The Geochemistry Group’s Research in Progress meeting (GGRiP) entered new territory in 2021. In addition to being the first time that the event was held fully online, it was also the first time that we were able to welcome contributions and attendance from overseas delegates, with free participation for institutions in low and middle income countries as recognised by the Research4Life partnership. Whilst we fully recognise and appreciate the benefits of meeting and sharing our latest research face-to-face, the group was delighted to be able to support PhD students and early career researchers from throughout the international Geochemistry community, and we will do our best to build on this success by continuing to offer access to the meeting for international delegates at future events.
As always the meeting itself was underpinned by a series of fantastic talks and poster presentations that spanned the full geochemical spectrum. Amongst the many highlights were keynote talks by Dr Magali Ader and Dr Amy Riches on the Geochemical Society’s and European Association of Geochemistry’s approaches towards advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Dr Ashley King and Dr Queenie Chan presenting as part of the Geological Society’s Year of Space; and Dr Emma Tomlison and Dr David Naafs taking us from the heat of the Archean mantle to the relatively cool temperatures recorded by bacterial biomarkers. In addition, the unfortunate cancellation of our 2020 GGRiP meeting meant we were treated to 2 years-worth of Early Career Researcher award recipient talks from Dr Richard Taylor, Dr Matthew Warke, Dr Emily Stevenson Dr Chris Standish, on top of some truly excellent student presentations. Our poster session was held in a virtual exhibit hall using Gather.Town that featured many really excellent posters that can still be viewed here.
Finally, we would like to thank Nu, QMX Laboratories, SciMed and Zeiss for their generous support of the meeting. In particular we would like to acknowledge Nu and Zeiss who kindly supported our student prizes this year.
Many of us have wondered at some point how we might use our geochemistry degree outside of the familiar environment of academia. Here, Ayesha Landon-Browne, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, gives us a peek into what it’s like to work as an exploration geologist in Canada.
Hi Ayesha, can you quickly introduce your academic background?
Hi! My PhD research utilizes non-traditional stable isotopes (Fe, Pt) to infer source systematics of Archean mantle derived rocks and how this can be influenced by large scale geological events. Prior to this, I completed a BSc in Chemistry and Earth Sciences at Carleton University and an MSc at the University of Ottawa, both in Canada. My MSc research focused on the analysis of Neoarchean ferropicrites for their short-lived isotopic composition and the insights this can give us into the formation of their mantle source.
How did you get to work in exploration geology? And how does that fit in with your work as a research student in isotope geochemistry?
My first exposure to exploration geology was after I completed my MSc, before I started my PhD. Prior to this, I had always worked positions that were research orientated, such as being a laboratory assistant for an isotope lab at Carleton and a research assistant at the Geological Survey of Canada. My MSc research, and now my PhD research, focus on early Earth, and there is not much of a link between this and the exploration industry (other than some old rocks host mineral deposits). However, I do not look at this as a bad thing. I know that I am extremely fortunate to be able to pursue my academic endeavours and to also gain experience in exploration geology. I think having further education in the Earth Sciences have allowed me to develop my analytical skills to a higher level, and apply this to my work as a geologist. I can look at a data set critically and understand the need for high quality data that can be imported into modelling programs to constrain the deposit. The field skills from exploration will allow me to be more confident if I undertake fieldwork during my PhD or demonstrate on courses to undergraduate students.
So, where were you sent out in the field? What was a typical day like?
I have worked on the west coast of Canada, in an Au-Cu porphyry deposit in British Columbia, and most recently on an Ag-Pb-Zn deposit in central Yukon. In terms of what we do, it can vary, we can be logging core, out in the field soil sampling,mapping and prospecting, or conducting geophysical surveys. We usually work in a rotation schedule, where we are in camp for 2-4 weeks and then have a break of ~2 weeks. When we are in camp, we are working 7 days a week, 11 hours a day. The drills turn 24/7, with a day-shift and a night-shift, but geologists do not have to work during the night.
The project I am involved with in the Yukon is a drill program, where diamond drills collect drill core from holes that can go as a deep as 1000m. As a logging geologist I look at this rock core and log the core for its lithology, alteration, and mineralization. We also take structural measurements on the core, and sample anything we think is interesting or shows mineralization.
