Steve Sturrock - Hydrogeologist

Name: Steve Sturrock

Field of Work: Hydrogeology/ Environmental Science

Place of Birth: Calgary, AB

Age: 27

Your job title: Project Hydrogeologist

What is a Hydrogeologist?

A geologist is a scientist who studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth as well as the processes and history that has shaped it. A hydrogeologist deals specifically with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth's crust (commonly in aquifers).

What is a typical day like for you?

Typical is difficult to define for a hydrogeologist. As I move from project to project, the work is always changing based on what the client is looking for. Step one usually involves exploration for water resources, many days will be spent reviewing scientific papers, studying the geology of the region and investigating what geophysical and geochemical information is available. We will then use this information to determine where a source of water (aquifers) may be so that we can drill into the aquifer and make a well.

Once we determine where we will be drilling, we will work together with a water well driller to tap into the aquifer. Here, the hydrogeologist’s job is to carefully record the geology while drilling and interpret geophysical information in order to determine where we will find the most water for the well. Once the well is drilled and completed, we will conduct various tests to determine some of the properties of the aquifer.

When I return to the office I will input this data into computer programs to further study the aquifer’s properties and eventually incorporate it into mapping and flow modeling applications. As most of the work I do is directly related to oil and gas in Alberta, I will often be reviewing the information I’ve gathered to ensure it conforms to environmental regulations.Of course, there are also many long hours spent writing reports detailing this information that I have collected and interpreted.

Did you always want to be a Geologist?

I think I would have to say “yes” to this one, although I certainly didn’t think about it as being an option in high school. My Grandmother was a geologist and when I was a kid she would often bring me rocks she’d collected from around the world. Needless to say, I had the coolest rock and mineral collection on the block (although I couldn’t explain or pronounce any of them to my friends!).

Unfortunately, we did not have any geology classes in high school so, other than what I’d heard from family, I had no idea what a geologist did—all I knew was that they collected rocks! I loved the sciences, I was especially good at math and physics, but I didn’t realize that these subjects (along with chemistry) were the foundation of geology.

My plan for university was to study engineering. Eventually though, I took a first year Earth Sciences class and never looked back. I finally realized what all the hype was about…you get to study some incredibly fascinating science and work outdoors in some of the most remote regions of the world. Awesome!

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

Math, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science and English.

Geology is a very diverse and all-encompassing science. There are many areas in which a geologist can specialize. Your foremost training in university involves studying calculus, physics and chemistry. As you advance into your third and fourth years, you can begin to specialize in an area that interests you such as petroleum geology, environmental geology, engineering geology, geophysics, geochemistry, hydrogeology, etc.

But remember, without the ability to communicate clearly and concisely, all of this scientific knowledge can render itself useless. That’s why good English skills are extremely important; geologists often spend as much time in the field as they do reading and writing scientific papers.

Where did you go to university/college?

I completed my Bachelors of Science at the University of Victoria (UVic) and majored in Earth Sciences. Prior to studying at UVic I completed a Diploma of Engineering at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

How did you decide where to go?

Choosing the right place to study when you’re graduating from high school can feel a little intimidating. I remember reading through dozens of pamphlets for the various universities across the country and thinking that I wanted to go to all of them. I chose the University of Victoria because I wanted the opportunity to study outside of my home province and UVic has been recognized as a top university in numerous categories across the country.

In addition to academics, I also chose UVic because of its location; Vancouver Island is absolutely breathtaking. For the outdoorsy types,the location can’t be beat. There’s nothing like taking your textbook down to the beach and listening to the waves while reviewing lectures with your classmates. When you’re not studying The Island offers unlimited hiking trails and camping and best of all, the temperature rarely drops into single digits!

I was also pleased to be a part of the environmental stewardship initiatives that exist not only at the University but throughout the city and many regions on the Island. You can get anywhere in Victoria in 20 minutes without a car. Try that in Calgary!

Oh, and spring flowers really do exist in Canada, I saw them there every year…in February.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so,what?

