In conversation with Dr Frank Bierlein

February 16, 2024

Frank Bierlein has about 35 years of experience as a geologist, including his three years as a field geologist for the Swedish Geological Survey prior and in parallel to completing his MSc degree at the University of Heidelberg (1989-1991). During that time, he almost drowned on a couple of occasions, broke through the surface of bottomless moors, and got chased by a brown bear once. After he obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1995, he spent the next 12 years in academia working on mineral resources-related projects across six continents as a post-doctoral (senior) fellow at various universities in Ballarat, Curtin-UWA and Monash, Melbourne.

After that, Frank made the switch to the industry, first as an independent consultant, then as Manager of Generative Geology for Afmeco Australia, the AREVA Group, and Qatar Mining. He also joined and held the position of Chair of the advisory board of a Luxemburg-based private equity fund. He held each of these positions for about three years. This was followed by a 3.5-year-long stint with QMSD in Sudan until COVID-19 put an end to his adventures in the MENA region (something a coup and a popular uprising, respectively, failed to do in the preceding two years). Having escaped Sudan on a 28-year-old B737 held together by duct tape, he got stuck in Europe for seven months during the second half of 2020. So, he started working as an advisor and quasi-analyst for an institutional investment fund with significant exposure to several ASX and TSX-listed mineral resources companies. Through this work, he joined the board of several junior explorers as a non-executive director while continuing to work as a technical consultant and advisor.

He is also a longstanding member of the SGA and the SEG, as well as a Fellow of the AIG, a former regional VP of Australasia for the SGA, and a vocal supporter of various public outreach programs.

Brett Davis: Firstly, thanks for giving Coring the opportunity to interview you, Frank. I was really keen to pin you down for an interview, given your impressive international profile in the industry. I’ll start with my standard lead-in – what got you interested in a career in geology? 

Frank Bierlein: Right back at you, Brett – it’s an honor to be interviewed by Coring Magazine, and by someone with your stellar reputation and track record, to boot!

I ended up becoming a geologist via a somewhat circuitous route. That is, in high school, I had aspirations to become a medical doctor, to the point where I labored through seven years of attempting to learn ancient Greek and Latin – which, at the time, was a requirement to enroll in medicine at any German University. Another prerequisite was the completion of a six-month hospital-based practical studies stint. This I undertook in a private hospital in Courbevoie, just across the Seine from Paris, France. My experiences there put me off entirely, as far as the pursuit of a career in medicine.

Working as a landscaper and tennis coach in Mallorca were merely stop-gap solutions until I figured out the answer to the question of ‘where to from here?’, so I went traveling across North America in search of an epiphany. Which happened as I was standing one day on the southern edge of the mighty Grand Canyon, completely blown away by its grandeur and geological significance. Subsequent hikes through the Death Valley and Yosemite National Park and spending some time exploring the gold-rich Californian Foothills and Lassen Volcanic Park only served to strengthen my conviction that my professional future was in Geology.

I credit the amazing Professor Lluis Fontboté for instilling me with the passion for ‘big holes in the ground’. That is, his teaching style and vast knowledge as conveyed in the lecture theatre and practicals, as well as a couple of extraordinary field trips to operating mines in the south of France and northern Spain, and getting exposure to real-life explorers and miners while attending ‘Gold ‘88’ in Toulouse, made me fall irrevocably in love with mining and exploration. Not least because of their fundamental importance to every facet of our society. I mean, if it can’t be grown, it has to be mined, right?!

BD: What projects are you working on at the moment? And what is your level of involvement?

FB: Geez, that’s a bit of a tough one. I am the Group Geologist of an as-yet unlisted Canadian entity that is exploring for PCDs and VMS deposits in the Arabian Nubian Shield. As such, I am providing input to, and review exploration strategies and targeting exercises with the team. I am also a technical advisor for ASX-listed Firetail Resources and, together with another consultant, manage an exploration program for them that focuses on the development of a laterite-hosted Ni project in Central Queensland. I am a Technical (non-executive) Director of Variscan Mines (ASX: VAR) and Impact Minerals (ASX: IPT), with the former providing a fantastic opportunity for some hands-on involvement aimed at advancing an exciting Zn project in Cantabria (as you would know!). Impact is largely a project incubator with some exciting early-stage projects in WA and in NSW, while also trying to develop a world-class high-purity alumina project in the Forrestania region of WA.

