Postings on this blog elicit many reactions. Two postings in the past week on sites that help you find jobs in the mining industry have stirred the pot and I have received many comments privately, both commending and condemning me for my “innocent” opinions.
I reply to very few of the comments. I would go mad spending all day defending innocent opinions and perspectives. Yet every so often, I receive a private email comment that sets me off. Here is a recent one in this category:
My name is James [let us say] and I’m very excited to soon be starting my studies in Mining Engineering. Here’s a little bit of a background on myself. I am about to undergo undergraduate studies for the second time. The first time I majored in Psychology and apart from a lot of things to do with the brain, I learned that it was not the career path for me. I actually became inspired to seek a career in mining through a book. When I learned I got accepted into the mining engineering program, I made up my mind that I will move the 400 km away from home to get a mining degree and hopefully set me on the path to which I believe is the right one for me.
I like to say that I have a passion for mining, but after reading several online blogs, it may seem rookie-esque compared to the more experienced ones. I love to follow the news that revolves around mining, I always find any information about salaries and wages very intriguing, and on my spare time I like to drive out to mine sites and just enjoy the “miracle” that I am looking at. (Although, on my last visit to a mine I was respectfully notified that it was indeed private property and since I had no official business there, I may have been trespassing. The worker was nice though, as I explained to him that it was purely out of genuine interest, and that I was a student about to study mining, so no harm no foul).
I just read through your blog entitled “Deliberations on Mining with a New Mining Engineering Student,” that was done on April 8th, 2011. You can see how a title like that would capture my interest. I enjoy reading your blog and the many mining-related blogs that it connects to. If you ever have the time, I’d love to hear what tips or advice you’d have to give to a student about to set off on his mining career.
Surely this fellow deserves a reply. Indeed we would like to know more of his passion for mining. What books set him on the mining path? Whence to whither his 400 mile journey? What mine did he trespass? And how will he build on his first degree in the mining industry?
I can understand his erratic studies. I started studies in civil engineering determined to become a technically proficient architect. During my undergraduate years, I determined on being a bridge designer. I got the degree in civil engineering determined to become a great water dam designer and builder. I sought to return to do a masters in structural engineer but got waylaid into geotechnical engineering. Then one day the Bafokeng slimes dam failed, and I got hooked on tailings. But for many lazy years thereafter I studied and got a post-grad degree in law. It was fun to stay at university where the girl-friend was and read about murder and mayhem and write those easy exams.
Thus the first piece of advice to a young mining student: don’t worry over-much about what you are studying. Don’t fret about changing direction. In the goodness of time, by shere serendipity, a topic will come and you will be hooked. It is like love: it will hit you when you least expect it, and it will satisfy you in spite of logic.
Next is the fact that whatever you study will be irrelevant as you grow in your area of expertise. Things change too fast for your study topics to remain significant as you progress. All you need learn is how to study, how to learn, how to deal with the new and unfamiliar, and how to solve problems we cannot dream of when we are young.
Keep in mind that the degree is necessary. It is a bread-ticket to an industry. But the degree is of little use once you start work. Once you are working it is what you do and what you achieve that counts.
Face the fact that you will fail at somethings. You will probably get fired or laid off. The economy will crash and there will be no work of the type you can do. When this happens, and it will, do not despair. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go do whatever there is to be done and what needs to be done. Move 400 miles if necessary; not once but as many times as it takes.
Never piss off anybody in the mining industry. It is small and whatever you do bad (not wrong, just bad) will echo around you all your career. Be especially nice to the secretaries for they control access to the boss. I acknowledge that these days there are few, if any secretaries, but their ilk is still around and still powerful. And they are generally nice people with whom to share a joke, a chat, coffee, and the pleasantries that make the work day pleasant. These days the IT folk are the ones to be particularly nice to. For your work computer will crash at a critical moment.
Participate in the profession. Write papers. Attend conferences. Register as a PE. Read books, magazines, and blogs on your mining topics. But write a blog only when you are old and secure and can say outrageous things that piss people off.
Move every two years for the first ten years of your mining career. Then stay for at least ten years in each job if you can. Thereby get exposure to many mines, many companies, different countries, climates, and cultures.
Do not be afraid to do something different. Recall that there is only one mine manager per mine. But there are many other careers in mining. From finance, to human relations, to legal, and all through the vast array of different technical topics. There is management, planning, analysis, design, operation, closure. There is, at one extreme, even consulting. Let’s you live in nice places, pays well, but can be tenuous in hard times.
So to the fellow who started this cogitation in the comment repeated above, in summary I say: study, learn, change, adapt, travel, experiment, fit-in, and do not fear failure. The world is yours. It will be no better and no worse than times past. But try to make it better through mining honestly, responsibly, ethically, and yes, even sustainably. Good luck and keep us informed.