Half the world away – in more ways than one
STEP 2012 – Abbie-Jade – University of Leicester (MGeol)
Before I gained a place on STEP, I never really had an appreciation of mining. I had previous experience of exploration but knew relatively little about the desired end-product: a fully functional mine. This is just what I experienced in Australia, working at Anglo American’s only coal mine in New South Wales.
Travelling to the other side of the world is daunting enough, without being given an important project and knowing very little about the subject! Needless to say, my placement was probably the biggest learning curve of my life – a world away from university.
The project itself was related to explosives used at the mine, investigating how the results of testing for reactivity determined which products were used, and how this could be improved. This involved project planning, leading meetings, managing data, and presenting my work. One of the most vital and challenging aspects was liaising with all the involved parties. I quickly discovered that communicating effectively between different departments is the key to success.
One of the teams I worked closely with was the explosives crew, and whilst learning about how explosives work, I was given the opportunity of initiating a blast! This has to be one of the highlights of my placement, second only to the feeling of achievement after giving my final presentation. It was incredible to feel part of such a dedicated team.
Ultimately, I had a fantastic time on STEP because of the experiences I gained, the sights I saw and the people I met and worked with. I very much enjoyed working for Anglo American and can only hope that this encourages more people to apply – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
Fennoscandian happenings and the northern lights
STEP 2012 – Anouk – Utrecht University (Masters in Geology)
My STEP placement in northern Finland came as a complete surprise and I loved every second of it. I started on 1 August 2012, the time of the midnight sun, lovely weather, mosquitos, horseflies and a very soggy bog. At the end of my stay, the sun set at 6.30 pm, the mosquitos were gone, the mornings were cold and the sauna was heated up.
The project I worked on involved several stages of copper and nickel exploration. After four induction days above the Arctic Circle I moved 400 km south. There, targets had to be identified so I helped out logging core, discussing potential target areas and working in the field. Since Lapland is completely covered with woods and bog, the approach was a little bit different than what I was used to. Halfway during my stay I went back up north again, where I did more sampling and core logging.
I applied for a STEP placement to gain more insight into mineral exploration. I definitely succeeded! I think I could not have had a better introduction into mineral exploration. All the stages of exploration passed by; from starting to define a target with the use of geophysics, to defining how big an economical target actually is.
Besides all the exploration related tasks, I have to mention the team on site. They definitely made my stay worthwhile. I was accepted as one of the team as soon as I set foot into Finland. The evenings with delicious dinners, good movies and late night talking were invaluable for bonding with the team. I will never forget how we once rushed out into the night to see the Northern Lights, a phenomenal event which caught me completely by surprise.
The STEP placement has given me a sneak preview into mineral exploration. I was challenged in many ways, which has resulted in big excitement to start my future career in either exploration or mining. I would definitely recommend the programme to anybody who is interested. Just take a shot and you may find yourself looking for precious metals before you even realise it.
Enterprising efforts in the Canadian tundra
STEP 2012 – Ben – University of Southampton (BSc Geophysics)
Picture this, riding a helicopter with miles and miles of Arctic tundra, rocks, lakes and ridges stretched out below you on your way to a field site. My STEP placement in Northern Québec, Canada, gave me a great insight into exploration, challenged me and broadened my skills in team management, field work planning, organisation, logistical planning and liaising with the local communities.
After spending a week in the Québec office I flew up to Salluit an Inuit village in the Arctic tundra. On route STEP challenged me for the first time with a promotion to Project Manager. “Right, now I have to lead this team!” Luckily the first three days were fogged in and we couldn’t even see the hills surrounding the village. I was glad as this allowed me to sort out the logistics and the team with help from a few phone calls to the Vancouver office. However, as the days past, I soon got annoyed with the fog. The project was a clean-up operation of post-drilling sites. Once field work got started my day involved: wakeup, check the weather with the pilot, breakfast, prepare the plan for the day and flight plan, take a 45 minutes helicopter ride to the field site, check drill holes for contamination, clean-up any contamination, fly back to the village, eat supper, write up a report on the day and ideas for the next, play a game of cards with the team, and enjoy the quad-bike races and parties of the Inuit from my hotel room!
After returning from the clean-up project in West Raglan I spent the remaining weeks working on geophysical modelling of electro-magnetic data and taking geophysical measurements of rock samples collected on the summer’s exploration projects.
