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Chartered or Professional?


Martin Shepley CGeol PGeo compares and contrasts the two postnominals.  Is it time for the UK to ‘go legal’?

In the last few years there has been a fair bit of debate in Geoscientist on the role of chartership and professional accreditation (see July 2014; June, August & December, 2015).  In 2010, I moved across to Canada, a country where geoscience is a regulated profession (i.e.  with parliamentary acts and regulations).  After six years of practice as a hydrogeologist in Canada I may have something to contribute.


To call yourself a geoscientist in almost all Canadian provinces and territories, you have by law to be registered with one of the provincial and/or territorial regulatory associations: i.e.  be a ‘Professional Geoscientist’ (PGeo). 

The origin of the regulatory associations is described in the Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience (CPEG) book by Andrews (2009 – see Further reading).  In this book some of the most prominent events related to Canadian geoscientific practice that led to this professional regulation are described.  Possibly the most infamous example is the 1997 Bre-X scandal, when gold reserves were fraudulently overestimated by more than 100 million ounces, with an estimated investor-loss of six billion Canadian Dollars - the subject of the 2016 film ‘Gold’.  The move to geoscience regulation in Canada has followed a familiar and well-worn path where something going wrong has needed to be fixed.


The differences between becoming a CGeol and a PGeo are not that great in terms of experience required and qualifications.  However, where CGeol has the ‘professional interview’, PGeo has the Professional Practice Exam (PPE).  The PPE is not a doddle.  To pass you need to know your ethics - the law and regulations affecting geoscience practice.  Much of this is contained within the CPEG book. 

Do you know the differences between the four main theories on ethics (Mill’s utilitarianism, Locke’s rights-based ethics, Kant’s duty-based ethics, Aristotle’s virtue-based ethics) or the ethics of whistle-blowing (truly a last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted, not some personal publicity stunt)? Maybe not.  The CPEG book explains it all, with some real examples.  Fortunately, despite much of its material being a bit dry, this book is simply an excellent read, in fact the only textbook I have ever read cover to cover.

So what does it mean in practice?  Are there any differences between how geoscientists do their work in Canada compared to the UK?  In Canada there is, in my opinion, a greater awareness of conflicts of interest and a more guarded and measured approach to providing professional opinion and advice.  PGeo’s are encouraged not to stray from their specific expertise.  As the Canadian provincial and territorial professional geoscience acts are mostly still relatively young of course there are individuals (they are by law not geoscientists) who still practice without being registered.  Many are caught when advertising their skills on LinkedIn. 

Nevertheless, organisations that contract an unregistered ‘geoscientist’ do so at their peril, because their reports, without being stamped (i.e.  at the minimum reviewed and approved) by a PGeo, may be of little value if challenged, particularly if the judiciary is involved. 

In the present ‘Post Truth’ age the public is now exposed to unprecedented quantities of dubious information through the Internet.  As geoscientists we need to be perhaps a bit more circumspect about how geoscience information reaches the public.  Canada’s move to a regulated geoscience profession provides some salient lessons that are worthy of consideration.

Further reading

Andrews, G C  2009:  Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience, Practice and Ethics.  4th Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto, 429 pp.  (NB: The 5th Edition was published in 2013; author passed his PPE in 2010.)