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!
From Kensington to Québec
STEP 2009 – Joe – Imperial College London (MSci)
Joe travelled to Northern Québec to embark on a summer of helicopter supported field work.
Despite finishing my final exams seven days earlier; London seems a lifetime away, the sunny streets of South Kensington have given way to colder climes. Since then my time has been split between a mandatory medical and first aid course. For the last two days solid I have been travelling on a combination of tubes, planes, taxis and finally a helicopter. As the rotor blades slow, I climb out onto the landing pad of camp Chuckotat. There is still thick snow surrounding the camp and a cold wind blowing off the nearby lake.
I am in West Raglan, Northern Québec, in the centre of an Archean greenstone belt known for its prolific Nickel mineralisation. 100 kilometres to the east there is the Raglan Ni mine and 600 kilometres to the west, across Hudson Bay, the Thompson Ni/PGE mining district. This suggests that there may be something of interest in the middle, directly below our feet, and it is our job to find out.
After a restless night, thanks mainly to the 24 hour sunshine, a hearty camp breakfast prepared us for what will become a typical field day. Today, four other geos and I are flying out to ‘frontier’, an area of high Ni concentration within the property. Jim Pickell, a senior geologist with Anglo American, is my mentor. People say the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks and having spent most of his 59 years in the field, Jim has seen more than most.
I spent the following two months field mapping, prospecting and soil sampling. I can honestly say it was my most enjoyable summer thus far, thanks, in part to the challenge of the lifestyle and environment, but mainly because of the nature of the work and the colleagues, or rather friends, I met along the way.
Nothing can substitute for field experience; it is what people look for in a geologist. I took a huge amount away from STEP. I visited a place few people will ever go. I learnt social dexterity, the ability to respect differences of opinion and personality, which become magnified when working in an intense environment, and to overcome these to maintain a healthy working relationship. I also made a number of great contacts within the business – people who I would have never had the opportunity to meet, let alone work with, if it was not for STEP. Many of these contacts remain close friends.
STEP was also a major factor in gaining me full-time employment in the mining industry.
When I tell people what I did that summer they say,
"Wow it sounds incredible", my simple answer is invariably,
"Yes, it was!"
STEP 2008 – James – Southampton University (MGeol now studying for his PhD)
Through his STEP placement in Brazil, James acquired invaluable knowledge about resource extraction and became a more well-rounded scientist because of it.
My placement was with the Base Metals and Exploration divisions in the Goiás State of Brazil. I worked at both the Copebrás (phosphate) and the Boa Vista (niobium) mines. I worked both in mine geology as well as assisting in exploration projects for the mine expansion program.
Though I am studying geology, the placement was invaluable for understanding the full process required in resource extraction, from exploration efforts to the way mining works on a day to day basis, all the way through to the chemical engineers, and all the interactions and teamwork required along the way.
I feel I have become a much more well-rounded scientist because of this. The whole team at Copebrás and Mineracaõ Catalaõ were brilliant during the time I was in Brazil and I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier or more helpful group of people to spend time with, which really helped me settle in quickly.
Even from my short stay, I realised Brazil is highly addictive, from the landscape and the people, to the environment and wildlife; it all drives home the fantastic experience available there.
For anyone interested in the resource industry, STEP provides the chance to experience real industry work first hand, as well as new cultural opportunities.
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!