I very much enjoy working with, and learning from, the dynamic and highly motivated team at IPT led by Dr Mike Jones. Then there is my involvement at the board and technical committee levels with Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX), an energetic junior company that is driving the ‘green’ Ni transformation via its project in Vietnam and several strategic NiS assets in Canada. And as mentioned previously, I provide technical advice and input on a case-by-case basis to a DAX-listed investment fund. While largely desktop-based, this work also involves the odd site visit and on-ground technical due diligence work, which I thoroughly enjoy. The opportunity to get my hands and knees dirty in the context of going underground or spending time inside an open pit, examining core or even just walking over fascinating outcrop always gets my juices flowing!

BD: Your early education was in Germany, followed by doctoral studies in Australia. Are there any fundamental differences in how geology is taught and perceived in the two systems? And how did you choose Australia as a ‘final’ destination for study?

FB: That’s an excellent question – let’s start with the second part. Following on from what I mentioned above about having irrevocably fallen in love with big holes in the ground, I wanted to study and work in a country that had a strong, active and diverse mining culture. Something that simply did not exist anywhere in Europe at the time, despite its 1000+ year history of mining. Australia, Canada and South Africa were the obvious choices and I was fortunate enough to receive PhD scholarship offers from universities in all three of these countries. However, part of my reasoning also considered the dreary, long and cold winters in Europe that I wanted to escape from. So that ruled out most of Canada! South Africa at the time was still undergoing some political upheaval, so I settled on Australia. You only have to read Geoffrey Blainey’s brilliant and captivating book ‘The Rush That Never Ended’ to get an appreciation of the role of mining and exploration in Australia’s economic development since the 1830s.

A major difference between the way Geology is taught in Australia and Germany concerns the depth and breadth of undergraduate courses at all levels. It took me a while to realize and appreciate the rationale behind this disparity. In Germany the focus of what is essentially a five-year course is on academic knowledge and a broad understanding of all facets of geology. While here in Australia the emphasis of a three-year B.Sc. course is to provide a student with a sound basis that can be expanded upon while working in the industry or across government and survey organizations, with the option of further study via an Honors and/ or Master’s degree. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, with one of the biggest drawbacks being the age at which a geologist tends to graduate with the equivalent of a Master’s degree (the so-called ‘Diplom’) from a university in Germany. The Powers That Be have recognized this and for some time now, so many universities in Germany have adopted the British system of providing a somewhat watered-down three-year-long Bachelor’s degree of Geology. I’d say as far as perception, there is not a great deal of comprehension of what a ‘Geologist’ actually does in Germany, unless it entails hydrogeology, environmental services or academia. By contrast, the vast majority of geologists in Australia are connected with or employed by the mineral resources and oil and gas industry, and as such, enjoy a much higher profile of directly contributing to the country’s wealth and development. Unless they blow up caves or behave badly in airport lounges.

BD: Your geology-related career has spanned academia, consultancy, and corporate arenas. Very few people can boast about the impressive research profile you have. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have approximately 150 individual or collaborative peer-reviewed papers in international journals and you are still publishing. What is the secret behind your drive and publishing success?

FB: Well, you could argue that my chosen career path perhaps made me somewhat of a jack of all trades, but (unlike you) master of none! When I look at many of my peers and their incredibly impressive and diverse careers in the industry, I feel like I have gained nowhere near as much experience as those highly respected heavyweights. On the other hand, I’d like to think that having had the opportunity to formulate, plan and undertake applied research with direct relevance to the mining and exploration industry, and study aspects of mineral deposit formation at all levels, as well as elucidate the intricate links that exist between metallogeny, tectonics, fertility and endowment through space and time, has provided me with a bit of an advantage when it comes to generative exploration, project development and asset evaluation. I have always been driven by a quest to find, or assist with finding, answers to ‘big’ questions, such as ‘why a given deposit is where it is’, ‘what determines, at a fundamental scale, the size and endowment of a given deposit, mineral camp or belt’, and ‘where can we find analogous deposits’.

Managing multi-million-dollar research grants that involved a slew of co-workers from industry and government organizations also helped to hone my project management and communication skills. As far as publishing (and ignoring for the moment the immense pressure on academics to publish the findings of their research, or literally ‘perish’ if they fail to do so), I firmly believe that one has almost an obligation to share relevant output from original (and often, at least in part, taxpayer-funded) research. Basically, if relevant (let’s call it ‘pre-competitive’) work does not get published in due course, it is almost like it never existed, right? The timely dissemination of new ideas and information is key to the advancement of our scientific knowledge, but, importantly, also for the purpose of these findings to be applied in exploration targeting, improve our understanding of mineral deposits, and how to find and exploit them more cost-effectively.

