Friday, February 15, 2013

Three broad roads a geologist might travel during their career



There are several different paths a geologic career might take: academia, exploration, or environmental/risk. Which one is best for you will depend on your personality type.

A geologist in academia is usually someone who studies rocks to better understand the information recorded in them—how and why did they achieve their present composition and/or configuration?  They start with what they know: the rock is located here and looks like this, and extrapolate from clues within the rock to determine how it got there, and why, and when, and what happened to it along the way.

An exploration geologist, on the other hand, is looking for something (often oil or mineral resources).  They don’t know where their commodity is located, so they study locations where similar such resources have already been found to look for patterns to the rock structure and/or composition that they may be able to recognize elsewhere and so find what they seek in a new location.

The third category of geologists the environmental sector and/or risk management.  Their job is to understand the dangers which are present in our world, and look for ways to prevent those dangers from becoming problems.  They start with the facts that are known (e.g. the presence of contaminants in the ground water at point A, zones of weakness in rock that could lead to landslides, or the location of an active fault or volcano) and play “what if” games to determine how much (or what manner of) danger these present to the people in those areas.

So, which are you? Are you more interested in asking question of “how/why/when”?  Do you want to know “where”, or are you more concerned with “what if/how can I help”?

For myself I am pleased to be in the academic track—I want to better understand the world around me. I am not interested in playing games of hide and seek—I don’t even care to go shopping because I don’t enjoy trying to figure out where to find something I need is located.  Often the stores don’t even carry what I want and I waste valuable time looking for it, a parallel which is probably all too familiar to exploration geologists—not every search they undertake leads them to a discovery.  However, I suspect for those who do enjoy a good search there is an extra reward in terms of satisfaction when their work does lead them to what they seek.  

I am also far more interested in understanding how the rocks got to where they are now than I am in understanding what dangers they present to humans.  While I am very aware that it is vital that someone is working to keep contaminants out of ground water, or tracking them once they are there so that no one is using the bad water, I don’t want it to be me.  While I am grateful that I know enough not to build my house right on top of a fault zone or in the path of a potential landslide, I don’t wish to be the one who has to warn others about these dangers.  Adding in a human element presents all kinds of extra challenges and complications that I am happy to leave to others.  But my biases are not yours, and you are likely to have different interests and different reasons to find one of these paths more or less appealing than the others.

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