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Broaden the entry funnel

28 February 2024

Dear Editors,

There is currently much handwringing about low numbers of students enrolling in geoscience courses (Geoscientist 33(4)). Of course, this is of huge concern because society needs commercial geologists. I suggest that there are two issues: lack of public awareness of just how big a role extractive geology plays in all aspects of life, and the entry pathway to geoscience education.

Extractive geology has been important since the Stone Age and this will not change. Just about everything in our ordinary lives is geologically derived. Recycling can never be 100 per cent effective and so we will continue to need to find and extract minerals. Indeed, as we try to be more environmentally friendly, we need new minerals, such as lithium for batteries.

I’ve had what I consider to be a societally valuable career as a hydrogeologist, also working on radioactive contamination management and environmental compliance at a nuclear decommissioning site. It has been intellectually stimulating and adequately remunerative too. I had no pre-university qualification in geology and I didn’t even do O-level geography. I was admitted to the University of Cambridge Natural Sciences programme and my intent was to graduate as a chemist. I ‘saw the light’ and ended up with a geology degree. But in my subsequent career, I’ve used quite a lot of the chemistry, physics and maths I was also taught, and I’ve not used the metamorphic petrology or the palaeontology.

I think that there is a strong case for a broader entry ‘funnel’ to geoscience degrees, with appeal to those who have not decided on a career in geology before they have left school. Specialist skills such as hydrogeology or micro-fossil identification can be taught at post-graduate level. My multi-disciplinary background proved essential to my career success. 

So, we need to blow our trumpet louder, but we also need to broaden the entrance to geoscience-focused degrees.

John Heathcote

MA, PhD, CGeol, FGS

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