As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Geoscientist in Training with Stephanie Sykora.
Stephanie graduated with a BSc in Earth Science from the University of Victoria in 2011. Since then she has been working in mineral exploration and mining within British Columbia as a geologist. She is a certified "Geoscientist-in-Training" and her exploration has mainly been for copper and gold. Stephanie currently is further continuing her earth science education by pursuing a Master of Science degree in Australia, with research focusing on a volcanic gold deposit in Papua New Guinea. She also writes her own blog.
What does geoscientist-in-training actually mean?
The term geoscientist-in-training originates from APEGBC, which is the governing body of engineers and geoscientist in BC. It is a title to be achieved from a university graduate with a BSc in the field of Earth Science/Geology/Geoscience that completed the necessary academic requirements outlined by APEGBC to be a Professional Geologist (PGeo). Once accepted by APEGBC you are dubbed as a "GIT" which is a Geoscientist-In-Training. A G.I.T. is therefore a new geologist/geoscientist working under the supervision of a PGeo and is gaining experience. Once you complete 4 years of work experience you can apply to be a PGeo.
When you become a certified geoscientist/geologist, what will change in terms of what you can do or what doors will be open to you?
A PGeo from APEGBC is defined as someone who "meets all academic and experience requirements, licensed to practice geoscience at a professional level, takes professional responsibility for work."
Therefore the biggest change becoming a PGeo is responsibility.
However, it is important to note that not everyone goes though APEGBC to get the final recognized step as a PGeo, and I know multiple respectable and brilliant geologists that do not have this "APEGBC" certification. So it isn't a defining title, and you can still be a geoscientist/geology without going through APEGBC, though if you want to be official, have a greater likelihood of getting hired and obtaining licences to work out of province, and sign off on important papers, a majority of companies prefer a PGeo.
What came first - a desire to go into mining, or the desire to become a geologist?
The desire to become a geologist. I loved the natural earth and wanted to study more about it. I never initially thought I would work in mining but mineral exploration starting getting more buzz around my senior university years and with my friends, so when I started looking into it I became fascinated by the geology that forms these spectacular deposits, and the environments they can be found in.
What excites you most about your job?
Getting to be outside in the field and hiking around to discover new rock outcrops. I love that fact that it is exploration and you are trying to discover the unknown, so using all the scientific techniques like geophysics, geochemistry, rock and soil samples, geological mapping, etc. is like collecting the evidence to uncover the natural story of the land, which I find very exciting.
Has the role so far met with your expectations of it?
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I started, but so far I have enjoyed the balance between geology, economics, and exploration.
Geology and mining have historically been quite male-dominated fields. Do you find there are challenges or is it not really a problem?
Yes there are more males than females; however, with the limited experience and working environments I've had, I found that this has never really been a problem. I've always been treated equally, and from what I've seen and heard, the gap is decreasing as more and more females are entering the mining work force in the recent years.
You must be away from home for extended periods. How long? How do you deal with that?
The most I've been was 7-8 weeks, on average it is 3-5 weeks depending on the remoteness of the location you are doing field work. Being a new graduate with no house or spouse I found being constantly in the field fine. Some people miss home more though, however, usually a phone call or internet connection once in a while does the trick, and it makes the week or two break when you get back just the more enjoyable.
What does your average day look like?
It depends on what task or project you are working on, but I'll take field work and mapping for an example, as that is the majority of the work I've experienced with exploration. You leave in the morning to your field site/property. Depending where it is, usually a remote location so you get there via jeep, helicopter, car, and sometimes boat or ATV depending where it is. Then you have a map of the area and throughout the day you hike and work your way around the area from one rock outcrop to the next. Once you are at an outcrop, you analyze the rocks and make notes. Usually on lithology (rock type), alteration (changes in minerals or veins, such as quartz cross-cutting the rock), mineralization (any visible specs of pyrite, gold, chalcopyrite (copper), etc.), and structures (i.e. dipping layers, faults). After detailed rock description is taken, you draw the outcrop on your map and record information, and then you bag a sample of the rock and put it in your backpack, which will eventually be sent to the lab for elemental analysis. At the end of the day each day you look at your map, make observations, and determine what trends look good/what areas you haven't covered that are worth following up on mapping the next day.
What route do you hope your career path will take?
I love earth science and geology, so no matter what, I hope that my career path will lead me to a position, whether in exploration or not, to be able to uphold my yearning curiosity and keep exploring the earth. I would love to one day share, educate, and inspire others about the wonders of the natural processes of the world, from ore deposit formations to landscape tectonics. And other long term goal I hope to one day pursue would be to study space rocks, whether it is focusing on the increasing impending idea of mining asteroids, or looking at the different geology and processes on different planets.
There must be aspects of the job which you don't enjoy so much. What are they?
Sometimes certain days can be frustrating, like hiking around all day and finding no outcrops, or when the weather turns for the worst and you get stuck out in the field. Other aspects that are less enjoyable to myself are some tasks can be a tad monotonous, like data compiling, or extensive core logging, but everything has a purpose in the end for the larger exploration goal, and as long as you keep an open mind, keep asking questions and learning along the way, then you can find satisfaction in most everything.