Lisa – Geochemistry student

If you are interested in volcanoes, could see yourself sorting through rock samples, and love being outdoors then a geologist could be the career for you. Read on to find out more about what Lisa does for her PhD studies.

What attracted you to this job?

I’ve always had a fascination with geology, since going on holiday to the North Yorkshire coast as a child. I worked as a database analyst for many years, but after a trip to Death Valley in California, where I realised I wanted to know more about what processes made the landforms around me, I decided that I wanted to study for a degree in geology. I got that opportunity after a redundancy payout allowed me to fund a degree, and I completed my undergraduate studies last year. My first degree only increased my fascination with the subject, so I’m now continuing my studies by researching my doctorate in volcanic systems.

What does your typical day involve?

A typical day for me involves sorting through rock samples, researching into field areas to collect further samples, looking at slides of the rocks under a microscope and analysing rock samples on a mass spectrometer. There’s also lots of reading involved, and I’m often analysing and writing up results.
I also do some teaching on our undergraduate courses in igneous petrology and carbonate sedimentology; as well as helping out on two of our field courses – I like to keep my interests varied!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

The best part of my work is when you analyse results and find out something new, or the results confirm an idea that I had. I also love communicating my results and ideas to others. In addition, I enjoy teaching, so I get great satisfaction when I’m explaining a difficult concept to someone and I see that moment of realisation when the student understands!

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My family find my work really interesting, both my partner and my mum read every bit of writing I produce – they’ll soon become experts in the field themselves! Most of my friends are geologists, so they’re really interested in what I do, and it’s great to have so many people to discuss my work with.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

My work-life balance is somewhat blurry – I love what I do so work tends to run into my social life! My ideal holiday is going somewhere I can be outdoors, walk about and look at the geology. With regards to work, my hours can be long, but I control my schedule so it’s up to me how little or much I do. What’s great about doing research is it’s not 9-5 – if I’ve done a lot of work one week, I’ll often leave earlier on a Friday to reward myself.

How did you get to where you are today? (i.e. qualifications and career route)

This is a complicated one! I originally went to university at 18 to study Computer Science, but I never completed this degree. After leaving, I took up a job doing admin work at a bank, and eventually moved into a database analyst role. Two redundancies later, I decided it was time for a career change and studied for an undergraduate degree in geology. Towards the end of this degree, I applied for research degrees, and took up an offer at the University of Manchester, where I’m now researching my doctorate.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

If at first you don’t succeed, try again! There’s no rush to decide what you want to do, but once you know, go for it! If you’re interested in studying geology, get involved in your local amateur group. They often do field trips and there you can see if you want to take your interests further. When looking for a degree, find out what modules make up the degree, and what the department specialises in – some departments are strong in, for example, volcanology, or palaeontology, so if you have a specialist interest, make sure that the universities you apply to can offer you what you want.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

I currently receive a scholarship to study, which is around £13,000 a year. This is plenty to live off while completing a research degree. Careers in geology vary, as do the salaries, ranging from £10,000 to over £100,000. Higher salaries tend to be in the petroleum and related industries. If like me, you’d like a career in academia, that starting salaries for a first position range from £25,000-£30,000, going up to £60,000 or more in the later stages of your career.

Out of ‘office hours’, what lights your fire?

Some of my hobbies are very geology related! I enjoy caving and climbing, as they keep me fit, are outdoors, and I get to spend even more time looking at rocks! I also enjoy hiking, cycling, swimming and badminton. My less energetic hobbies include reading and attending popular science lectures. I also do quite a lot of volunteering at the Manchester Museum – helping out with curatorial duties, and for example, object handling at public events. I also took part in Manchester Science Festival in 2010. Finally, I’m involved with Manchester Geological Association – our local geological society which organises meetings and field trips.