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Geology masters students get public exposure

Harquail and Sudbury prospector group partner to give students a platform to present projects outside classroom
masters students
Danielle Shirriff, left, a geology masters student at Laurentian University, talks about her project during the student presentation portion of the March 19 meeting of the Sudbury Prospectors and Developers Association. (Karen McKinley photo)

Studying for a master's degree can be an isolating endeavour as students work with professors and colleagues to complete projects, rarely presenting their findings to a broader audience.

Now there's an outlet for geology master's students looking to present to the public, connect with professionals, and exchange information.

The Sudbury Prospectors and Developers Association (SPDA) and Harquail School of Earth Sciences have put together a program where students can present their projects beyond the classroom.

The program has been in the works for a while, according to Blake Mobray, student liaison with the SPDA and a master's student, but they started having students come to the prospectors' meetings to present their projects in January.

“Students are always encouraged to come to the meetings to listen to talks, it's a great way for them to hear from the older generation and industry insiders about history and information they may not be aware of."

“With these presentations, the older prospectors and industry people can learn about the new terms and lingo, as well as new findings from these students.”

All student presentations involve two or three master's projects. Each student designs their own presentation with whatever materials they wish - posters, graphs, even sample - and answer questions in an informal setting just before the meeting begins.

They can also stay after the guest presentation portion of the meeting to speak more about their projects and network.

“We thought there's about a half-hour of networking and reception time before the meeting starts, so why not allow students to make their presentations during that time?” Mobray said.

It's a great way for students to connect with prospective employers and weigh career options after graduation. It also helps them with their public speaking and communication skills with people of different levels of understanding.

At the meetings, Mobray said that the age gap between current prospectors, geologists, and students is noticeable.

Danielle Shirriff, a geology master's student, was among those who presented on March 19 in Sudbury to talk about her work with Metal Earth, an applied research and development program at Laurentian. Her project involves the mobilization nickel and copper sulfides in an area known as the Cubric formation, three kilometres east from the historic Marbridge Mine, near Val d'Or in northwestern Québec.

Shirriff and a team have spent two summers mapping the area, which was mined in the mid-1960s.

She is looking at how the nickel and copper moved from the Cubric location to surrounding rocks, whether tectonically or hydrothermally.

The interest for her is that it's a smaller, less conventional type of deposit. It is important to understand, geochemically, how it may have moved.

“It's good practice presenting in front of an audience, learning how to inform people,” Shirriff said. “Our research is very critical and a lot of people in the industry would find it valuable, sometimes in ways we wouldn't expect.”

Harquail and Metal Earth have given funding to students to present talks on their work at other events.

Working with Metal Earth, Shirriff said, was great because it is an opportunity for work experience.

Beyond her master's project, she also learned a wide variety of skills, like map design and field analysis. She's also met a lot of people and companies who look for those skills.

Sherriff is hoping to wrap up her project in August, then move on to an exploration company.

Attila Pentek, president of the SPDA, said it made perfect sense for the club as the students and industry people have a good rapport.

They advertise frequently around campus when monthly meetings are taking place, and with whom, so students are familiar with the nature of the talks.

“Often, students are working in areas where a more experienced person may have some knowledge that could help them,” he said.

There are plans to make this a regular part of the group's meetings. Pentek said with Mobray graduating, they are hoping the next student liaison will take it up and have more students come in.