The team where nice and helpful and I needn’t have worried about my poor French. I had a fantastic experience and learnt a lot about what is required on an exploration project, as well as learning about geophysical and geological exploration. I was challenged and learnt how to manage a team, plan and organise the logistics needed to complete the field work and how to manage and work with the local Inuit communities.
Intrepid steps into Mantos Blancos
STEP 2012 - Laura – Imperial College (MSci geology)
Having set my eyes on a career in the mining industry I was excited to have been chosen to take part in STEP. My placement saw me set off for Chile to spend two months at the Mantos Blancos copper mine.
After a whirlwind trip to the Anglo American offices in Santiago I arrived at Mantos Blancos, hidden in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Despite my lack of Spanish I was greeted with enthusiasm, and my never-ending awe at the sheer size of the mine and the trucks never ceased to amuse my colleagues.
During my time at Mantos Blancos I was responsible for compiling and interpreting the structural data for the mine using high-tech software to complete my project. I was taken around the mine and the plant, learning the daily problems of operations on such a large-scale and the huge team effort involved in turning rock into a commercial commodity.
Despite the 5am starts and 12-hour workdays it was a fascinating and a hugely worthwhile experience, giving me a valuable firsthand insight into the mining industry. I also had the incredible opportunity to visit some breath-taking sights, taking me to the high Andes and into Bolivia.
It was a challenge to be so far from home and in a foreign-speaking country. It took me right out of my comfort zone but everyone was welcoming and encouraging, so now I feel like I can accomplish anything.
I would recommend the experience to anyone interested in mining, travelling and up for a once-in-a-lifetime challenge. It was an unforgettable experience and I have learnt about more than just geology and mining, like the unique Chilean culture and the challenges of a job abroad and away from home. My advice: go for it!
Rambling in the Chilean Andes
STEP 2012 – Rachel – University of Leicester (MGeol)
I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a bit apprehensive about the idea of going to a Spanish speaking country when I hadn’t much experience of Spanish, but it turns out what they say is true, you pick it up pretty fast when you have no choice! A rudimentary grasp of Spanish is not all I got out of this brilliant opportunity. I can safely say my time in Chile was exciting, interesting, valuable and, most of all, enjoyable.
Having been welcomed to Anglo American in Chile and kissed on the cheek by at least 50 people (a customary greeting in Chile), I got to the El Soldado copper mine in the coastal cordillera of central Chile. I was placed in the Exploration category three team, responsible for finding new copper prospects in the area around the mine for future expansion of workings. My project at El Soldado involved mapping an area to the north of the mine for potential copper oxide and sulphide prospects. This meant fieldwork!
My journey to the field area consisted of a river crossing and rocky, steep, mountain roads. Up in the beautiful mountains of the coastal cordillera, I worked with a field assistant to map out geology, structures, alteration and mineralisation. Between being in the field, drawing up maps and writing a report, I was invited to visit the rest of the open pit mine, the crushing plants, the copper extraction plant, the tailings dam and to see the huge mining trucks.
I learned so much more about geology with real world applications and about working within a team, discussing problems and making decisions. I also learned how to dance latin America style at the ‘Dia del Minera’ evening party, how good empanadas are, how to recognise a condor and that Chilean people are some of the most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met.
I enjoyed the whole, rounded experience and learned first hand what’s it like to work in the mining industry.
A true-blue outback experience
STEP 2012 – Simon – Imperial College (MSci geology)
With a slightly sore head after a bit of an Olympics opening party in London the night before, I boarded my flight to Perth, Western Australia. There I would be working with Anglo American’s exploration division, initially on a copper, nickel and platinum group metals project in remote central Australia.
After a week in Perth meeting everyone and being inducted to the projects I would be working on, I was on the plane again – this time to Ayers Rock. It was during the five hour drive from here to site that it began to dawn on me how remote my location was to be.
The next two weeks saw me vacuum regolith sampling and drive miles and miles across the Australian bush behind the drill rig drilling shallow holes testing for geochemical anomalies. After an initial two days of training with the project geologist, this I did completely independently. So it is fair to say that I was – to use that well-worn cliché – ‘thrown in at the deep end’. This job was a fantastic first experience of life as an exploration geologist, because it literally felt like I was exploring!
After a whistle stop tour of Australia to take in the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney during my break, it was back to the bush. This time I logged and sampled RC chips and I really started to learn a lot of new geology. From seeing minerals I had never seen, right the way through to learning about structures I had never heard of, there was a potential for me to completely lose the plot. But despite my initially inferior knowledge, I undertook real work that geologists do; there was no pampering to the student geo! However, luckily the geologists on site were so experienced and knowledgeable, that it was impossible for me to be completely in the dark.
