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Professionals comment on working in the Mining and Mineral Industry

Paul A. Bailly, Castle Group, Inc.
Odin D. Christensen, Newmont Mining Corporation


Paul A. Bailly
Castle Group, Inc.
Denver, Colorado

Extracting minerals and metals from the Earth for human use has been a continuously growing endeavor starting with the prehistoric Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Mining has been described as the oldest industry and the second oldest profession. Today, the mineral industry extracts more than one hundred minerals/metals from the Earth's crust to satisfy the growing demand of minerals/metals users. These minerals occur in a great variety of rock types and structural settings.

To be of interest to industry, mineral deposits must be amenable to legal and profitable production in an environmentally sound manner; i.e., mineral deposits are (1) geological objects that can be scientifically investigated per se and as part of a local ecosystem, and (2) economic objects that must be evaluated as to permitability and profitability.

There is an old industry saying: "Ore is where you find it," meaning that one cannot wish deposits to occur where one would like them to be. Preparation for discovery entails learning what geological factors and processes control the location of mineral deposits, and developing the observation, analysis and synthesis skills to try and predict where you have a good chance of discovering a new deposit.

Since the mid-19th century, the applications of geological sciences to the discovery of new mineral deposits and to the extraction of valuable products therefrom have grown continuously in kind and effectiveness. The mining industry offers challenging geological careers in mineral exploration and mineral extraction.

If you are interested in a geological career in the mineral industry, the above suggests the disciplines you must first master and then apply in multidisciplinary mineral programs requiring effective communication and coordination.

K-12 Preparation: Before graduating from high school, you should develop proficiency in the 3Rs, and also in two additional Rs: rhetorical skills and relational skills. In high school, concentration should be on college-preparatory classes in sciences, math, and computers, and at least survey courses in environmental science and microeconomics.

In addition, serious participation in nature/science clubs, collecting clubs, and other similar activities will develop your observation skills  a basic requirement for geological work in field and lab.

College Courses: A college with a strong core curriculum during the first two years is recommended. Specifically, that program should include physics, chemistry, calculus, statistics, computer science, trigonometry, 3-D geometry and macroeconomics, in addition to the traditional courses, which allow you to understand and appreciate the historical, cultural, and current socioeconomic aspects of the major civilizations and the requirements for participatory citizenship.

During the last two or three years of college, you should acquire (1) a very solid general-geology foundation, including courses in mineralogy, sedimentary-igneous-metamorphic petrography and petrology, historical geology, geomorphology, structural geology and geochemistry; (2) field-geology skills through field courses in several types of terrains, field summer employment (the best way to find out if a mineral-industry career will suit you), and as many field trips (including mine visits) as possible; (3) introduction to geophysics, geostatistics, hydrogeology, sedimentation, stratigraphy and, if available, introduction to mineral deposits, mining, metallurgy, geopolitics, economics and environmental geology.

Few geologists with only a B.S. or B.A., are now hired by industry. Most employers hire only geologists with a master's degree or equivalent graduate studies.

Keep in good physical shape throughout K-12 and college and maintain fitness thereafter. Energy and stamina will be needed in most entry jobs in industry and graduate school.

Graduate Studies: In going for a master's degree, you must select a graduate school with (1) a strong mineral-deposits faculty who have worked or at least consulted for the mining industry, and (2) if possible, a mineral-economics curriculum and courses in geologic modeling and mineral exploration. If you have made the decision to try and begin your career as a mine (extraction) geologist, the school you select should offer courses in mining, extractive metallurgy, geostatistics and reserve estimation, and environmental engineering, and you must take as many of these as possible. In my opinion, exploration/discovery geologists will be better professionals if they have worked as mine (extraction) geologists for at least two years.

If a graduate school requires a thesis, for a topic try to find a mine that has some geological problems to solve.

If your school has a chapter of the Society of Economic Geologists, join it and be an active participant; if not, try to organize such a chapter.

I have given you quite a menu of courses to take. It's probably impossible to take them all. If you need to choose, take the basic geology, computers, and economics classes that will give you a strong foundation; you will learn the rest on the job.

If your decide to be an exploration geologist, try to have a stint in a mine during the first six to seven years of employment. You will never regret it.

Employment Opportunities: The mining industry is presently expanding its exploration and production abroad. Thus, mining companies offer employment opportunities in foreign countries, in addition to hiring mine geologists and exploration geologists for their domestic programs. The satisfactions in discovering new ore deposits are great indeed, and the professional fulfillment that results from contributing to a profitable mine is also the source of great personal satisfaction.

After working for a company for several years, enterprising exploration geologists can contemplate founding, organizing and securing the financing for their own junior exploration company. Both exploration and mine geologists who have succeeded as company employees can also enter the consulting field, and can advise landowners, mineral companies, and government agencies.

Some of the major mining companies undertake geological research programs to improve their scientific knowledge of ore-formation processes and to develop new exploration and extraction methods and techniques. To staff such efforts, companies will hire mineral-deposit geologists who have earned Ph.D.'s at good graduate schools, and who have demonstrated their talents previously in exploration or production geology.

Mine geologists usually reside near the mine where they work, and they can enjoy a normal family life, usually in a small community. Exploration geologists usually have to travel, and sometimes they are away from home for long periods; this is something to consider in choosing a life partner.

To sum up, geologists in the mineral industry are major contributors to meeting the increasing resource needs of modern society.