A typical day starts with a trip to the drills to collect any core the night shift has produced, and we take this back to the core shack where we lay it out on the benches. We typically have one geologist and one geotechnician per drill but, if necessary, we all work together to help each other out. After logging the core, we move it out of the core shack, either to be cut into half by the core cutters if we have selected it for sampling, or to core storage. We try to keep up with our drills, and sometimes making several trips to the drill per day.
When we have reached the end of a hole, there is some downtime whilst the drill is preparing for the next hole. As a geologist, we are responsible for locating the new drill pads, and ensuring that the pads are built to accommodate the drill. When we have downtime, we are constantly checking the data that we have produced from logging for errors – most of the logging is done using a logging program, but sometimes issues occur. We also look at old core logs to check for consistency with the program’s protocols and update this if necessary.
How did you navigate being a woman in that environment? Any specific challenges?
There is a noticeable lack of women in the exploration industry, but this is getting better. I have worked on geological teams with a majority of women, but on other projects with few women. As a woman, being aware of your environment is probably the most important advice I can give. Fortunately, I have met some amazing women geologists in the field, and we have banded together and we can now lean on each other for support even if we are not working together anymore.
What did you enjoy about this job? And, on the contrary, what would you say are the downsides? Overall, what did that experience bring you?
There is such an adrenaline rush with exploration geology. I am certainly someone who feeds off my environment and in this job there is always something happening! The thing I enjoy the most is being able to open the door of the core shack and have this amazing view of the mountains. There are times when we are drilling and we hit something unexpected and that makes it more fun, or we put the drill in a new area, and we are not too sure what to expect. It is that sense of unknown that really makes it an enjoyable experience, and the fact that we could find a mineral deposit that could go towards resources of the future, including those necessary for greener energy, such as production of batteries for electric cars or magnets for wind turbines.
In terms of downsides, there are definitely a few. Exploration camps can be remote so bad internet connections and outhouses are a common sight. When it comes to break time, I am quite excited to be able to use the modern amenities that I am so used to. Using an outhouse at -40 is about as enjoyable as it sounds, especially in a windstorm! I would also have to say that there have been times when I have woken up at 2am in the winter to line up a drill and I am questioning my sanity at that point. I think my biggest take away is go with the flow. Things happen that are not always in your control. When working in remote areas it can take several days for a part to come in, and you have to make-do whilst you are waiting.
I believe that every geologist should have a chance to try out exploration, and then make their own decision on whether they like it or not. As I gain more responsibility, I am now training junior geologists and I want to give them skills to help them succeed whether they choose to continue their career in exploration or not. Fieldwork gives many opportunities to learn skills that are not taught in school. This can be things such as hiking in mountainous terrain and learning how to fix drills and vehicles. I suggest making the most of such opportunities. Do not be afraid to ask if you can go out and try something. If your expected tasks are completed and there’s downtime, use the time to learn something new!
What was it like, transitioning back to regular life and to lab work after several months on a camp in the middle of the mountains?
I would say that, by the end of the field season, everyone is ready to go home. After several months I am itching to get back into academia, the same way after several months in academia I am ready to get back into exploration. There can be a bit of transition period from field to lab, but I have found having work goals defined and lab work ready to go helps. This year, because I have to quarantine before the field, I have made sure I have some academic work to do, and whilst I am in the field I will continue to read papers and plan for my return to the lab. I am lucky that the exploration project I am working on re-hires me each year, and even luckier to have a PhD supervisor who is allowing me to gain experience outside of my academic studies.
What would you say are the qualities essential for applying to a job in exploration geology? Did you get a specific training on top of your academic geology training?
The most important qualities are the ability to work hard, question what rocks you are seeing, and good communication skills. The remote environments we work in mean we are out there for 4-6 weeks at time, seeing the same small number of people every day. Good communication is necessary to have a cohesive program and the ability to discuss what rocks are on the bench in front of you.