At the end of my placement I was lucky enough to visit a second project – an iron ore exploration project and I went through the same learning experience all over again with new geological problems that needed solving.
Returning to rainy London to start next year at university, with the city feeling the Olympic hangover that I felt when I set off, I reflected on how lucky I was to have experienced all that I did. Such a fantastic insight into life as an exploration geologist is rare to come by as a student, so STEP is an opportunity you cannot let pass you by.
Sunrises, football and the Miners’ Day dinner
STEP 2011 – Frank – Univeristy College of London (MSci Earth Sciences, International Programme)
Frank's placement saw him become one of the team in Chile and begin the transition from university to career.
My arrival in Chile was heralded by the sun rising above the Andes and the Chilean lady sitting next to me insisting I swap into her window seat. This was quite a first impression of the country and set a tone for what would turn out to be a fantastic stay.
My final destination and home for the next 10 weeks was El Soldado; a copper mine situated in Chile’s Coastal Cordillera, 130km north of Santiago. Having never studied Spanish, I was quite apprehensive about the prospect of living and working in a Spanish-speaking country but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that the challenge was an enjoyable one.
My placement was with the Exploration Team responsible for extending the life of the mine by discovering economic mineralisation in the surrounding area. In my first two weeks I reviewed existing maps and literature and was taught how to log diamond drill core, which in turn gave me vital rock and mineral identification skills. This prepared me for my main task, which was to map an area south of the mine, with the aim of identifying potential targets for drilling.
The mapping was largely independent and I really enjoyed this 'learn through doing' approach, with a good balance between having to be self-motivated and having great support from experienced geologists who were always happy to discuss any difficulties. I was taught how to use ArcMap and used it to digitise my maps and sections. I then used these as the basis of a report documenting the geology of the area, identifying several areas of interest and recommending what further investigation would be appropriate.
Every effort was made to include me in all aspects of mine life, from the annual Miners’ Day dinner to the weekly Mine vs. Plant football matches; this meant that, even after my relatively short time working there, I felt part of the El Soldado community.
One of the hardest parts of the placement was that it had to come to an end but I feel the knowledge and skills I gained, as well as the people I was able to meet, made it the ideal way for me to begin the transition from university education to a career in exploration.
STEP 2011 – Katie – University of Southampton (MGeol)
Katie found the fieldwork during her STEP placement in Canada to be challenging but great fun.
I spent the summer on a grassroots exploration project in Northern Québec, Canada. Exploration geology is a very different lifestyle and so one of the great things about STEP is that it gives the opportunity to experience the role before committing to it as a full time job, as well as a chance to gain new skills and contacts.
After two weeks of helping out with logistics and targeting work I set off for a month of helicopter supported fieldwork. This was a very different environment – being from England I am used to seeing evidence of development everywhere, but here we would fly for 45 minutes and not even see any roads, just lakes and ridges. The fieldwork was challenging but great fun. We spent the time prospecting, sampling and running some ground geophysics which was very different to anything you get to experience on university field trips. I had wondered how active a role I would be given but everyone was really supportive and treated me as one of the team, while still being happy to explain anything I didn’t understand.
My placement ended with two weeks of data management and compilation in the Vancouver office which gave me the opportunity to experience the more office based side of exploration, as well as getting to see more of Canada.
I really enjoyed my time on STEP - it was reassuring to find that I could cope with the challenges of professional exploration fieldwork and it has left me with good friends and memories.
Remote camps and Outback escapades
STEP 2011 – Andrew – University of Oxford (MSci), now Imperial College London (MSc)
Andrew's STEP placement in Australia provided exposure to the mining industry and a realisation that being a geologist involves more than just geology.
Having had limited exposure to the mining industry at university in the UK, I wanted to understand where such a career path could take me. I was invited to begin my STEP placement just ten days after finishing my final exams and was flown to Perth, Australia, where I would spend the next ten weeks.
Although based in Perth, I spent the majority of my time in the Australian outback, at a remote exploration camp two-three days drive from Perth. Out there I was able to gain fantastic experience on an active drill program. I spent time logging drill core, conducting soil surveys and assisting in EM-geophysical surveys. I also came to understand that being a geologist involved more than just geology; you are also a team leader.
Working in such a stunning location with a dedicated team was a great way to spend my summer, and something I will always remember. It has given me a fantastic insight into the mining industry and where a career in exploration may lead me.