BD: Many people have careers that start off in academia and then transition to industry-related roles. A lot of people I see in the industry positions are doing this toward the end of their careers. What sponsored you to move into the industry arena, well before (I hope) the end of a successful research life?

FB: In all honesty, it was a bit of a combination of things. While I thoroughly enjoyed working on fascinating projects across six continents in my passionate pursuit of scientific knowledge and sharing this new-found insight with students and fellow researchers, the time away from my young family took a toll on all of us. I was never, and still am not driven by financial reward, but financial considerations nevertheless played a role, courtesy of my less-than-stellar academic income, and my super-human wife having to work full-time to make ends meet while also doing most of the heavy lifting at home. The absence of that elusive permanent position in academia, while trying to generate funding for, undertake and publish the results of my research, supervise and teach students (which I thoroughly enjoyed), develop curriculums, take on a raft of administrative duties, etc., also meant that I eventually lost some of that youthful idealism of what being an academic was supposed to mean. The academic community in Australia is relatively small and can be cutthroat as it competes for a limited pot of research and industry funding. I also felt that I was missing out on ‘real-world’ experiences such as being part of an industry-led team whose primary objective is to discover an orebody, rather than just hypothesizing about it.

BD: Apart from me, who have been some of the positive influences in your career?

FB: You know darn well that you are one of my true heroes – for real! The indefatigable Professor David Groves certainly has had a strong and lasting influence on my way of thinking about mineral deposits, and the linkages between metallogeny, endowment and tectonics. I have already mentioned Professor Lluis Fontboté, with Professor Reinhard Greiling being largely responsible for my interest in structural geology. Others that I have had the immense pleasure of working with were mentors to me whom I learned heaps from, include David Gray and David Foster (what is it about all of these ‘influencers’ being named ‘David’?!), Paul Ashley, Gilbert Stein, Markus Elsaesser, Holly Stein, Dennis Arne, Leon Bagas, Andy Wilde, Peter Cawood, and Doug Kirwin.

BD: Given the current multi-commodity mineral boom, are you doing a lot of work outside of the commodities and deposit styles you have traditionally worked on?

FB: As a matter of fact, I am. I would consider orogenic and Carlin-style gold, every kind of uranium style of mineralization, VMS copper, nickel sulfide and sedimentary-hosted base metal deposits as those that I have ‘traditionally’ worked on for most of the last 30-odd years. In contrast, until relatively recently I knew nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing! – about lithium deposits. Though I would venture a guess that this applies to the majority of geologists who are now knee-deep in lithium brines and/or are considered veritable experts on all things LCT pegmatites. Through the work for FTL and the investment fund, I have gained new-found knowledge and appreciation of lithium, though I still wouldn’t consider myself a true Li ‘expert’. Likewise, the recognition of what is possibly the world’s lowest cost HPA project at Lake Hope, WA, by IPT has allowed me to delve into another previously unknown to me commodity.

Assisting that Germany-based fund with building up a strong equity position in just about every advanced silica sand project in Australia has led to my gaining a pretty good understanding of why the world is running out of high-purity sand. In fact, the exposure to, and liaising with some sixty ASX-listed mineral resources companies, meant that I had to get my head around a bunch of ‘new’ commodities and deposit styles, including carbonatite-hosted REEs, layered intrusion-hosted PGM, and lateritic Ni.

Brett Davis and Frank Bierlein in front of the San Jose Mine portal in Cantabria, Spain. Frank is the handsome dude on the right.

BD: You are a technical advisor to several projects and a non-executive director on some. Is it easy to translate technical geology into pragmatic, understandable points for people who make decisions at corporate levels but don’t have technical geology backgrounds?

FB: Define ‘easy’! Regardless, I actually relish what sometimes can be quite a challenge, but I’d like to think that my passion for teaching has helped me with the concept you are referring to, as has the enjoyment of public speaking (to be sure, this wasn’t always the case).

I remember putting together a series of seminars for my Qatari bosses at Qatar Mining, whereby I literally had to start with ‘What is a rock?’, and then take them all the way through to how different types of mineral deposits form and why we as a ‘mining’ company would want to explore for them. By contrast, at least in my experience, I think most, if not all non-technical executives of ASX-listed exploration companies do have a quite sound knowledge of geological concepts. Which I deeply respect. I mean, if the situation were reversed, I’d flunk out of CFO or mining engineering tests quite rapidly, I think.

