Phil - Geologist
Job title: Geologist
Job location: Maitland
Describe your typical day
There are two types of typical day in the life of a geologist!
When in the office, I spend a lot of time on the computer using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to analyse data to understand the geology. GIS allows you to overlie different datasets at any scale on a map base. So I can look at relationships, such as the geochemistry of rocks related to their magnetic response, or where mineralisation occurs relative to faults and folds. I also model these features in 3-D to further our understanding. Another component of the job is staying in touch with industry by monitoring company exploration within NSW and through the rest of Australia. I also spend time each day reading literature such as journal articles to stay abreast of research.
When in the field, I’ll be up at first light and work until an hour before dark. We normally camp, so it takes a bit of time to find a site and get set up. Each night I plan where I want to go the next day. I use a tablet PC in the field, so that I have all my datasets in GIS. I target specific sites and try to understand the geology at that site before moving to the next location.
What attracted you to this profession?
I’ve always had an interest in landscapes, and studying geology allowed me to understand the processes that shape the landscape.
How did you get started?
After completing university, I applied for a couple of jobs in Western Australia and commenced work as an exploration geologist for a gold mining company.
What initial training did you do?
I completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree at the University of Newcastle.
Is there an ongoing need to update your skills?
Definitely, on three main fronts:
- Firstly, as technology keeps improving we have access to higher quality data such as satellite imagery, and faster computer processing means that 3-D modelling becomes more practical.
- Further research leads to new ideas on tectonics and understanding mineral systems, which increases our success in predicting the location of new resources.
- Every mineral deposit has its own signature in terms of mineral assemblage, mining methods and exploration history. So by visiting deposits you develop skills in identification of mineralisation, rocks and alteration, which helps you draw analogies to other areas you are working in.
What keeps you motivated?
The opportunity to help find new mineral deposits, particularly in areas that other people have walked away from.
Who do you work with to do your job?
On a day-to-day basis, I work with other geologists, geophysicists and cartographers. I also work with researchers, university academics, land owners, and exploration and mining companies. I also deal with members of the general public.
What is the most interesting thing you have done, discovered or seen in your job?
My first job out of university was in remote Western Australia exploring for gold by drilling geophysical targets under a vast salt lake. The drill rig was approximately 2 km offshore through knee-deep mud.
We tried to use quad bikes and then a hovercraft to get to the rig but as the lake surface became softer during the day we were getting bogged regularly. So a helicopter was our only choice! It was fantastic fun to be picked up and dropped off at camp each day, and flown out to the rig.
The other amazing part was that water would be blown around the salt lake, so it might be dry in the morning, but by lunchtime the wind might have made a knee-deep lake, which would be gone again by the end of the day. The wildlife would also move with the water, so you would get shrimp-like critters moving with the water which would attract birdlife.
How does your work benefit people and/or the environment?
As well as providing resources for our community, such as energy and materials, the minerals industry also provides economic and social benefits. Obviously there are impacts on the environment, but ensuring strict mining conditions and thorough rehabilitation we can minimise these impacts.
What advice do you have for students still at school?
If you are planning to study geology at university, then chemistry, physics and physical geography are complementary subjects which will be invaluable further down the track. Try to get field experience whilst at university. Cadetships are rare these days but a lot of companies and government departments will employ undergraduates on vacation work. There are also opportunities to complete volunteer work with organisations such as National Parks, which will help develop your field skills.