Venturing out to Lapland Finland
STEP 2010 – Klara – University of Leicester
Klara found her STEP experience in Finland to be as varied and diverse as the people that made up her team.
I graduated in July 2011, from the University of Leicester and currently I am working as an Exploration Geologist on a fantastic project in Northern Finland. If it wasn’t for STEP I wouldn’t be here writing this testimonial.
STEP gave me an invaluable insight into exploration and the work that geologists do. The experience further cemented my desire to work as an exploration geologist. Living and working away from home for five weeks at a time is not easy but it is a big adventure. Learning about a different culture to your own is enchanting and rewarding. Our team is diverse with people coming from five different countries. This diversity creates great opportunities not only a good laugh but also for appreciating one another and making you feel you are not alone when times get tough.
The work itself is as diverse as the people doing the work. During my STEP placement I was involved in project planning with subsequent field trip to eastern Finland. We carried out prospecting work in the Kuhmo Greenstone Belt, looking for outcrops, collecting samples, and assessing target areas for future ground work such as geophysical and geochemical surveys.
Now, as an exploration geologist, during the drilling season, I spend a lot of time looking at fascinating rocks, identifying minerals, documenting structural observations, alteration styles, and trying to figure out the long history (~2Ga) of what we see now. This was the reason I studied geology and wanted to become a geologist. Now, in a large part thanks to STEP I’m living my dream. From my own experience I would highly recommend STEP to anyone who is passionate about mineral exploration and encourage them to ‘go for it’!
Adventures from Australian and Arctic wildernesses
STEP 2010 – Craig – University of Cardiff (BSc in Exploration and Resource Geology)
Craig's STEP placement took him to Australia. Now he works as an exploration geologist half a world away from where it all began.
I first heard of this opportunity whilst attending The Geological Society's careers day in Nottingham. After talking to representatives at the event it was immediately apparent that this was an unmissable opportunity to gain experience with one of the biggest global mining companies and travel to a far corner of the world at the same time.
Application forms and interviews endured and the day after my last exam, a little worse for wear, I was flying to Australia for a 10 week placement on a Ni-Cu-PGE greenfield exploration project in Central Australia.
For the next two and half months I was on a steep learning curve from a geological, cultural and non-technical viewpoint. The list of skills I learnt would be far too long to list here; they ranged from how to change the rear suspension springs of a Toyota Landcruiser to how to log and sample RC chips, with lots in-between.
Aside from the obvious highlight of the spending time doing geology in the field another major highlight for me was meeting the Traditional Land Owners, listening to their magical stories around a camp fire after a hard day on the drill rig and seeing the time and effort put in by Anglo American to bring benefits to their communities. For me this summed up my STEP experience, working with and learning from an experienced geologist one hour and the next doing something I never thought I would do, whether this was liaising with the local communities or a vital but more mundane task to keep such a remote exploration camp functioning.
With my placement over it was time to look to the future and get myself a full time job; the contacts I had built up whilst sweltering in the Australian desert during my placement would prove pivotal in securing a job in Arctic Finland. After experiencing work with a company you get a much greater understanding of not only their aims but also how they intend to achieve them. Anglo American's aim of Safe Discovery and working with respect for all stakeholders confirmed to me to this was a company I really did want to build a career with.
Two months after returning to the UK and I was flying away again, the start of whole new adventure, this time on my first full time role in Finnish Lapland. It may be the opposite in terms of location and climate to where it all began with STEP but again it was a friendly, welcoming exploration team working with the same values; so much had changed yet nothing had changed.
I have now been working on the Sakatti Discovery for nearly a year, logging kilometres of diamond drill core, managing databases and planning work on new targets. While STEP only provided a small window into the work of an exploration geologis, it provided me with a key to the door of further opportunities. STEP on its own is a fantastic opportunity I would recommend to anyone thinking of a career in exploration geology. The programme acts as a stepping stone towards full time employment with Anglo American and that is an opportunity not to be missed!
Flies, fly-camps and frozen landscapes
STEP 2006 – Suzie – University of Southampton (MGeol)
Suzie's placement in Australia took her out of her comfort zone and into a job with Anglo American's Exploration team.
It has been a 15 hour journey but over the horizon I see my first glimpse of a remote camp. We have spent the past three hours driving down a red, dusty road in the Australian outback. After spending time in the Perth Exploration office I have finally arrived in the field.
My accommodation is a donga hut with a bed, cupboard and fridge. I have spent the whole summer waiting for this moment but as we lay the first set of drill core out I realise that I am way out of my comfort zone. As I am standing under the Australian sun examining the core the flies make themselves at home on my back as I get down to work.
