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Legacy of Leadership: Community Leader Award

Legacy of Leadership: Community Leader Award

Dr. Lucy Jones – “Reflections on Leadership”

Founder, Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society

Encouraged by a father who promoted exploration of science and math and instilled in her the courage to blaze her own trail, Dr. Lucy Jones initially set out to be a physicist. Eventually, however, her love for the Sierra Nevada Mountains, established after spending childhood summers hiking and camping among them, won out and she shifted to seismology.

While today we see many women entering scientific fields, that was not the case when Dr. Jones began her college education. She was the only woman in her physics classes, and creating her own path as a woman in the field of seismology was also rocky.  Along the way, however, Dr. Jones came to the realize that the path to success doesn’t have to be defined by male predecessors.

Dr. Jones shares a story about an interview she did in Joshua Tree in 1992 that remains a hallmark moment. What made the interview notable was not that she was providing expert insight, but instead that she was holding her young baby son in her arms during the interview -- an image of a professional woman, much less a scientist, that was rarely seen in those days. It underscored the additional challenges women faced to become leaders in their field. Dr. Jones reflects that achieving a work/life balance was a constant struggle, something she believes stems from the fact that we have accepted women working without accepting the consequences that come with that shift. Had her husband, who is also a seismologist, done the same thing, it likely would have likely derailed his career.


“Find your own path instead of accepting the definition of who you are or should be from others.”

– Dr. Lucy Jones

Clearly, as a woman in a male-dominated field, Dr. Jones is doing a lot of things differently. But it’s not only being a woman that sets her apart. She also is approaching science from a very different perspective.

That different perspective and approach is what has driven much of Dr. Jones’s work. When she began her career in seismology, the direction she chose was focused not on personal achievement, which is common to the scientific fields, but rather, in response to the social need she perceived to address significant gaps regarding seismic preparedness planning.

That work took her to China where she witnessed scientists taking the same information the U.S.  had on seismic research but applying it very differently. She realized that in U.S. scientific endeavors, significant gaps existed in between research and policy. 

Since then, her work has focused on closing those gaps, using collaboration, rather than competition, to connect science to communities through policy initiatives to improve earthquake and natural disaster resilience. 

Dr. Jones spent 33 years at the US Geological Survey (USGS). There she led the USGS’s long-term science planning for natural hazards research, and the SAFRR Project – Science Application for Risk Reduction – that she created to apply USGS science to risk reduction in communities across the nation. For her, the work all comes down to that - understanding and communicating where the greatest vulnerabilities lie and identifying the most cost-effective actions that can be taken to reduce risk at a community level.

An example of this approach is work she did at the USGS. Dr. Jones developed the first American major earthquake drill – the Great Shake Out – which many of us can recall personally participating in.  Dr. Jones was also appointed by Governor Gray Davis to serve on the California Seismic Safety Commission from 2002-2009, where she advised the Governor and Legislature on seismic safety issues, again, better connecting the science with policy and planning. 

Since leaving the USGS, she has focused on exploring the question of connecting science and policy in new spaces. For example, she is now hosting workshops for scientists to help them to translate science to develop better public policy. Issues around climate change are driving much of the new dialogue. “It is rewarding to see that there is much more interest today in science,” Dr. Jones remarks.

All along her career path, Dr. Jones has been driven by the desire to better connect science to decision-making processes applied to natural disaster preparedness. Her approach to apply many inputs from economics to disaster response planning has gained much traction and is now being adopted by many other scientists. Her work is inspiring scientists to work in closer collaboration with policy makers, leading to research and sharing knowledge as the foundation for better policies. 

Her work and leadership philosophy is a good lesson for us all, not just scientists. It is a reminder to look at those in our own fields and beyond as partners, not competitors, because collaboration will always yield better outcomes for our communities. “The best solutions don’t come from just one individual. We need collaboration,” said Dr. Jones.


Leadership Lessons from Dr. Lucy Jones

  • Collaboration over competition. It will always lead to better outcomes for communities.
  • Don’t think traditional path to success that has been defined by male predecessors is the only way.
  • Have confidence in yourself and your own instincts.