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Soapbox - Masters of mapping?

Mark Brodie* wonders whether the time has come to map out a new future for the undergraduate geologist’s skill-set.

Ask any geology student about their dissertation, and you will almost always hear a story of ‘mapping’. This skill is marketed by fledgling geologists; carbon copied onto every socially networked CV, and plastered across their A4, double-sided paper counterpart. But who cares?

How many geologists start or even end their career mapping? I, like many of my peers, started my geological career on a rig. I remember my first day well – bewildering! Not only was the mechanics and the process of drilling completely alien to me, but my primary role as a ‘geo’ was indeed far from familiar. I had never seen a rig before, nor did I know much of the skill of logging; yet I was a master of mapping. Sure, I had logged vertical sections before, on an outcrop on a windswept Dorset beach; and I had read of geotechnical logging techniques. I had even logged a section from an old, battered core box. My job in industry was however quite different.


While I have no doubt that my traditional geological education was of the highest calibre and has furnished me with the firmest of foundations, I wonder if it was outdated. Do we need to replace this approach based on ancient crafts with an insight into more relevant job-skills? And if we did, what would be the alternative?

First, the skill of mapping could be given a diet, as far as the curriculum is concerned. Should a geologist not have the option for mapping to be one of several skills available to them as they finalise their education, and not be apparently the sole goal in their technical education? While field work is a critical and defining feature of our subject, what proportion of geologists actually work ‘in the field’? Many never have. Some never will.


Rarely do universities teach in any depth the subject of wireline geophysics, for example - a fundamental skill to those in almost all in mineral, hydrocarbon, and even some environmental and hydro geologist roles. Perhaps we might consider also teaching undergraduates something of drilling engineering? Should we not also offer some guidance on project management? The basics of investment finance? Or is it is as simple as making a clear connection in our teachings between what we are teaching and its relevance?

I am not suggesting simply a more 'vocational' approach to geology. I recognise that some of my suggestions may sound woolly. What I am suggesting is greater insight into how education relates to a geological career, and the skills in use day-to-day, as a geologist in today’s world. This seems quite far removed from those of our tweed-clad forbears, whose work, at times, our education system strongly recalls.

* Mark Brodie is currently studying for a PhD. He was formerly a wellsite geologist.