Jon O'Callaghan (BSc. Applied Geology, 2012)

Jon O'Callaghan, BSc. Applied Geology

Why did you choose to study here?

As soon as I arrived at the open day for the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus I knew it was the right place for me, both as somewhere to study and to live. The facilities at the Camborne School of Mines were truly first class. I also found the ratio of students to staff and number of field courses of offer was excellent. This, combined with the world class geology right on the campus doorstep, made it an easy choice. When I received my acceptance letter, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to study at the University of Exeter and Camborne School of Mines, two world-renowned and well established institutions.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

The campus was small enough that you quickly got to know everyone in your department and other faculties and schools. On the other hand, the student union was always busy hosting activities and big events like Pirate Night, Radio 1 night and Crazy Week. Having the coast, with its beaches and footpaths, so close by also offered a perfect escape from the labs and classrooms. Obviously, moving to Cornwall, I wasn’t expecting or looking for a huge night scene, but Falmouth and Penryn still had plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants (and one nightclub!) to enjoy, I never had a dull night out! During my time at University, I found myself hiking up ancient volcanic calderas in the Inner Hebrides, walking across the ancient ocean floor in Cornwall and visiting vast copper mines in Cyprus, the diversity in the courses being taught was fantastic. Despite moving overseas afterwards, I still keep in touch with the close friends that I made on those trips and elsewhere at the University.

Did you use the Careers Service while you were at Exeter?

I did not use the Career services on offer at Exeter. However, the alumni contacts that I made whilst studying there were instrumental in me landing my first job in Northern Ireland after graduating. The Camborne School of Mines Alumni Association is a close knit, but global community of geologists, environmental scientists and mining engineers that has assisted both myself and countless other graduates in finding employment in the industry.

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

As soon as I graduated I was lucky enough to find work as an Exploration Geologist in Northern Ireland, looking for platinum-palladium mineralization with a multi-national company. The work was demanding and a steep learning curve, but it provided crucial industry experience, such as supervising drill rigs, logging rock core, conducting geophysical surveys and mapping in upland terrain in the Antrim hills.

After spending two years in Belfast I decided to boost my career opportunities through a M.Sc. in Geology. Initially I looked in the UK and Ireland, but somehow I ended up being accepted at Western University in London…Canada. Que another two years and studying and writing, but also another round of memorable geology field trips and experiences, from hiking the Grand Canyon, to going 2km underground to sample nickel-copper ore at the world-class Sudbury mining district.

After graduating in summer 2016, I was lucky enough to work with the Centre for Planetary Science and exploration on a collaborative project with the UK and Canadian Space Agencies, developing autonomous rovers for future Mars exploration missions. How did I fit into this? Well someone had to operate the geochemistry instruments at the Utah field testing site! Shortly afterwards, an alumni contact that I’d made at Western University, approached me with a job offer to work as a geologist on their gold projects in Quebec and Northern Ontario. Now I’m busy working with drill rigs, helicopters and canoes to help find lucrative gold mineralization beneath the Canadian forests.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really enjoy the sense of discovery that the job offers, you never know what each day will bring. For example, whilst driving to the drill rig one morning, I came across a pack of wolves walking along our access road! An amazing experience, though I was glad that I was in a truck! Aside from that, it’s a very rewarding feeling to draw together maps, geophysical data and geochemical results to help pinpoint sites that could host gold mineralization, then sending in drill rigs to test it! The job also provides plenty of field work and activity, so keeping physically and mentally fit is much easier compared with being sat in an office all day. Being outdoors in remote parts of Canada means that I get to experience parts of the country that few other people get to see, for which I am very grateful. 

How have your University of Exeter studies helped in your career?

My studies at the University of Exeter provided a solid foundation from which I was able to develop as an industry geologists. The Camborne School of Mines is highly regarded in mining circles across the world as a reputable school that produces graduates well versed in field work and application of geology to industry problems. Field courses are a crucial part of geology that is increasingly being lost from curriculum in Universities across the UK. The Camborne School of Mines remains well ahead of the pack in terms of exposure to outdoor geology. Indeed, the amount of field work and mapping that I completed whilst at University was considered impressive by companies on both sides of the Atlantic, putting me in good standing for the kind of work expected of me in the exploration sector. The alumni organization within the school is also global and was instrumental in me finding my first career after graduating.

Do you have any advice for current students wishing to pursue your career?

  1. Be prepared to move overseas, the most challenging, exciting and rewarding careers in mining and exploration are often abroad, though there are some fantastic projects in the UK too, like Hemerdon Mine in Devon, and the Curraghinalt gold deposit in Northern Ireland.
  2. Perseverance. The mining industry has been a challenging job market for the last few years, but things are starting to improve noticeably. If you want to work abroad it takes time and paperwork, but always remember the opportunities and experiences that it can offer!
  3. Stay in touch with any industry or alumni contacts that you make. Tell them how your studies are going, tell them what you're working on. You never know when one might turn around and offer you a job. Every job that I've been offered has been through alumni and industry contacts, they are invaluable
  4. If you want to go back to academia to pursue a M.Sc. or Ph.D. then I strongly recommend trying different universities. I truly loved every minute at the University of Exeter, but the opportunity to gain new perspective, new contacts and new experiences through other universities is important for both personal and career development.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to remain in Canada for the foreseeable future, as the career prospects in exploration are much better here, and there is much more opportunity to travel and work on remote and challenging projects. I hope to remain in the exploration sector, progressing to positions with greater responsibility such as project and senior geologist. I also hope to gain more experience in a diverse portfolio of projects seeking different commodities, such as gold, diamonds and base metals, like copper. Eventually I might consider returning to University to pursue a Ph.D. in geology, though I'm not sure which side of the Atlantic that'll be on!

Do you have any tips or advice on being employable?

  1. Take as many extra-curriculum and training courses as possible, these certifications will really help boost your CV above the pack!
  2. Be proactive, don't just submit CV's to online sites. Keep an eye on the news to find out which companies are doing well. Then get the contact details for Human Resource managers at those companies and phone them directly to inquire, better still, visit the office! This makes an much bigger impact than a faceless email asking for work. Make them remember you and it will pay off in the long run.
  3. Stay in touch with your industry contacts and alumni organization, see if there are mentoring schemes or alumni meetings in your area.