From time to time, we are asked to talk with University students about transitioning to working in industry. This is something we both really enjoy doing. We can relate to all of the questions and the uncertainties students feel while they are studying, and just what could lay beyond the ivory tower.
We both love working in the exploration industry; it is exciting and offers a great balance of personal growth, scientific inquiry and application of knowledge. The industry itself often debates whether undergraduate programs are adequately teaching their students the necessary tools required to work in exploration and mining industry. Quite frankly, it is just not possible to cover all of the required skills in a four-year undergraduate program, nor should that be the purpose of the undergraduate program.
Here are three critical skills we feel are necessary for graduating students to tackle a career in mineral exploration:
- Critical Thinking
The fundamental basis of a university education is to develop critical thinking, no matter what the subject may be. The definition outlined by Clive Tunnicliffe is excellent: “The ability to analyze facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems” are all integral skills when working in mineral exploration. As geoscientists, we are analysing several datasets, with complicated geological settings, often of a disparate nature. We make hypotheses, argue over the best approach (often passionately!) and ultimately try to solve the problem i.e. where is the ore deposit?
- Learning the Fundamentals
In geology, you may learn about mineralogy, rock identification, the principles of structural geology. In geophysics, it may be learning the physics of potential or electromagnetic fields, or deriving response from first principles. At university, students learn the nuts and bolts of the science of the discipline they chose. From there, you take this knowledge with you and apply it to the task at hand.
Note from Jenna “When I first started out as a geophysicist, I helped design and carry out a large scale ground gravity program in the high arctic. There was a lot of time spent in the field, waiting for the instruments to level and record data. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the expected gravitational response would be and how to calculate the various corrections. It was odd that I could spend literally months on a subject that the professor covered in one half hour of one lecture. But it was the correct amount of time to spend in university. There have been many times that I have worked for weeks or months on a given subject that was only devoted one or two lectures by the professor. There is no possible way, in a rapidly evolving industry, that the professors could have predicted and therefore taught exactly what I needed to learn in any given moment, but they did give me the tools required to tackle the elements of I have so far faced in my geophysics career.”
- Developing an Ability to Learn
We have a saying at Ronacher McKenzie: “if we don’t know something on Friday it doesn’t mean we won’t know something about that thing on Monday”. Challenges are presented to us all the time that have no previous template. There are also several soft skills that will be required of students: project management, budgeting, social awareness in communities, lands management, this list goes on. These skills are learnt “on the job” and are more easily absorbed in a positive and motivating environment, which Ronacher McKenzie tries to provide to our team. Mentors can also help new team members to advance quickly.
Note from Elisabeth: “I have had many chances to work in a new and exciting geologic environment, often in situations that have never been previously studied. For example, I had the opportunity to work on the Decar awaruite deposit in British Columbia a few years ago. Most nickel deposits are mined for nickel sulfides but at Decar, the ore mineral is awaruite, a nickel alloy. There were no textbooks on how to explore for awaruite at that time. The genesis of such deposits was not well understood. The team working on this exploration project had to devise new protocols for exploring including completely new assaying protocols. Being part of this team was really exciting because we learnt something new every day.”
Congratulations to all of the students graduating in the geosciences this year. We wish you the best on your budding careers and hope you will take your critical thinking, fundamental knowledge and ability to learn to help bring your career to new heights.
Tunnicliffe, Clive (2010). Teaching Able, Gifted and Talented Children: Strategies, Activities and Resources. SAGE Publications Ltd. 144 p.