Friday, June 13, 2008


One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed between exploration geologists and academic geologists is their outlook. Many academic geologists, particularly senior ones, seem to be stuck in some sort of low grade malaise. They complain about everything- funding, lack of funding, papers by their competitors, research by their students, admin, technical staff, and even the weather. Some of them will even complain about the quality of free after seminar food, which illustrates just how jaded they’ve become since being students. So one of the things that I love the most about working in exploration is that everyone has a great attitude, and a cheery outlook.

On the one hand, it seems odd. Once a professor has tenure, you’d think that they’d run out of things to complain about. After all, they are more or less set that that point. In contrast, less than one in a thousand exploration projects actually finds anything worth mining, and yet the people looking are full of boundless optimism.

I wonder if some sort of perverse selection effect is responsible. It is entirely possible that after years of dud targets, false hopes, and disappointing intersections, only those geologists with boundless cheerfulness stay in exploration. In any case, the difference really struck me when I went into university to catch a talk earlier today.

An oceanography professor was talking about a shark attack, in which he described the victim as “half-eaten”. This is exactly the sort of glass half empty negativism that makes me happy I joined industry. An exploration geologist would have described the attacked woman as “half-intact.”


Garry Hayes said...

The oceanographer described the woman as half-eaten. You would have described her as half-intact. The mine promoters would have said "What shark? And there are twenty beautiful women, not just one!"

OilIsMastery said...

If geologists want to be taken seriously they need to familiarize themselves with chemistry and physics. Geology, Geochemistry, and Geophysics will never be taken seriously unless they are updated to be consistent with astrogeology and astrochemistry.

Silver Fox said...

Well, hey - just because we work in exploration doesn't mean we're "promoters." That's actually somewhat of an epithet in the mining business. ;)

But, yeah, I think you have to either just love looking around at things no matter what, or have overall high optimism, at least regarding the job. If one is really optimistic to the point of true unreality, it's called the "eternal optimist syndrome." In a group of 5-10 exploration geologists, it pays well to have one person be an eternal optimist. You will have to watch that person closely, however, or they will eat your drilling budget faster than you can turn around, by drilling more holes than budgeted for, and by trying to drill to the center of the earth!

C W Magee said...

Not just the drilling budget, SF. There is always need for a bit more gravity infill, and a few more days of areal EM, and just one more IP line. And hey, look at this new technique we heard about in a conference.

I'm really lucky in that I'm a data quality guy, our other geo is awesome at data synthesis, and our senior geo is the optimist. And we have a great manager to keep us focused and on budget. So it is a good team to work in.

Oil, my college geo buddies are currently working on Mars and Mercury missions. During summers, they teach (or used to teach) field camp. Before I did exploration, I did lab work that included geochemistry of SNC (Martian) meteorites and Apollo mission samples. And my field vehicle has many equivalent instruments to those that were deployed on the Mars rovers- only I get a V6 turbo diesel to carry them around and a fieldie to pick up my rocks.

So trying to segregate geologists and astrogeologists (called planetary scientists , BTW) is silly, because we are the same people.

Anaconda said...

This writer suspects that exploration and discovery in the field provides opportunites for new experiences and learning new things.

That's exciting.

As opposed to having a routine that never changes and stretches off into a distant sameness.

Can new observations and facts be learned on campus or at the office. Yes, but mostly it's second hand from geologists in the field.

Geologists in the field have more room to apply hunches and gut instinct than in academia, although, the need to "produce" is a constraint on such seat of the pants discovery techniques.

But academic geologists could have more satisfaction by pusing the envelope on accepted concepts or theories, but with every new idea -- there will be someone else in academia to criticize it.

Many in academia don't want to be the nailhead sticking up from the board.

Silver Fox said...

I think in all fairness - different companies and different universities have different "corporate cultures." Some "cultures" in some mining companies truly suck, and that can vary from time to time within the same company, depending on who is running things, and a number of other variables, inlcuding lack of decent funding.

Some mining companies (one famous, major, long-lived player no longer in business in particular) have been known for their tough, cutthroat, over-the-top internal competition - among the exploration geologists - wherein exploration geologists not only competed among themselves for funding, they also competed over the same properties (and so, therefore didn't share any information).

Many "academics" I've known are truly inspirational, great geologists, upbeat, love the field, do great work, and don't bitch and moan the way you describe at the place you visited.

Bitching and moaning can (and often does) occur in any type of environment, including many major and minor mining companies (can't speak to the petroleum companies).

The thing an explorationist has to love, is looking at geology for its own sake - the way almost any geologist working in any type of place does - or they have to be driven by the lure or love of discovery. Some are driven by the quest for discovery purely so they can become famous, some so they can make bundles of money on stock or by forming new companies (sometimes knowingly scamming people in the process), and some by the excitement and newness of things.

Excitement and newness in geology can be found anywhere, at anytime, by anyone - and it doesn't matter whether you are in exploration or not.

I don't like fostering the academic v. industry dichotomy that way too many people ascribe to.

Christie Rowe said...

All I've noticed is that people who stay in the same job and same office for 35 years get bored or feel stuck. Tenure is bad for hunger.