I am always taking more classes and reviewing new material that is introduced to my field. In essence, with a career in science you will never stop learning. It is also important to remember that university is notjob training, so when you do enter the workforce there will be many safety initiatives and training to use computer programs that you have never heard of.

University provides you with the knowledge and tools tounderstand and interpret what you are seeing, to think critically andultimately, to learn how to think for yourself. In the workforce you areexpected to transform that ability into a career. Scientists are always learning and changing the way we interpret things, this is what makes science (and especially geology) so great!

What is the coolest part of your job?

The coolest part of my job is getting to work in remote places around the country and, should I choose to do so, around the world. If you ever meet a geologist they will have countless stories of mountains they have climbed, bears they’ve encountered and mosquitoes they’ve battled. I often have to take a helicopter or a small airplane to access the location we are studying. It’s a truly awe-inspiring feeling to know that you are standing at a spot that only a handful of people have ever been to.

What’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of my job would have to be organizing dataupon returning from the field. When you’re in the field, whether it be mapping,drilling water wells, collecting rock and water samples or conducting aquifertests, it’s extremely important you remain organized and take good notes. Whencoming into the office after several weeks in the field, organizing all of theraw data you have collected can be a nightmare.

What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?

A hydrogeologist with a bachelor’s degree and little to no experience can expect to start around $50,00 to $60,000 when working in the environmental consulting industry. However, working directly in industries suchas petroleum or mining or government, the base salary can be as high as $75,000 per year with no experience.

Salary increase is often based on performance and a top performing hydrogeologist with more than 20 years experience can expect to be making significantly more.

In North America, geologists, like engineers, have requirements to satisfy beyond their degree in order to legally practice and call themselves a geologist. This means registering with a professional engineering and geology organization like APEGGA or APEGBC. Companies require their geologists to obtain this designation and will often follow a standard pay grade that is tracked by these organizations.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

The dumbest thing I ever did at work was not back up my data in the field! There are certainly worse mistakes that can be made, but none more embarrassing and time consuming than having to go back and reproduce your data and re-record all of your measurements because you failed to make a backup copy.

Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

If the sciences interest you but you are uncertain as to what career path you might wish to peruse, then I would highly recommend exploring the Earth Sciences in your first years of university. Earth Science,or geology, is a very broad based subject and can lead to specializations once you have narrowed down your interests. As a hydrogeologist, I was most interested in the world’s water resources and modeling the pathways and flow regime’s in which water travels beneath the earth’s surface. Of course studying an area such as this requires knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of the earth, the foundation of my degree in geology.

Within the earth sciences, there are many fascinating careers that involve studying the enormous range of physical, chemical and biological aspects of the earth. Most people associate geology with oil and gas or mining but there are many other types of geologists who study all aspects of the earth such as mountain building, volcanoes, micro-fossils, earth quakes,glaciers, oceans, and much more. This is what makes a career in the earth sciences so fascinating and dynamic.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

Start here with this Wise Geek link.

Environment Canada’s water page isan excellent resource for information about Canada and our water usage

Professional standardsorganizations for geology and engineering are governed provincially. Here youcan find detailed information on university requirements and current salaries,a few examples:

Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC) - Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA) - Association of Professional Geoscientists in Ontario (APGO) -

What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Inception. Definitely a thumbs up! I was totally confused at the end and had a different interpretation of the ending than the rest of my friends, who all had their own ideas as well.

What’s your motto?

“Learn as if youwere going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Meat. Yes or no?

Yes. Ever been to the Grizzly House in Banff? Enough said.

What’s the best thing about Canada?

How big and diverse our beautiful country is! We are so lucky to have three oceans, the world’s largest coastline, 10 percent of the world’s forests and some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. And to attest to our diversity, it is all shared by a loving community of people that draw from all regions of the globe and call themselves Canadian. I love this country!

What’s the best advice your mother gave you?

Don’t pee into the wind. Gentlemen, this is a good tip.

Article first published October 18, 2011

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