+27 71 448 3496
leon@whyafrica.co.za

The importance of field work in geology

Share Article
The most essential experience a geologist needs is time in the field. Image credit: Remote Exploration Services

The importance of field work in geology

Ask any veteran geologist and they’ll tell you that the most essential experience a geologist needs is time in the field; boots on the ground, looking at the rocks and debating features (often quite robustly) with colleagues around the campfire.

By Charl van Rensburg  for Remote Exploration Services

Going out into the field provides context, critical to really understanding geological concepts such as metamorphism, sedimentary structures, and deformation styles, amongst others.

The more time spent in the field, the better one is able to build a visual catalogue as conceptual reference (or mental picture if you like), essential in facilitating the better interpretation of fragmented more abstract information.

Basically, the more you see and experience in the field, the more you are able to fill-in gaps when faced with incongruous information.

Historically, Universities and Tertiary Institutions have been responsible to provide young geoscience students and graduates with their first taste of field work. Usually taking the form of a Field Trip where students join their class-mates and lecturers for a few days at a location with interesting geology. For most it would be the crystallisation of the theoretical into the practical.

Fieldwork. Experience that cannot be taught (The importance of field work in geology)

The onset of Covid-19 created a pivot-point that would radically impact education. As in industry, educational institutions had to suddenly grapple with how to still deliver their services against a backdrop of lockdowns and without access to their usual infrastructure.

This cloud of unpredictability was completely at odds with these institutions’ usual reliance on the university timetable, the means by which movements, lectures and university-life has been managed for many years.

Rescuing the educational trajectory of more than a million higher education students in South Africa became paramount and, given the extent of the challenges to be overcome, operational rather than ideological considerations had to, of necessity, drive decision-making.

As in business, technology came to the rescue. Almost overnight, courses had to be converted into online presentations and the buzz of active campus life was replaced by the silence of students, completely isolated from each other, listening to lecturers over headphones.

Faculties such as Geoscience, offering courses that usually include technical and practical application as part of the curriculum, was hardest hit. Not only were students not able to engage in-person with their lecturers, peers and subject-matter, all field trips were also indefinitely postponed and ultimately cancelled.

Not surprisingly, the trends tracking student enrolments since 2020 shows a very clear downward trend, especially in Earth Sciences.

Stepping in and stepping up (The importance of field work in geology)

Three years later we have an entire cohort of students whose, almost entire, tertiary education was online, we also have geoscience students who have never set foot in the field and to some degree have no idea how what they’ve studied relates to a real-world work environment.

This at a time when the mining and exploration industries are set to ramp up significantly in response to the energy transition and the scramble to find and mine vast reserves of critical raw materials.

While students were robbed both of a more complete education and the opportunity to have a conventional student-life it is industry who will also suffer its long-term consequences, some of which will only emerge over time.

RES recognised the potential fall-out of the absence of fieldwork experience late in 2020 and, in 2021, introduced a three-month internship programme, giving recent graduates the opportunity to work in a real-world mineral exploration environment.

A RES internship exposes recent graduates not only to the geological aspects of exploration, but also the realities of being away from the comforts of home for long periods of time, the complex operational challenges of working in foreign jurisdictions that often lack even basic infrastructure and the dynamics of working in a close-knit team.

Having seen dozens of young geoscience graduates advance through our internship programme, RES is stepping up our commitment to developing the next generation of exploration geologists through formalised partnerships with South Africa’s top tertiary institutions towards more inclusive and meaningful field training programmes.

A PRIME Solution (The importance of field work in geology)

One such initiative is RES PRIME (Professional Rigor in Mineral Exploration), initiated in collaboration with the country’s leading geoscience faculty.

RES PRIME is an exclusive in-service accelerated development programme launched specifically for young aspiring exploration geologists eager to gain multi-faceted experience in every aspect of the mineral exploration cycle, from target generation to brownfields resource drilling, while completing their MSc in Economic Geology.

Not only do successful candidates have the opportunity to work with one of the leading mineral exploration consulting businesses in Africa, but the full tuition for their MSc is also paid for by RES as well as earning a basic salary for the duration of their studies.

We believe that this integrated blended style of learning will be critical to the development not only of graduates into the future but of the industry itself.

As the world moves to a greener future, the minerals industry is faced with the dilemma of growing pressure regarding its role in CO² emissions, while at the same time being relied upon to explore and mine for critical raw materials in quantities far exceeding historic production numbers.

Ultimately, the reinvention of the industry will rely upon the next and subsequent generations of geoscience graduates, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are up to the task because, while education happens in the classroom, learning happens on-the-job.

WhyAfrica reports about, and publishes newsletters, magazines and research reports about natural resources and the primary sectors of African economies, and the infrastructure, equipment and engineering methods needed to extract and utilise these resources in an efficient, responsible, sustainable, ethic and environmentally friendly way, so that it will benefit the people of Africa.

Furthermore, WhyAfrica promotes Africa as an investment and travel destination, analyses the continent’s business environment and investment opportunities, and reports on how the political economy of African countries affects its development.         

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica launched its first ever digital magazine in November 2021.

The company will undertake its annual road trip through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya in 2023. If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. We have a wide range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.  

The 2022 Southern Africa Road trip issue of WhyAfrica’s magazine is now available in print. The magazine was distributed in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana during WhyAfrica’s 2022 Southern Africa Overland Road Trip, the company’s new and innovative platform. WhyAfrica has expanded its product range and now offers its readers, followers, advertisers, subscribers and partners the following:

  • Daily 24/7 online articles on WhyAfrica’s website (FREE)
  • Daily updates on WhyAfrica’s social media platforms (FREE)
  • Newsletters delivered to a handpicked audience every two weeks (FREE)
  • Two printed magazine per year distributed at large events and during our road trips across Africa featuring original, in-depth articles (FREE) with great, on-site photographs by the WhyAfrica team (FOR SALE UPON REQUEST)
  • Four digital magazines per year (FREE)
  • Live updates, video clips, articles, and podcasts during and after WhyAfrica’s annual road trips (Southern Africa in 2022, East Africa in 2023 and West Africa in 2024) (FREE)
  • Sponsorship and advertising opportunities for the annual WhyAfrica Overland Road Trips (PAID FOR)
  • A library where companies doing business in Africa can display scientific or research papers (PAID FOR)
  • A product section where companies doing business in Africa can display new offerings or services (PAID FOR)
  • Media partnerships with, and a presence at, most of the major conferences and exhibitions in the African mining, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, water management, ESG, environmental management, tourism, development, and conservation sectors (FREE)
  • WhyAfrica connects potential investors with new ventures in Africa and suppliers and service providers with existing companies in Africa (PAID FOR)
  • WhyAfrica assists companies in generating content focused on the wider African business community (PAID FOR)
  • Partnerships with companies doing business in Africa (PAID FOR)
  • Partnerships with companies thinking about expanding into Africa (PAID FOR)
  • In 2023 WhyAfrica members will have access to our in-depth articles about the African political economy, research, and country reports about the countries we visit on our road trips, and trends in the sectors that we cover (PAID FOR)
  • A WhyAfrica book is in the pipeline and if all goes according to plan, should be published towards the end of 2023 (PAID FOR)
  • The WhyAfrica consultancy arm assists and advises companies doing business in Africa through utilising our extensive global business network (PAID FOR)

Become part of the WhyAfrica community. Tell us your story. Expand your footprint across Africa and partner with us to make the most of your African experience. 

Share Article

Sectors

AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management