BD: I have to ask – political instability/ insecurity aside, what part of the world do you think is highly prospective for finding new world-class orebodies?

FB: Hands down, the Arabian Nubian Shield (ANS), especially the Red Sea Hills of northeastern Sudan. Back in 2016, I literally stumbled across and mapped out a hitherto unknown VMS occurrence while undertaking regional reconnaissance work to constrain the depositional environment of what turned out to be a highly fertile back-arc setting (where VMS deposits typically form). As Exploration Manager for QMSD, I subsequently had the opportunity to test and drill out this occurrence, which still has significant upside potential. This came after the team I was a part of discovered the first confirmed porphyry Cu-Au deposit (Jebel Ohier; around 600 Mt at 0.33% Cu) in the ANS a few years earlier. And there are numerous as yet untested porphyry copper, orogenic gold and VMS occurrences that are waiting to be tested and drilled out across almost 1 million sqr. km (386 102 sqr. mi) of what is essentially a Neoproterozoic analogue of the present-day Southwest Pacific – arguably the most prolific, metallogenically fertile and highly endowed geological region in the world.

BD: Is there a particular mineralization style or deposit type that interests you, and why?

FB: Not really. I love every style of mineralization equally, and am fascinated by the ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their formation. That said, I guess, I always had a soft spot for orogenic gold deposits. The combination of structural complexity, their epigenetic nature, global distribution, huge size variations, and of course, the ‘shiny’ nature of the commodity itself, makes for an absolutely fascinating blend, wouldn’t you agree?!

BD: Leading on from the previous question, everyone has a handful of deposits that have left a mark on them, be it because of the amazing geology, the hideous conditions, the people they worked with, etc. Which deposits do you hold dear, and which ones really were difficult to work on?

FB: I have been very fortunate to visit, and work on a large range of deposits across six continents and collaborate with amazing people while I was at it. Yet, in terms of favorites, I’d say that the Kumtor deposit in Kyrgyzstan would have to be right up there. The scenery surrounding this world-class orogenic gold deposit is simply stunning, with a fast-moving glacier more or less adjoining the huge open pit mine, which sits at around 4000 m (13 123 ft) above sea level in a remote part of the Tien Shan Mountains, south of Lake Issyk Kul. The Jebel Ohier deposit is close to my heart for obvious reasons, and working on a bunch of orogenic gold deposits across the Altiplano of Argentina was pretty cool, too. From an exploration viewpoint (we were testing the potential of the Thule Basin for unconformity-type uranium deposits), it doesn’t get much better than northwest Greenland, I think.

Working approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) underground at Mt Isa (3000 North Cu orebody) had its challenges (the steel meshing kept moving, you could barely touch the rock face and chalcopyrite would literally burn your fingers) and I almost died from carbon dioxide poisoning a couple of times while working underground in small and poorly ventilated gold deposits in central Victoria, Nova Scotia and New Zealand. Dealing with artisanal miners at Nyakafuru in Tanzania was scary, especially once they had set fire to the tires of our vehicles, and I faced the wrong end of a double-barreled shotgun several times in California, where many of the historical gold mines sit on privately owned land. But almost nothing tops trying to advance and develop any kind of project in Queensland when it comes to ‘difficult to work on’ projects!

BD: Frank Bierlein has operated all over the world. Do you have any travel horror stories or cultural mishaps that you can share?

FB: Does this include countless lost bags, endless flight delays, flying with dodgy carriers, and trip cancellations? Or accidentally eating dog entrails in Shandong because I thought it was a pasta dish and my local minder hadn’t paid attention to what I ordered? Oh, and how about when I first arrived in Australia and mistook vegemite for Nutella? The atrocious taste of that thickly coated slice of toast still lingers. I have since come to appreciate Vegemite very much, though, thank you!

While working at the Orcopampa Mine at an altitude of around 4500 m (14 764 ft) in Peru, I somehow – well, I actually have a pretty good idea of how it happened – managed to contract Giardia (a parasite causing diarrheal disease giardiasis), which nearly killed me. I was also held up at gunpoint by three thugs in Lima during the same trip, so in spite of the spectacular scenery and some amazing people, Peru has unfortunately left me with some rather unhappy memories. Though, as my wife keeps reminding me, the silver lining is that I actually survived and lived to tell the tale(s)!

