managed to change my UCAS application to physical geography and geology. From then on I knew that geomorphology would be my career pathway and I developed the love for sedimentology during undergraduate degree and my PhD. During my career I have got to travel the world (in fact my first time outside of Europe was for my PhD research in South Africa!) and to be outdoors, which I love.

What advice would you give to other women starting their career in scientific research?

I think the biggest thing I have learnt is to not to be afraid to ask questions and to try and push yourself to learn new skills or new disciplines – so be inquisitive and be disciplined. There are multiple routes through academia and industry, speak to as many people as you can to understand these different pathways to see what will suit you best. My role as an Impact Translation Fellow is relatively new within academia – new pathways pop up all the time. 

Why is research translation important?

Impact and research translation are important to ensure that research is actually used to have societal and economic benefits in the world. Without this, important information can be hidden behind a paywall and never actually benefit the world we live in. The role of iCASP is to make research and tools useable, for example, applying the research to a new area, or making a tool have an interface so more people can use it.  It is important to note that knowledge exchange is a two-way process, and that it’s not only universities that hold information. There is a wealth of information within organisations that can help others with similar problems, processes and best practice – iCASP helps join these networks up to ensure we have the best solutions to environmental problems in Yorkshire.

What have you learnt from working with partners?

I have learnt a lot from working with partners; the great thing about iCASP projects is that we often work across disciplines. I have access to a wide range of information that has helped me become a more rounded scientist. It’s also interesting to learn how different organisations work and how geomorphology is used across different sectors and departments. Without working so closely with partners, we wouldn’t know the current challenges and opportunities to aim for.

Which project are you most proud of and why?

I am proud of my work with Yorkshire Water on the River Derwent as it was the first time I was awarded research funding as a principle investigator. Through this project I got to develop a network which has helped shaped my career, publish an open access paper on the research and it has formed the foundation of future fellowship applications. I am also proud of the iCASP projects related to natural flood management, through our payment for outcomes project we are directly feeding into current issues and government policy, whilst the work on the Skell helped secure some Heritage Lottery funding to tackle the sediment and flooding issues in the catchment.

What motivates you to get up in a morning?

Knowing that my work is making a difference. Through iCASP we get to work with a wide range of stakeholders and can actively see how the translated research is being used.

This is the second year for the award scheme launched by water@leeds, in partnership with Athena Swan teams at University of Leeds which shines a light on women who help secure competitive research funds and produce world-class research in an academic world in which the hurdles are still greater for females.

The scheme recognises the value of female researchers across all disciplines, including those in supporting roles, whose work contributes to the mission of water@leeds