Girlhack STEM Jobs: Geologist – Mining / Resource Exploration & Monitoring

by Meg on February 21, 2012

Girlhack STEM Jobs will bring you the same set of basic questions for Women engaged in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) careers, so that you can learn about what it takes to be in their particular field.  If you want to submit about your own job or have someone to recommend, please send an email to info AT girlhack DOT com

This is Alia from Canada.

What is your current job and career field?

I am a geologist working for the government. My department oversees resource exploration and mining industry activities. We visit exploration camps and operating mines, and work with our clients to ensure that everyone is operating according to the regulations.
What sorts of jobs did you have leading up to this? aka What is one example of a path to get where you are today.

After I finished university, I worked in a couple of different geology jobs in both government and the mining industry, and that experience led to connections that led me to my current position.
Everyday is probably different, but what general tasks are you responsible for? What sort of technology do you use?

It depends on the time of year. In the summer and fall field season, I spend a lot of time visiting exploration projects. I may also spend time in the field working with researchers. Some of my coworkers have spent upwards of six weeks in the field in the course of a season.

In the winter, there are reports to be read and approved, conferences to attend, community outreach programs to participate in, and other projects to work on – basically everything that was put off while we were out in the field in the summer!

I don’t use much technology, but I do use computers in the office, and satellite phones, handheld radios, GPSes, and personal locator beacons in the field. Many geologists will also use GIS – geographic information systems – to process data they collect from the field and interpret their findings. Depending on where you work, you may also have to carry bear spray or a rifle for protection against animals like grizzly bears or wolves. Animal encounters are rare but they do happen and you have to be prepared.
What schooling do you need for a job similar to yours?

I have an honours undergraduate degree in geology (the ‘honours’ part means I wrote a thesis – it’s a giant research project on a topic related to your degree) . In order to get to university, I had to take all kinds of science and math classes in high school, and then once I was in university I had to take more. It was a very heavy course load – I took three or four science classes with labs every semester, plus elective non-science classes, and that was TOUGH. But it was well worth it in the end!
In your industry, what are typical entry level jobs and pay?

If you’re working as a junior geologist for a mining company, you can expect to start at around $300/day during the field season, and you’ll work anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks on, with no days off, and then have 2 weeks off. Adjusting to that kind of schedule can be hard at first but you do get used to it. It also teaches you a lot about budgeting as you will usually only get paid once a month, so you have to be careful managing your money. It’s possible to put yourself through school working as a junior geologist or geologist’s field assistant for a summer (or at least to put a huge dent in your student loans!).

In this kind of position, you’ll spend time out in the field taking rock samples and recording where they came from in your notebook and/or on a GPS, and you’ll also map rock outcrops and note their characteristics. The goal is to produce a geological map of an area that will help the project geologist decide where to drill into the ground to extract core samples of rock. These samples are then tested to determine if they have any of what you’re looking for (say, gold) and the project geologist will use the results to plan the rest of the field season’s drilling. It’s a very collaborative field to work in – everyone’s job is important.

An entry-level geologist who gets hired on full-time with an exploration company will probably make somewhere in the range of $60 000 (Cdn) per year. Full-time work is pretty rare, though, and most positions tend to be contract-based and only last for a summer, with extensions if a project continues through into the winter.

What is cool about what you do?  What do you enjoy the most?

Well, I want to say that everything about my job is awesome! I love what I do (mostly I love being outdoors and looking at rocks! plus, there’s lots of chances to spot neat wildlife, so if you’re a photographer as a hobby it’s great.). And in the mining industry it’s like being part of a giant, never ending scavenger hunt for exciting resources (gold, iron, diamonds, etc). I also really love talking to people about geology – the earth is where we live and there are some things about it that are downright amazing, and it’s great to be able to communicate that to other folks.

It’s a great field to get into if you love being outdoors and traveling – you can literally work anywhere in the world. I have friends that have worked in Australia, Mali, Dubai, Russia, and Greenland.
(Also, HELICOPTERS! I get to ride in helicopters *all the time* when I’m out in the field and it is AWESOME.)

What are common assumptions or mistakes people in regards to your field?

Not all scientists wear lab coats and work in a lab – for geologists the lab is everything that’s outside under our feet. :)

Geology gets misunderstood pretty often in popular culture (think The Core, Dante’s Peak, and any other volcano disaster movie ever). Also, geologists, archaeologists, and palaeontologists are all different professions – sometimes people mix them up.

Do you have any organizations, websites, or internships you can recommend for ladies who want to learn more or get connected?
Federal Student Work Experience Program: this one is a general application for various summer jobs with the Canadian gov’t. They are in a variety of departments. If you get one of these jobs, depending on the position and the department, you can apply to ‘bridge’ into a position with the public service when you are finished school.
This is an Environment Canada-specific program that works to encourage research by young Canadians in various environmental science fields. The closing date for this program is 2 March 2012 which is really soon! However I believe it runs every year, so if you’ve missed it, check back again in January 2013.
Another way to get experience is through outreach work. The Canadian Heritage Information Network will often have job postings for summer student positions (hit the Careers link on the right hand sidebar of that page) that are in science or technology museums. If you enjoy science and talking to people about it, it’s a great place to start.
If you’re interested in finding out what sorts of positions are available in geology, specifically in the mining industry, try CareerMine. It’s a great place to see the types of jobs that are currently being hired for, and get an idea of duties, salary, etc.

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