I escaped a kidnapping attempt in Jujuy Province, Argentina, and as I alluded to earlier, I was caught up in the popular uprising (2018) and military coup (2019) that toppled the long-reigning dictator of Sudan, Omar Bashir. I spent several anxious weeks on both of these occasions locked up in my apartment, while tanks were rolling past my front door and protestors were chased down the street and mowed down with machine gun fire. A British expat acquaintance of mine was shot in the head and killed by a stray bullet during the city-wide protests in Khartoum. Those experiences kind of make getting chased by hungry bears and territorial taipans look almost innocuous. Especially when you consider what humans are tragically capable of doing to their fellow humans.

BD: Is there anything that you miss from your academic career? For example, I miss the opportunity to undertake a dedicated microstructural study of deposits, something that I feel is fundamentally lacking in many deposit studies.

FB: I totally agree! When you work on a fascinating project in the capacity of a consultant, you commonly identify knowledge gaps and propose how to fill them to the effect of increasing the owner’s chance of exploration success, or to increase the deposit’s resources, etc. But once you hand over your report, that’s it and it is then entirely up to the project owner to pursue, or ignore, your bright ideas. I am a big fan of age dating, for example, and would love to see much more geochronological data being generated for the purpose of understanding a given deposit’s relative and absolute timing in the context of the host terrain’s evolution. This is something many companies don’t assign a lot of practical value to, though. Likewise, the systematic use of alteration vectors via multi-element analysis, rather than just analyzing for the target commodities, is commonly underappreciated. Granted, there is a cost involved, but the potentially huge benefit of (selective) multi-element analysis typically far outweighs this.

BD: We hear all about the advances and benefits of technologies, such as 3D modeling, geochemical analysis, AI, and the utilization of drones. Have you noted any negative impacts to effective exploration and mining because of these e.g. less people out kicking rocks?

FB: That’s a bit of a leading question, isn’t it? We might be dismissed as a pair of grumpy old farts who reminisce about the good old days, but I fully agree with you that there is most certainly a steady decline in the number of people who are actually out there and getting their hands and knees dirty in the field. Geological mapping is almost becoming a lost art. Don’t get me wrong, I think that our industry has benefitted enormously from recent, and not-so-recent advances in technology. The use of cost-effective drone-based remote-sensing tools, innovative 3D modeling, applications such as Leapfrog and ioGas, GIS-based mineral prospectivity analysis (which I am a huge fan of from the viewpoint of providing a cost-effective decision-making tool), portable XRF and hyperspectral equipment, coiled tube drilling techniques, etc., are all absolutely brilliant developments. But for all the enormous investment in these technological advancements and their application, has our success rate gone up accordingly? I think not.

Geology departments are being shut down at an alarming rate, the cost of running field trips has become unsustainable (not to mention the public liability specter) and an entire generation of experienced hands-on university lecturers is retiring without being replaced. At the same time, many graduates prefer city-based positions and shy away from ‘roughing it’ during weeks-long stints in the field. So it is little wonder that field-based exploration has a problem on its hands. Until we are in a position, perhaps, when we can send out remote-controlled or independently operating androids to do the ‘dirty’ work for us…

BD: This is a multi-faceted question. Firstly, what is your opinion of the geological skillsets, experience, and knowledge of geologists today, especially those who are newly graduated? Do you perceive a looming skills gap, due to the retirement of many academic and industry veterans, combined with the closure of many earth science institutions?

FB: You only have to look at recent editions of the very informative and telling AIG surveys about age distribution, experience and skills gap in geology. I know, and work with several young geos that are driven by discovery and learning, who want to be out there and are keen as mustard to discover an orebody. So it’s not all doom and gloom. To be sure, some of these are either foreign nationals who have come to Australia in search of opportunities, much like myself some 30-odd years ago, and with the same motivation. Others work in the country of their birth (and/or university training), but are just as passionate and driven. Longer-term, it remains to be seen how our industry will cope with the steady decline of new graduates, while more and more experienced geologists ride off into the sunset.

BD: Has there been any single satisfying moment in your career that rates above all the others?

FB: For my kids to tell me that they understood, and were proud of what I was doing! They think exploration and mining are relevant, and concur with me that we need to continue to dig big holes in the ground. As long as these are managed in a responsible way, that is (I won’t use the word ‘sustainable’, because by their sheer nature, mines are anything but!).

