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Geology and Home Life

Geology and Home Life, page 3

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The response continues to Maggie's question about geologists and family life.

From Sue Keay, an Australian Tech Communications Manager:

"First, it is great that this student is thinking about this problem BEFORE embarking on a career in geology. I often wish I had put more thought into this issue 15 years ago!

"Second, I love geology but career-wise I think it is a tough job whether you opt for a career with a mining company, an environmental company, at a university or with the government. As a young geologist you face pressure to do a lot of travel because you are seen as being free from the commitments of older geologists and with poor job security even older geologists can be forced to travel more than they would like or to move cities to stay employed. If you are prepared to put up with poor job security and plenty of travel then there are lots of benefits of being a geologist. But, if you don't have the temperament to deal with such uncertainty then do something else and spend your weekends enjoying geology.

"I often think geology is a career only suitable for a very young person. I know only a few geologists that have managed to have a sustained career and not had to travel extensively and move home bases several times. Often these are geologists who have taken a deliberate step back from their careers and been prepared to accept work in museums or as technical staff operating way below their potential.

"My perspective is as a geologist forced to change careers because of family considerations and while I have mainly worked in Australia I know quite a few American geologists and I think there are some universal problems that every geologist faces whether they are company or academic geologists.

"I loved geology and seeing different parts of the countryside but, like this student, I was not keen to be away from home too much (I was married at 21). So, I decided to pursue a career in academic or government geology rather than work as a company geologist because I figured I could stay based in a major city and not face excessive travel demands. I firmly believed that I could combine family and geology but I was also quite ambitious and I wanted a career.

"As I found out several years into this career, unless you are incredibly lucky, to have a career in academic geology requires you to move towns, and preferably move countries for "experience". This is seen as critical to your CV when applying for advancement. I moved towns to study for a PhD (quite unusual in Australia where most students stay in the same town) and had a great time doing field work in the Greek Islands and laboratory work back in Australia. I then moved towns again for a 3-year postdoc but was faced with the choice of moving overseas on more short-term appointments in the hope of one day getting an academic appointment or switching careers.

"Most of the geologists that I studied with were facing similar dilemmas and a lot were dropping out of geology. My female friends were leaving geology at a much faster rate than my male friends and while some of this was due to unfriendly work environments it seemed that these women were more prepared to cut their losses and take on something new. As my husband was not keen to move overseas and I was finding I was losing enjoyment for geology because of the pressures of finding a job I decided to take drastic action and change careers and I am now working in science communication. I have since been able to have children—something quite difficult to contemplate doing when I was working as a geologist because of the career pressure.

"The bottom line is that I think at all costs you should preserve your love of geology even if this means you don't necessarily work as a geologist. I remember when I was a young university student I didn't give much thought to how I would combine work and family; I just studied geology because that's what I loved to do. However, I paid for that lack of foresight by spending several years agonising over a choice essentially between my family and my work that was to the detriment of both. So, while a geology career can be fun while it lasts it pays to have a contingency plan and to always remember what is important in your life."

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