Every day during my STEP placement I was stretched and challenged. Having the opportunity to work in Industry made me realise how little I knew about geology in the real world. Even though this prospect was daunting I found myself amongst a knowledgeable and experienced team.
Since my first initiation into the mining industry I became hooked on exploration geology. I was offered a job with Anglo American and I have been privileged during the course of my career to experience exploration operations in Australia, Ireland, Canada and Finland. I have worked near a mine in Ireland, on a remote fly-camp in northern Canada and based near a town in Finland when we made the Sakatti discovery. This has not only allowed me to experience different exploration techniques, brown and green field exploration programmes but I have also gained a brief insight into the Aboriginal, Inuit and Sami communities.
Starting my career in the field has certainly allowed me to undertake some unusual activities, such as learning to drive a snow mobile, ice driving, cross country skiing and undertaking Arctic survival training. I am now based in the London office and although it is a vast contrast to working in the field it has still been a journey of discovering how to navigate the corporate jungle. My current position allows me to see STEP from the other side but it also gives me the opportunity to encourage our potential future geoscientists into the mining industry!
Meandering caribou, fireballs and flying to work
STEP 2005 - Sarah in Canada - University of Glasgow (Earth Sciences) and Imperial College London (PhD)
Sarah's STEP placement led to a permanent role with Anglo American and a wide ranging career.
Wake up at 6am. Stumble to the kitchen tent for breakfast. Fly (yes FLY in a helicopter) to work. Map rocks/collect samples/experience the lack of trees and endless herds of caribou strolling across the Canadian tundra. Fly back to camp. Check in with the rest of the team. Supper. Sort samples and write up the day’s findings and ideas. Marvel at the northern lights and endless stars. Bed. And you can get paid to do this?! Fantastic.
This is what I experienced for two months during my STEP placement, in 2005, to an exploration camp in Northern Québec.
I joined Anglo American in January 2009 initially as an exploration geologist but have since worked on a number of business divestment projects. I am currently working on the company’s Strategic Safety Programme based in the Safety and Sustainable Development function. This relatively wide ranging career path illustrates what can be done with an undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences (University of Glasgow) and subsequent PhD studying the chemistry of meteorites (Imperial College London).
Some of the projects that I have worked on in the past year alone range from: a large scale drilling campaign in Brazil, which resulted in the addition of significant resources to those already reported; to the development and roll out of Leading Safety Indicators (data that is collected and analysed regularly to allow the prediction of where safety interventions need to take place) across Anglo American.
I am usually found on site somewhere in South Africa or South America.
Fossils, Black Mountain and finding my future wife
STEP 2004 – Alex – University of Southampton (MGeol)
Alex's work during his STEP placement in South Africa contributed to his fourth year research project. He is now a project geologist with Anglo American Exploration in Peru.
I first became interested in geology at a very early age after many summer days digging around on the south coast of the UK looking for fossil and mineral specimens. After studying geology at A-Level, I chose a four year MGeol course at Southampton University. After a visit from Anglo American I was offered a STEP placement in South Africa between my third and fourth years.
During my STEP placement I saw both the exploration and mining side of a Cu-Pb-Zn operation in a remote part of northwest South Africa. I logged core for the Black Mountain mine, and spent time with a geophysics crew completing an EM survey. The majority of my placement was spent mapping a large section of one of the deposits in the area, this also contributed to my fourth year research project at university. I made a load of friends in South Africa, and even learnt to play golf badly!
Just before presenting my final presentation at university in June 2005 I got the call offering me a job with Anglo American Exploration. I returned to South Africa a month later, and with the first drill intersection on the new Gamsberg East Zn deposit on my first day I couldn’t have started any better! I was dropped right at the deep end, having to learn everything on the fly.
In 2009 we completed the drilling project of over 70km, during the final stages Anglo American made the decision to divest their zinc business and the project was sold a part of the package, with significant value added from our work at Gamsberg. I had learnt a lot in my time and had seen a project from first drillhole to final model and resources (and met my wife to be in the process). I then worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for four months helping with a drilling program. Since getting married in November 2009 we have been transferred to Peru, based in Lima, where I am exploring for copper porphyries with our team here and learning Spanish at the same time.
Exploration geology certainly isn’t for everyone – physically tough, remote locations, a real challenge - but for me it’s the perfect job and without Anglo American I wouldn’t be halfway across the world and enjoying every second of it!