Besides this unassailable peak, being involved in the discovery of ore deposits, playing a critical role in a USD 33 million JV, co-directing a >50% increase in value of a private equity fund within 12 months, receiving recognition for demonstrating that orogenic gold deposits in central Victoria formed up to 70 million years prior to the emplacement of spatially (but clearly not genetically) related granitoid intrusions (these were long believed to be the source of the gold and the hydrothermal fluids, which had implications for the prevailing exploration targeting model), being responsible for a 25% increase in mineral resources via the application of mineral prospectivity models, contributing to over 1700 days of zero LTIs, mentoring young geos of vastly different cultural backgrounds, and working with amazing people in incredible places are all some of the reasons for why I love what I do.

BD: I’ll ask a question on the flipside of the previous one. Many of us have interfaced with less-than-savory individuals or experienced toxic workplaces. Has there been any incident or incidents that really disappointed you?

FB: I think it is virtually impossible that, during a 30+ year career, one does not encounter at least a few situations or workplace arrangements that were, shall we say, sub-optimal. That goes for both academia and industry. Indeed, I have had my share of superiors and co-workers who I felt were less than competent (and I acknowledge that I have a low tolerance for professional incompetence), lacked relevant management or technical skills, especially when in a position of power and influence, and undermined my own passion and drive to bring a project or a program to its successful completion at every turn. Of course, it always takes at least two and it won’t do to simply blame the ‘antagonist’ for everything that has gone wrong without trying one’s best to make things work and put strategies in place aimed at dealing with such unsatisfactory conditions. Ultimately, and if one comes to the realization that nothing seems to be able to resolve a toxic work environment, however, it might be a matter of pulling the ripcord. Life is too short to put up with toxicity that can literally kill you in the long run.

BD: Given the many professional hats that you wear, what is Frank Bierlein’s secret to time management?

FB: Who says I am any good at it?! In general, I tend to prioritize tasks based on their importance and time sensitivity. I dislike leaving tasks half-completed so I aim at finishing and dispatching them. I take a flexible approach to work hours and don’t mind putting in the extra time if and as required, especially given the distribution of projects and affiliates I interact with across literally 24 time zones. Though I am not a big fan of having to get up (or stay awake) for 2 a.m. Zoom calls with Toronto or London…

BD: If you had abundant financial funding, is there a fundamentally annoying geology question you’d like to solve or a topic you’d like to work on?

FB: AMIRA ran the extremely successful West African Exploration Initiative (‘WAXI’) from 2007 to 2015. This undertaking involved geological survey organizations from something like ten countries, a large group of industry partners and several research organizations in Africa, Europe and Australia. I would love to see something analogous getting off the ground in Eastern Africa, with a focus on the ANS and/or the Victorian Greenstone Belt and its surrounds.

WAXI made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the make-up and evolution of the Archean and Proterozoic building blocks in West Africa, and had a tangible influence on the discovery of a raft of mineral deposits. The ANS remains poorly constrained, yet undoubtedly has the potential to host numerous as yet undiscovered world-class mineral deposits of Au, base metals, Li, PGM, REE, etc.

BD: You were an editor for Mineralium Deposita, the official journal of the Society for Geology Applied to Mineral Deposits (SGA). Do you think that geological societies, such as the SGA and the Society of Economic Geology (SEG), have adapted with the times in terms of being useful entities for their members? Or are there basic things that such societies should be providing and/or promoting?

FB: I was also on the editorial board of Ore Geology Reviews and the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences for several years, but who’s counting?! By and large, I think the relatively steady membership numbers of professional societies, such as the SGA and SEG, demonstrate that these societies have adapted quite well and continue to provide a fantastic source of support, education, and professional development. The trick, as always, is to remain relevant and continue to attract ‘new blood’. SEG does this best, in part because of the North American model of sourcing donations from across the membership base, and funneling these resources largely towards the support of graduate geologists, sponsorship of student chapters, conferences, outreach and field trips.

The economy of scale is also important, which is why there have been several proposals to merge the SEG with SGA, and likewise the GSA with AIG and/or the AusIMM. But just like major political parties, what might make financial sense runs the risk of becoming too broad in its objectives and stated raison d’etre (from French literally ‘reason for being’). After all, the global geological community represents a relatively small group of like-minded professionals when compared to, for example, engineers or medical practitioners.

BD: Finally, any concluding comments or words of wisdom?

FB: I am not sure I would consider myself an ‘industry leader’. I feel privileged and very fortunate to have had a diverse and always exciting career, and continue to thoroughly enjoy working with, and learning from amazing people (yes, that includes you, Brett) while visiting some truly awesome places that make you appreciate just how cool Geology is, and what a magnificent planet we live on. Thanks heaps for the opportunity to express my passion and explain to your readership why I love what I do.

For more information reach out to Dr Frank Bielein via LinkedIn