I work as a geologist for the British Geological Survey, a research institute funded partly by the government, and partly by contract work for others.
How did you get interested in what you do? What advice was available to you when you chose this career direction?
I first wanted to do engineering. But then I heard and read about geology and thought it would be great to find out things about rocks and the Earth while working in the outdoors. At school or at home no one knew much about it. But I went to Open Day of the university and I got a lot of very good advice and a good idea what it’s like to study geology.
What subjects did you choose at high school - were they the right choices for your future career?
Dutch and English (I had to), maths, physics, chemistry and geography.
Maths, physics and chemistry proved to be the most important. I also studied French and German to Standard grade, and that came in handy too.
What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?
I studied geology at the University of Utrecht (in the Netherlands). After graduating, I worked a season as a tour guide for a travel company. Great fun, but after summer: no work! I finally got a job at the University of Aberdeen – doing lots of fieldwork in the Scottish Highlands.
After that I got the chance to do a PhD in Oxford, working on rocks in West Norway.
After that I worked three years at a University in Australia, doing research with a minerals company (BHP-minerals) to figure out how and where silver deposits are formed, and where they could best explore next.
Australia was a bit far away, so around 12 years ago I managed to get the job at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.
Talk me through a day in your life... what sorts of things would it involve?
I work both outdoors (20-40 days a year) and in the office. The outdoors ‘fieldwork’ involves studying rocks and outcrops, and recording them accurately in a notebook (nowadays a PC tablet). For me, most of that work has been in the Highlands. In the office, the work involves making geological maps (also using a computer), writing reports, discussing any new finds with colleagues. We are now also trying to put geological data into computer-generated 3D models. Because BGS stores vast amount of data, I also work with IT staff to see what the best way is to store such data. If we find something really new, we try to write it up as a scientific article. Sometimes we’re also called up to look at the geology of a construction site.
Was it your planned career when you were 18?
Pretty much. Amazingly I managed to do what I wanted, which was to do research while working outdoors in great scenery.
Q. What did your mum and dad want you to do?
Not sure, they didn’t push me in any particular direction, but I think they were happy with my choice.
What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?
a) Be keen, very keen.
b) Study hard at a good university, and try to get a First Class degree. (Edinburgh, St Andrews, Aberdeen and Glasgow all have fine Departments)
c) Find out what interests you most and then do a good Masters degree in that direction.
d) Be prepared to travel. If you like travelling and seeing the world this is for you.
What other directions could you go in /work in within your field other than the job you have chosen?
Many geologists work in the petroleum industry, either in the UK (many in Aberdeen) or abroad. The mineral exploration industry also employs many geologists, where you might work all over the world. You earn more there, but might get fired if the share price drops! Others work as ‘engineering geologists’ for the construction engineering companies. Other geologist work to find groundwater, study earthquakes or monitor volcanoes.
If there is anything you have not covered about your area of expertise, please feel free to add here.
The British Geological Survey holds an Open Day every year on the last Saturday of September. Visit www.bgs.ac.uk for more info.