Mother and Daughter Together at the Top of the World

Marie-Claude Williamson and Nicole Williamson at work, geological fly camps along the Southern lobe of the Natkusiak Formation, July 2010
- Working in a remote location is no joke – you need to have the ability to work effectively with your colleagues no matter who they are and where they come from. That includes my mom, the PHD-candidate Nicole Williamson says. 

Breaking the Arctic's Ceiling

This article is based om Marie-Claude and Nicole Williamsons own words, published as a part of the series Breaking the Arctic’s Ice Ceiling ny The Arctic Institute. 

Women in the Arctic: 

With powerful organizations like 500 Women Scientists and local movements like Women in Polar Science and Plan A growing their reach and impact, women are sharing their personal narratives, highlighting their contributions, and supporting each other like never before.

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In recent years, women researchers, scientists, and local champions have elevated their visibility and empowered their voices across the world. The Arctic is no exception.

Marie-Claude Williamson and Nicole Williamson are mother and daughter and share the same fascination of the high north. 

Marie-Claude  is a research scientist at the Geological Survey Canada located in Ottawa, Ontario, where she carries out fieldwork, including geo-mapping, in remote areas of Canada’s North. 

Nicole is a PhD candidate at the Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, University of British Columbia located in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In 2010 the two women had the unique opportunity to do fieldwork together. Nicole - at the time - completely new to the fieldwork in northern Canada and Marie-Claude as an experienced Arctic geoscientist: 

- Two graduate students, my daughter Nicole Williamson from Carleton University and Trent Dell’Oro from the University of British Columbia, required field support and training in volcanology. They were to collect rocks and observations for their Masters’ degrees and needed an experienced geologist to show them how to make the most of the fly camps dedicated to their project. I accepted the job without hesitation. Volcanoes were my geological ‘love at first sight’ at age 16, she says, in an article - part of a series of commentaries, articles, and multimedia posts, highlighting the work of women working and living in the Arctic.

- Looking back eight years later, I had no idea how special and unique it was to be so far north. It was my first real fieldwork experience and I felt totally privileged. Favorite things include the absolute stillness of the landscape and constant daylight, the sun spinning circles in the sky during the very short Arctic summer, Nicole adds.

Camp on a cliff

They set up a fly camp at the base of a steep cliff of lava flows overlooking lakes and rivers. The days outside were long and physically challenging. Every morning, they  walked straight up to the top of the cliff under the watchful eye of our local muskox herd, and measured, sketched, photographed, and sampled the bedrock.

After a few days of geological work, Nicole and Trent would tie up the heavy sample bags and rock cans with flag tape and set them up in neat piles on open ground. 

Work always continued well into the evening with more sample processing, photo, and data backups, a review of field sketches and notes, and all the technical preparations for the following day’s traverse.

Mother and Daughter

- At the time, the “mom” part of me was firmly pushed aside by the daily realities of leading our small field team. Still, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, my daughter is all grown up, and here we are at the top of the world, both happily surrounded by spectacular rocks, wolves, birds, muskox, and wonderful people to work with!, says Marie-Claude. 


Nicole Williamson
Nicole Williamson has a moment of contemplation in the Arctic wilderness.

- I did think it was a bit strange to be working in the same place as my mom. Looking back, and with the ability now to put myself in her shoes on account of being older and more (*cough*) mature, I can see what a special and unique situation it was. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to have my grown child with me, at 72 degrees north and a day’s flight from the nearest hamlet! But she sums it up perfectly, and I felt the same way: the “daughter” part of me was pushed aside by the reality of our situation. Working in a remote location is no joke – you need to have the ability to work effectively with your colleagues no matter who they are and where they come from. That includes my mom, Nicole sums up.



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