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From the regions - The only way is up!

Nik Reynolds (North West regional Group) recently organised a Careers Evening in Manchester, and reflects on the experience.

The geological industries have gone through the doldrums within the last 6 years, however, its prospects have significantly improved over the last 12 months.  The mining industries are typically volatile, however, the hunger for commodities is driving exploration.  Both unconventional and conventional energy sectors are rising, especially considering the requirement for security of resources and a control of cost for both energy and distribution.  Domestically, the geotechnical and geoenvironmental sectors have gone ‘through the roof’, with a significant number of jobs currently available.  The sustainability of the domestic market is questionable at the current rate of growth, yet considering the shortfall of housing stock and the number of ongoing, or proposed key infrastructure projects, this front looks to remain healthy for the foreseeable future.

On this basis, the committee of the North West regional Geol Soc considered it appropriate to provide a careers event which would provide advice to both students (undergraduates as well as post graduates) and those in employment on both the typical role of a geologist in industry as well as the current status of employment within industrial sectors.  It was considered important to also discuss the career path taken by each of the speakers to reach their current positions and what their aspirations were in their field. 

The speakers were selected from companies who are prolific in the North West, as well as from multinational organisations.  Several speakers were pre-elected, however, the majority were proposed by the companies who kindly donated their time to this event. 

Each speaker outlined their career path, gave their reason for choosing their field of work, and also explaining what it is like to work in that geological field.  The speakers ranged from geologists with several years under their belts, to directors of companies, who have risen through the ranks.  This gave the audience an appreciation of what the different grades of geologist do, and also how they have advanced within their chosen fields.  The programme inevitably over ran, but considering the content was of such a high calibre, this was welcomed.

The event started with a talk by Andrew Moore of WSP.  Andrew is the Technical Director of the Manchester and Birmingham offices and, initially, discussed his career as a geoenvironmental geologist, following this with what is involved in working within the engineering and environmental geological sectors.

Catherine Kenny discussed her progression as a geotechnical engineer/engineering geologist and the benefits of working with a multi-national consultancy such as WS Atkins.  The significant range of roles within such an organisation were also discussed.

We were pleased to welcome back Dr Laurance Donnelly to the regional group.  Laurance wears many geological hats, and discussed what made him want to pursue a career in geology, and why he chose to pursue a career as a mineral, mining and structural geologist.  Laurance also drew the students’ attention to how geology can be used for professions which are not typically associated with the subject, such as the macabre world of forensic geology.  This illustrated that lateral thinking can be used to diversify the field of geology!

Matthew Wright explained what is involved in working within a company such as iGas, who extract unconventional gases and petroleum, predominantly from on shore sources.  Matthew discussed the differences between, as well as benefits of, working for small companies compared to large corporations.  He also described his prior work as a mud logger on rigs in the North Sea.

The talk provided by Paul Woodhouse from BP was very informative about the role of the geologist, and the significant opportunities for career progression within technical and managerial positions within the company.  The potential for significant international travel within such a company was also highlighted.  Paul stated that a master’s degree is a minimum requirement to enter into this field of geology, with a PhD preferred for more specialist roles.  One item which was considered very valuable to students was the fact that there are very limited internships available during the summer months.  It is recommended that an internship be taken between the BSc degree and the master’s degree.  The internship is considered to be important for companies who are looking to hire new staff, provides additional experience for students, thus furthering their studies.  It was noted that internships are both unpaid and paid, with financed positions being paid up to £25,000, pro rota, with the potential for sponsorship throughout an MSc course.  The applications for internships are  to be completed between September and February, however, positions are usually allocated by November due to the high number of applications.

Howard Baker from SRK discussed how he had predetermined that he wanted to become an exploration geologist during his secondary school and undergraduate education.  The many roles of an exploration geologist were outlined.  Howard described the exploration process, from mapping and finding a deposit to the opportunity to extract the commodity.  It was surprising to find out that only 1:1,000 prospects actually achieve production!  The role of the exploration geologist was discussed with the benefits of working within both small and large companies explained.  It was apparent that to become a good exploration geologist, you have to be able to weather many varied climates, as well as be self reliant, resourceful and sociable (especially as many of the places being explored are hostile, both in climate, and in socio-political position).

The role of the hydrogeologist was discussed by Chris Berryman of ESI International.  Chris explained what hydrogeology is and how it is associated with the everyday environment, such as through water resource management, water and land quality, waste disposal and groundwater catchment assessment, as well as through less obvious applications, such as unconventional energy. 

The lecture session was concluded by Bill Gaskarth from the Geological Society, who discussed the benefits of belonging to a society such as ours.  This included the benefits of becoming a Chartered Geologist.

Where permitted, a copy of the presentations given will be included within our regional group page.  It should be noted that due to commercial sensitivity or graphic images, certain presentations have either been edited or not included.

During the network session following the talks, Manchester University kindly provided their careers service to assist attendees with queries on interview techniques and their CV’s.

The event was considered a success and all companies who had stalls stated that they had experienced a lot of interest from candidates, in both information about different sectors of geology, as well as in potential careers.

The committee wish to thank Professor Kate Brodie and her team for the use of the venue, and also for all of their hard work to make sure that this event worked.  Our regional group has very strong links with the university, and it is the venue for the majority of our evening monthly lectures.  Sponsorship of the event was kindly provided by BP.

The key advice appears to be that, if possible, obtain an MSc, and research the availability of internships within the field of geology you are interested in.  The speakers agreed that it is beneficial for candidates to ‘start at the bottom’ and ‘work up through the ranks’ of their chosen geological field, as this provides a breadth of knowledge of the subject and a true appreciation of the junior roles.  Although the choice to complete an MSc in a particular field of geology can be seen to limit the profession of the geologist due to specialism, there is plenty of scope in each profession to accommodate most geologists.

Few people have the opportunity to study a subject such as geology, let alone have an opportunity to work in a geological industry, regardless of sector.  Having seen the advances in the university curriculum over the last 20 years since I graduated, it looks like the geologists of the future should continue to push at the boundaries of the science.

It is disturbing to read over the past 12 months the soundbites in GeoScientist regarding the lack of adventure and willingness to go outdoors, to map and learn the trade of some students.  Maybe certain students are studying the wrong subject!