I think the biggest thing in exploration geology is being adaptable. We work to fulfil the program objectives, but things can (and will) go wrong [editor’s note: I am sure that anyone doing a PhD in Earth sciences can relate!], and sometimes you are in a remote environment where it cannot be fixed as quickly as you would expect. In terms of academic skills, I was not necessarily the most confident in my field skills before I started in exploration and multiple field seasons have certainly made me more confident. The wonderful thing about geology is that one rock can yield multiple interpretations and it is the discussion of these interpretations that makes it so fascinating.
My BSc certainly equipped me in terms of the academic foundations that I needed for exploration, however the tasks, such as logging, soil sampling, geophysical surveying, are not exactly what is taught in an academic setting. Fortunately, at my first job I had a boss who took the time to train me and made sure I understood the how to conduct an exploration program. You are using academic knowledge to identify rocks and minerals, and field skills from mapping courses to produce geological maps and cross sections.
In terms of background, most geologists have a BSc, and having an MSc is now becoming more common. Most people with a BSc start out as a junior geologist where they are doing a mix of core logging and geotechnical work, as well as out in the field soil sampling and helping to run geophysical survey. Having experience in as many aspects of exploration will make you a diverse candidate for further opportunities and shows that you are willing to work in various roles.
Any advice you would give to anyone who would be interested in giving it a try?
Network, network, network! Do not be afraid to reach out to people who have experience in a field that you want to try out. They may not have any leads on a job front, but they may have insight into how to tailor your resume for applications or various companies you can apply to. Attend events that are made for young professionals, join organizations such as Women in Mining, Young Mining Professionals etc. There are also conferences such as PDAC (Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada) and Round-Up which happen annually and students usually get reduced rates to attend. Do not be afraid to speak to people who have the job you want, ask them how they got there, and what you can do to make yourself the most appealing candidate.
If you think your skillset is not what a company is looking for, look for ways to tailor your resume. I have a mostly academic background, but when I first started, I tailored my resume to reflect that I was willing to try something new, and that my analytical skills would allow me to work meticulously. This appealed to my boss and they hired me for a junior position allowing me to be experience various jobs of a geologist.
Finally, any anecdote(s) you would like to share ? 🙂
I always enjoy working with a team who finds quirky ways to have fun, and the team I worked with 2020 did just that! Before our morning core run, we would bet on how many boxes there would be at the drill and what the end of hole depth would be. Anyone with any information would have to volunteer it up, such as estimated end depth or if we had a conversation with our drillers that morning. Whoever came closest would get the point for that drill. At the end of the shift, whoever had the least number of points would have to buy the first round when we got out of camp.
We also did a camp secret Santa, but the gifts had to come from in camp and had to tailored to the person we drew. Some of these gifts ranged from camp-made num-chuks to knitted items. We all put a lot of work and effort into our gift ideas and were all determined not to be the worst gift giver.
Thank you Ayesha! You can follow Ayesha’s adventures as an exploration geologist in Canada this Summer on her twitter (@aylabr) and instagram (@ayeshalandonbrowne) accounts.
If you too would like to share your experience working outside of academia after a geochemistry degree, do get in touch with us! Furthermore, from this Autumn onwards the Geochemistry Group will host a series of career events including presentations from speakers with varied careers outside of traditional academic roles.
The recipient of the 2019 Research Excellence Award of the European Mineralogical Union is Dr. Nadège Hilairet from CNRS and Université de Lille, France. She received the award for her outstanding contributions to understanding rock deformation and rheology as well as for her international collaborative research.
On Friday, 29th January 2021, at 11.00 am CET (10.00 am GMT), via Zoom, Dr Hilairet will deliver a lecture: Deformation and transformation of subduction zone hydrous minerals and rocks
The covid-19 pandemic has substantially changed the face of teaching in HE. Rather than walking around waving our arms in front of lecture halls full of students we are sat in front of computer screens, wearing headphones and speaking to a microphone. When teaching face-to-face I often experience blank faces staring back at me as I delve into the more complex aspects of whatever the topic might be that day (e.g. partial differential equations for physical oceanography), but, hopefully, there is that moment of enlightenment when my students begin to grasp the key concepts. A wave of changes in facial expression sweep across the lecture hall, and this is actually a pretty good feeling – one of the big feel-good factors with teaching! However, we are now working under the “new norm” where large group teaching is being delivered via Zoom (or equivalent online mass-conferencing software), and often the only camera that is switched on is that of the staff member delivering the session. How does one judge the reaction of a student cohort to challenging material when all are blanks screens? The instantaneous visual clues that serve as feedback are no longer available to us to judge when to repeat a section, or if something we have just said needs breaking down a little into more manageable chunks to aid understanding.