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Odin D. Christensen
Newmont Mining Corporation
Denver, Colorado

The Earth provides the building blocks from which modern life is fashioned. From mines and quarries come the materials to build our homes and schools, our transportation systems, and the hardware of technology. Spacecraft and sewer-pipes, cars and computers, wire and wall board, coal and chemicalsall are manufactured from mineral products. Most metals and minerals are widely distributed throughout the Earth's crust. Only rarely, however, do they occur in sufficient concentration or purity that they can be mined and processed to be useful to people.

Mineral-exploration geologists are geologic professionals involved in the search for new sources of minerals in demand by our society. Mine-production geologists develop the technical information required to mine and process mineral deposits efficiently, economically, safely, and in an environmentally responsible manner.

For students at all levels considering a career in the minerals industry, four fundamental career skills are more important than any specific area of specialized knowledge: the ability to accurately observe and record information in the field; the ability to communicate effectively; the ability to visualize and illustrate in three dimensions; and the ability to work effectively as a member of multidisciplinary teams. Geologists are detectives, assembling clues from observations at the Earth's surface to develop three-dimensional predictions of what lies hidden at depth. The task often requires the collaboration of a team of professionals with varied skills working together. Strong communication and group working skills are very important.

To prepare for a career in the mineral industry, high-school students should emphasize courses that provide strength in the physical sciences, but not at the expense of obtaining a well-rounded education. Earth science, physics, chemistry, and mathematics all provide knowledge, which will be valuable in university courses and in professional activities. Students should avail themselves of opportunities within and outside of school that will provide an introduction to the world of geology. Operators of most mines and quarries are pleased to provide tours, particularly to interested students. Many communities have clubs of mineral collectors, who meet to exchange materials and arrange mineral collecting trips. Parks and museums often host excellent introductory geologic excursions and lectures.

Undergraduate geology students should seek primarily to obtain a well-balanced geologic education. As mineral deposits occur in all types of geologic settings, broad exposure and versatility of skills are more important than specialized knowledge. Courses considered most important are physical geology, mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and economic geology. Field geology and a rigorous summer field camp are essential. Courses in chemistry, physics, computer science, statistics, and engineering will prove valuable. Increasingly, knowledge of foreign languages may open the door to international opportunities. All geology students should take advantage of opportunities to participate in field trips, mine and mill tours, and professional meetings. Summer employment as a geological technician offers practical opportunities to gain important professional exposure and experience.

For most mineral-industry careers, a master's degree is required. Opportunities for students with B.A./B.S. degrees are limited; higher degrees are generally considered necessary. Completion of a master's degree presents graduate students with the opportunity to focus attention on a particular area of interest and with the challenge of completing and presenting original research. Undergraduate students should select a graduate school with an offering of courses in economic geology and faculty members with industry experience or contacts. The most appropriate schools are those with an emphasis on field work and field-based research projects. An excellent indicator of departmental focus and commitment is a listing of recent graduate-student thesis topics and recent graduate placements.

The single word that best describes careers in the minerals industries is variety: variety in location, activities, challenges, and associations. For exploration geologists, the search for mineral deposits may require extensive travel: from deserts to jungles to the Arctic; from developed countries to remote locations. One week an exploration geologist may be challenged to communicate with local field assistants in a developing country, while the next week, the geologist may discuss findings with professional associates, company officers, or government officials. At an operating mine, mine-production geologists are the key individuals responsible for interpreting the geology of a mineral deposit and providing critical technical information to all other members of the mining and processing team. A typical day may involve solving problems relating to rock mechanics, hydrology, ore chemistry, environmental protection, or mine safety, as well as geology.

Problem-solving in industry frequently requires cooperative work by a team of geoscience specialists. Geochemists investigate the processes and distribution of chemical elements within and at the surface of the Earth. Their findings provide important guides to the location of mineral deposits, and they are used to design mine operations to protect the environment. Exploration geophysicists measure physical properties of the Earth from the surface or from drill holes to provide keys to the hidden Earth structure at depth. Minerals economists work with other technical professionals to evaluate and assure the economic viability of projects. Each of these professional specialties requires a strong geologic foundation.

Employment opportunities in the minerals industry vary directly with the economic climate of the country. Exploration activity, in particular, is strongly cyclic. During periods of economic growth, companies expand their exploration programs to identify new areas for production growth. During more difficult economic times, companies are forced to reduce commitments to research, development, and exploration. While employment in mining is today rather uncertain, the long-range outlook is good. Diminishing known energy and mineral resources and increasing world population and expectations will challenge the skills of geologists to locate more resources and to assure that they are produced as efficiently as possible for maximum benefit to society. Salaries in the minerals industry are competitive with those in other geologic fields, and potential for advancement is excellent. In the United States and Canada, opportunities are equal for all men and women.

Minerals geology is a field-based discipline, and most geologists spend much time outdoors. Work schedules are rarely regular. Explorationists on remote assignments frequently work long hours, sometimes for extended periods of time. Mines generally operate continuously, and mine geologists need to arrange work schedules to provide around-the-clock coverage. Geological field work often requires some physical exertion and stamina; physical fitness is considered an important attribute.

For individuals who enjoy outdoor work, who are fascinated by the Earth, who can work equally well in isolation and as a member of a team, who enjoy travel, and who are drawn by the challenge of discovery, there can be no more rewarding career than that of a geologist in the minerals industry.

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