Emeritus Professor Jane Soons 1931 – 2020

Emeritus Professor Jane Soons shortly after receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Glasgow.

Described as “[achieving] in a male dominated world, without modelling herself on men,” UC’s first female Professor, Emeritus Professor Jane Soons was a trailblazer, and role model, for female academics and students.

One of the first PhD graduates in geography at the University of Glasgow, British universities overlooked her skills and expertise in preference of her male colleagues so in 1960, she immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand to lecture at UC’s Department of Geography.

At UC, Jane found she had a more equal footing, and the opportunity to do everything her male peers could and would be expected to do.

A 2001 editorial from New Zealand Geographer highlighted Jane’s ability to bring people together.

“Jane’s students and colleagues readily recall her encouragement, support, kindness, hospitality and genuine interest in their work. In 1987, when the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury celebrated its 50th Jubilee, she compiled a booklet of recipes contributed by visitors to the Department over the years… In its own particular way it encapsulates what colleagues, research associates and students feel about Jane: admiration for the breadth of her interests and the quality of all she does, recognition of the respect and affection in which she is held by geographers and earth scientists across the world, and appreciation of the humanity that underpins her life and work.”

Head of UC’s School of Earth and Environment, Professor Jamie Shulmeister was a close friend. He shared the following shortly after her passing.

“Emeritus Professor Jane Soons was the University of Canterbury’s first female Professor, appointed in 1971, and for a very long time was the only female professor at UC.

Jane taught and researched in geomorphology, and became known internationally for her study of the glacier-sculpted landscapes of the Rakaia Valley. She also made major contributions to our understanding of the glacial landforms of the West Coast and the movement of the Franz Josef Glacier.  She was a past President of the International Quaternary Association (INQUA) and convened the National Committee for Quaternary Research for the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Jane was a foundational figure in modern geomorphology in New Zealand, a mentor for many young geomorphologists, an enthusiastic lecturer and an amazing role model for generations of female scientists. She will be hugely missed by colleagues and ex-students.”

Over her career Jane received the David Livingstone Centenary Medal for Southern Hemisphere research in 1988, a Royal Society Silver Medal in 1994, a Distinguished New Zealand Geographer Medal in 2001 and more. UC appointed her an Emeritus Professor in 1992.

For more on the exceptional career of Emeritus Professor Jane Soons, follow the links below.