While this may initially sound like a problem, I think online-learning has a lot to offer. Indeed, from my own experiences this semester, I have already found there to be so many more questions being asked during the lecture sessions, and often these questions are more insightful and probing than those I might normally receive in a physical lecture room environment. Perhaps the relative anonymity of a virtual lecture room provides a more secure environment to pose such questions, primarily via the chat function in a direct message to the lecturer, thus avoiding any perceived peer-judgements? So, while online virtual teaching in higher education may be a different experience to what we are used to, this does not mean it is a bad experience, merely different.
I know for my own teaching delivery I have already learned a great deal; it has made me think harder about what I deliver, and how it is delivered, as well as force me to develop new methods of conveying information that until now have been relatively dry lectures. The greatest success I have had so far has involved activities/exercises that require access to computers, e.g. analysis of data, running computer models etc.; as is often the case, module cohorts are too large for any single computer laboratory, thus multiple repeat sessions must be run, which is inherently inefficient and time-consuming – when teaching virtually, all participants are already sat facing a computer, resulting in a more-direct, focused learning experience. Looking to the future, I fully intend to embrace blended learning within my modules, particularly in light of the opportunities for computer-based exercises that require sole-access to a computer station.
It would be interesting to hear about online teaching experiences from across the geochemistry community – please feel free to share via our Twitter feed using the #geochemHEonline.
Here we go, we have spent several weeks crafting countless risk assessments and working on new protocols to make the labs safe, the University has authorised the re-opening of the buildings and essential lab work to be carried out, so lab work can resume… Can’t it ?
Lab work actually seems to be a whole different ball game than it was before the pandemic. Working mostly in a laboratory suite made of several individual clean rooms, I thought that not much would change for our group. Making the place covid-19 safe wasn’t too tricky. Setting up a buddy system to make sure that people working alone wouldn’t harm themselves wasn’t exactly a challenge. But how do you work in a clean lab when you can’t chat with your lab mates -often friends- while your columns are dripping ? How do you learn how to use a mass spec when you can’t pop your head into the lab manager’s office to check that the weird behaviour of the instrument is actually its normal behaviour (office work still being off-limits) ? Of course, you can send them a message, but online chats will never replace all these informal interactions that set the tempo of our work days and teach us so much.
And beyond, it is actually most of the social life of our department that we have to do without. How do you avoid melting down in front of a temperamental plasma if you can’t go down to the common room for a coffee break ? (Or happy hour !) Or if you simply can’t go to your office for a chat with you officemates ? Lab work, like many other aspects of research, is much more than the addition of a few tasks carried out in a bubble, and this pandemic forces us all to learn new ways of working, of being a research group, and being there for each other.
How have things been for you ? Are you still working from home ? Are you back in the labs ? What are your tips for adjusting to the new rules and all that they entail ?
2020 will certainly be memorable, but sadly not for the 50th anniversary meeting of the Geochemistry Group…
We know that this is a challenging time for many. Early career researchers, in particular, are at heightened risk of loneliness. Motivation to work can be a challenge.
All this got me thinking about our motivations more generally. Why am I on the committee of the Geochemistry Group? What actually gives meaning to life?
Around the turn of the 20th century, William James, the “Father of American Psychology” (according to Wikipedia) wrote:
‘The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated’
And Abraham Maslow put belonging into his famous Hierarchy of Needs in 1943.
I think that, at a basic level, these ideas (i.e. being appreciated, belonging) boil down to not being forgotten.
So, we just wanted to say this:
The Geochemistry Group have not forgotten you! – Our amazing community of UK and international geochemists.
