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5 minutes with geologist Claire Edwards, AusIMM’s 10,000th member

· 1200 words, 5 min read

In 2010 we were excited to welcome our 10,000th  AusIMM member, geologist Claire Edwards.

At the time Claire was just starting her career in the resources sector. We caught up with Claire to find out where the last decade has taken her career and to see what advice she can offer others who are just starting out.

What have you been up to since you became AusIMM’s 10,000th member in 2010? How has your career progressed?

I’ve spent the last ten years exploring and mining in various locations around Western Australia. This includes underground gold mining in the Goldfields, infill drilling a magnetite deposit near Albany, exploring for nickel in the Musgraves, and returning to Kalgoorlie chasing airleggers in a narrow vein gold mine.

Now I’m back on the surface in Ravensthorpe doing a bit of everything while our project completes a definitive feasibility study, including greenfields exploration, resource definition, environmental monitoring, metallurgical domaining, waste rock characterisations, planning open pit grade control and hopefully underground soon. I’ve been lucky enough to travel overseas for periods of time and come home to find employment again, which is a relief after your savings has taken a hit.

Ten years has passed since I became AusIMM’s 10,000th member. Reflecting on how my career has progressed is a daunting thought. What have I achieved? Have I moved forward enough in my career to suggest that its progressed? I reflect fondly on the last ten years, but that’s not because I’ve solved the geological version of world peace (finding an ore deposit!) or because I’ve achieved the goal I set a decade ago. I’ve spent seven of the last ten years going where opportunity has taken me, which was influenced heavily by the economic conditions. It’s taken a decade to be in a situation where my experience, commodity prices and timing have aligned so that I am able to be in a position of my choice, which is leading me in my chosen direction.

Claire Edwards
Claire Edwards

What are some key lessons you have learnt in your career so far?

I can summarise some key lessons as follows:

  • Job descriptions and experience are more important than the job title.
  • Take ideas from other geologists’ careers instead of trying to replicate their career paths. No two careers are the same.
  • Companies exist to make a profit, not to keep you happy, satisfied or fulfilled. (The people in your team will be concerned about that!). One has to be happy with the compromises they make for their company.
  • Your second degree starts when you get your first job. When I graduated and entered the industry, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure where the study fitted into the job; that gap has been narrowing over time.

What expectations did you have for your career when you were first starting out, and have you fulfilled those expectations?

I was two years out of university when I was interviewed the first time and given my context at the time, resource geology seemed like a logical direction for a junior geologist to head. At the time it appealed to me because it would have meant I’d be more senior, more knowledgeable, and I’d have greater choice in where I could reside. Today, I am not a resource geologist.

Today, I am a Senior Geologist for a junior resource development company trying to get a gold mine started in the Ravensthorpe Greenstone belt, located 30 km north of Hopetoun, WA. This month I completed my first ever resource estimation! I sit here now and say I was naïve, but that’s what I knew at the time. It’s part naivety and part new information, new technology, changing economic conditions, different people and different locations that influence and change one’s expectations. I may not have met my expectations set in 2010 but my career to date has certainly been fulfilling.

What changes have you seen in the industry over the last ten years?

This is an interesting question that would have a different response depending on where someone is in their career. I’m fortunate that I’ve ‘survived’ two significant economic downturns: the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the toppling of the gold price in 2012-13. So, the changes I’ve observed are based on how these events have impacted me and do not represent the full suite of changes that have occurred in the industry. My view on the effects of these events was an overall contraction of funds available for exploration and resource development. Junior companies are never flush with funds, but in the past, it appeared that there was a more constant flow of cash in the industry.

Companies in the private sector are not the only ones impacted by contraction of funds. Government agencies have also been impacted by a reduction of experienced staff and numbers in general. In turn, this has impacted the time for project activities to progress.

How do you think minerals professionals can best adapt to changing skills needs?

There are a few points that I think are important:

  • Tech flexibility: be willing to change and try new technology. It’s not to say you can’t hang on to the version you love because you know how to achieve something, but it’s necessary to be open minded.
  • Be curious about other industry disciplines. This is more easily achieved when you are on an operating mine site or in a larger company, but it’s still achievable in exploration. Appreciating what other stakeholders need and want is likely to keep your work product relevant.
  • Continue to educate yourself, regardless of your employer. Along with AusIMM, there are a number of other organisations in Western Australia that host free events, including the Raglan Lecture Series in Kalgoorlie as well as the Geology and Engineering Symposium hosted by Cube Consulting in Kambalda each October. The benefit of attending these events is discovering something new. It starts a conversation with yourself and your colleagues.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming geologists, or for other resources professionals?

My advice if you are considering geology or another mining industry career is: just try something – the sooner the better, too. Get a vacation job so you can get a look at what your future can be. And when graduation comes round, if you’re lucky to have heaps of job opportunities, choose what interests you, and if you don’t have lots of choices, just say yes and I suspect with little or no expectations towards the opportunity, it will turn out to be the story you tell when you’re interviewed as the 20,000th AusIMM member!

The other bit of advice I would impart is: go bush. Live in regional Australia. I have fly in, fly out (FIFO) friends that will roll their eyes at me, but FIFO has a place in this industry, and I respect that and the lifestyle that comes with it. The two options are really hard to compare, but I’m really passionate about living and working in the same community. I have had great success professionally and personally living in regional Australia and would highly recommend it to anyone.

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