Past position(s): Management jobs in financial evaluation, project management, risk management. Geological engineer.
Current Position: Senior Manager, Technical Services
My job focuses on reporting resources and reserves for a gold mining company, and managing related work such as audits and projects by external consultants. At the year end, I make sure that our reserve and resource estimates are reviewed by the appropriate geologists and engineers, and that the company wide statement is compiled correctly. When we publish Technical Reports for investors to review, I'm the lead editor and project manager for assembling and writing the report. I also oversee a small team that supports our geologic databases across the company.
Why did you choose a career in earth science?
Very simple. I like science, and I like the outdoors, and geology struck me as being a bit more mobile than biology, which I also liked. I saw more opportunities for seeing more places with geology.
What do you wish the public knew about earth science?
That groundwater almost never occurs in underground rivers.
How is some of the work you've done relevant to Canadians?
My current work is for overseas mines owned by a Canadian company. It's good to have strong Canadian mining companies and I'm glad to be part of that. In past jobs, I worked on a number of civil geotechnical and environmental hydrogeology projects, which have obvious public safety benefits. One of my favourite early career projects was rock slope inspections and remediation oversight on the Trans Canada highway on the shores of Lake Superior.
What is your favourite place that your work has taken you?
South Africa. I worked there on an eight month work term when I was a student, working on structural geology and rock mechanics applied to mine seismicity. I've been fascinated by the landscapes, wildlife, history and cultures of Southern Africa since high school.
What is your advice for anyone considering an education or career in earth science?
Make sure that you really want to travel, and that your personal life can fit with that. Especially in your early career, odds are you will need to work in remote places or small towns. Make sure you understand the industries. For geologists, there are basically three industries, aside from academia and government agencies. For academia and government jobs, you could work in potentially any area of geology, but the jobs are pretty rare and you need to be prepared to go anywhere around the world, wherever they are offered. The three main industries are mining, petroleum and environmental consulting. For mining, your career will almost always need to start wherever the mine is. The geology jobs in mining corporate head offices are usually for experienced people, with 5-10 years or more in the industry. For petroleum, there are a lot of field jobs as well, but relatively more people working in offices in the major petroleum centres such as Houston and Calgary. Environmental consulting is different in that there are jobs in almost all mid-size to large cities, doing mostly contaminant hydrogeology. Environmental consulting is less cyclical than mining or petroleum, but it often doesn't pay as well as mining or petroleum jobs.
What is something early-career geoscientists can do to make themselves more likely to get a job?
Demonstrate that you love being outdoors and can handle harsh conditions. If you don't like camping, you are probably in the wrong degree programme. This doesn't mean you have to have superhuman tolerance for cold or whatever. It's mostly a matter of mindset and wearing the right clothing. One time I had been standing in muddy slush for an entire day, and an excavator operator was berating another contractor who was complaining about the cold. The operator asked me if I'm cold. "Nope", to which he responded "Because you're dressed appropriately!", using me as an example for his under-dressed co-worker.
It's also a good idea to get various licenses that can help with fieldwork. These include a boating license (Pleasure Craft Operator Card - PCOC), driver's license, and firearm's license (Purchase and Acquisition License - PAL, for protection against bears in the Canadian north). The latter two licenses can take several months to get, so try to get them before you apply for jobs. This is just to maximize your chances for field jobs, which is how most geologists start their career, and many stay in the field for decades, especially in exploration geology. There are niche jobs in geology where you can work on developing software or in a lab, and that might be the right thing for some of you, but there are fewer of those jobs available.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you'd gotten started?
Honestly, no. I had some misconceptions about various career paths during undergrad, but I was enough informed by the time I graduated. I gained that information from working in different industries as a student. If you aren't able to find those opportunities as a student, you can still learn about the different industries through talking with people and researching. The internet was only just becoming a thing when I graduated, but presumably it's easier for students these days to research different career paths.
What are some alternative career paths you can take with a geology degree?
As a geologist, you should be confident that your background prepares you for both qualitative and quantitative problem solving. In geology we work with very sparse and imperfect data, but have to make interpretations and decisions nonetheless. This translates well into business problem solving, which is often a mixture of vague, descriptive information and hard numbers. So, an MBA after geology is not a bad idea, and you don't necessarily need to work in a geology related field if you market yourself appropriately. There are still way too many investment analysts covering mining companies with very little knowledge of geology or mining. Those finance jobs are hard to get but can be very rewarding. Law is another possibility, typically you would work in mining related corporate law. Also, with the emphasis on "big data" these days, you can remind people that geologists were among the pioneers in applying multi-variate statistics to large data sets. If you get a master's in "data analytics", I think you'd be better prepared than most of your classmates in dealing with messy and ambiguous data because that's just business as usual in geology.
Views expressed in blog posts reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the CFES.