We are absolutely thrilled that more than 520 of you joined our scientific writing webinar, hosted in collaboration with Elsevier. Thanks so much to all of you, to our star coordinator Marc-Alban Millet, and to Tessa da Roo and Andrew Kerr for co-hosting with Marc-Alban. If you missed it (or if you didn’t!), you can find a fantastic diversity of skills based content on the Researcher Academy pages at Elsevier.
And we want to hear from you! What can we do for you in the coming months? If you have ideas, please reply to this post, tweet us @geochemgroup, or use the Facebook group.
GGRiP will return, in some form, at some point (TBC…).
In the meantime, don’t forget that Virtual Goldschmidt 2020 is coming up. Registration for student members is only $25 (a fantastic saving compared to a flight to Hawaii!).
2019 European Lunar Symposium was held in Manchester from the
of May. This year, ELS has special significance, as 2019 marks the
celebration of the 50th
anniversary of the Apollo moon landing in 1969
Participants from all over Europe gathered together at Manchester’s
Science and Industry Museum
for a series of science talks, posters, and space agency panel
discussions, covering all aspects of lunar science and the future of
lunar exploration. The week kicked off at the University of
Manchester with NASA’s chief scientist, Dr. Jim Green, giving a
public lecture on the history and future of lunar exploration and
lunar science (The Importance of the Moon: Past, Present and Future).
The lecture can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/vjysIegMg_4.
Pint of Science is the
largest science festival in the world- operating in over 400 cities
across 24 countries. This year from 20-21-22nd May
researchers came together with members of the public to share the
story of their science over a pint at a local pub, bar or café.
It started back in 2012 with a couple of post docs in their local pub in London and has expanded to almost every city across the UK. This year I had the opportunity to organise the ‘Planet Earth’ events in Southampton. Over the 3 nights we had 8 speakers from the University of Southampton and the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. The first evening theme was the ‘biology of time’ looking at crop evolution and body clocks which brought two speakers from the biology department. The second night “Nature’s Fury” included talks about the large scale earthquakes that occur in subduction zones and the causes of sea level rise. Prof. Simon Kemp led a very energetic ‘model United Nations’ activity where regions had to work together to get their top sustainable development goals voted through. The final night had an oceans themes, with talks from three speakers around plastic pollution, deep sea sediment avalanches, and what we can learn about sustainable cities from coral ecology.
Pint of Science is a
fantastic event, held annually, which aims to bring together
researchers, science and local communities. It is a really fun event
to get involved with, and almost entirely run by volunteers. I could
not recommend getting involved with it enough, whether that is
helping to organise it in your city, volunteering to give a talk, or
simply going along to one for drink!
Figure: G. ruber used in this study (left hand panel); Joides Resolution – the vessel used in the IODP expedition. Images: P. Anand.
We have exploited International Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 353, Site U1446 situated in the northern Bay of Bengal. This location is uniquely situated as it captures surface freshening and increased terrigenous fluxes associated with increased rainfall and fluvial runoff during the summer monsoon season permitting reconstruction of a primary and direct signal of the Indian Summer Monsoon using a range of geochemical proxies. By combining Mg/Ca derived SST’s in planktic foraminifera with their oxygen isotope composition (δ18OC) a proxy for local surface freshening can be extracted; the oxygen isotope composition of the seawater (δ18Osw-IVC). This record of surface freshening is combined with proxies inferred to represent increased terrigenous fluxes to the site during periods of strengthened monsoon; planktic foraminifera Mn/Ca, Nd/Ca and U/Ca are presented in a novel application to reconstruct fluvial runoff.
Our records show that during deglaciation the Indian Summer Monsoon responded to warming in the southern hemisphere while the rest of the northern hemisphere, including the East Asian Summer Monsoon, remained largely in a glacial state. It is inferred that this strengthening of the Indian Summer Monsoon promoted cross-equatorial transport of heat and moisture from the warm, deglacial southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere. However, full deglacial strengthening of the monsoon occurs following warming in the northern hemisphere. Thus, conveying that the monsoon is an incredibly dynamic system and is not biased to climatic conditions within a specific hemisphere. Ultimately, it is suggested that components of Earth’s internal climate system should not be viewed in isolation; the monsoon and high-latitudes are intrinsically linked.