Economic Geologist, Dr. Katie McFall @DrKatieMcFall: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Dr. Katie McFall, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Economic Geology.

NAME: Dr Katie McFall

CURRENT TITLE: Postdoctoral Research Associate

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Economic Geology

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 2 (plus 4 years of PhD)

EDUCATION: PhD in Economic Geology, MSci in Geology

TWITTER: @DrKatieMcFall

What’s your job like?

I research finding sustainable sources of rare metals needed for green technology at a University in the UK. I am part of a research group made up of lots of researchers from different universities, institutions, and companies looking at the same broad problem. My part is to look at base metal mines to see if we can source these rare metals from deposits which are already being mined for other metals. My job has a lot of variety so no two weeks are the same. I might be in the field collecting samples on a mine site logging core, prepping my samples and running them through the lab, analysing data, writing up scientific papers, or presenting my research at conferences or to partner mining companies.

What’s a typical day like?

One of the things I love about my job is that there isn’t a ‘typical’ day! If I’m having an office day, I’ll usually come in, check my emails, read a couple of scientific papers, have coffee and chat with my research group, do a bit of writing, and then spend the rest of the day analysing data or working on a journal article draft or conference presentation. If I’m prepping for lab work, I could spend most of the day cutting and polishing samples or crushing and picking minerals. If I’m in the lab, I’ll spend the day analysing samples using our scanning electron microscope, laser ablation machine, or even a good old-fashioned microscope. I try and mix up lab days and office days as much as possible and get into the field as much as I can.

What’s fun?

I love the variety and being able to really get stuck into solving a problem that interests me. I do a lot of travelling for conferences, meetings, and field work and get to go to lots of cool places. For example, I’m currently doing a lot of work in South Africa. I also get to meet and work with lots of interesting people from around the world. Lab work is also fun such as getting to use cutting edge scientific equipment. My favourite is our laser ablation-mass spectrometer, which fires lasers at rock samples to analyse them for trace elements. It’s very satisfying knowing I am doing something that will advance human knowledge (even if only by a small amount!), and I love the thrill of discovering something new.

What’s challenging?

Although I’m part of a big team of researchers and my boss is very supportive, day to day I’m usually working on my own. I enjoy the independence but staying motivated can be challenging, especially as science can be a slow process and research is never ‘finished’. I try to remember to set small, achievable goals and to celebrate the little victories.

What’s your advice to students?

If you want to be a research scientist, in whatever field, then go for it! Perseverance, self-motivation, and curiosity are more important than being traditionally ‘smart’ and science needs all kinds of people with different viewpoints. It can be tough, as failure is a big part of the job, whether when an experiment disproves one of your theories or a grant proposal gets rejected. It happens to everyone, though, so you need to cultivate self-confidence.

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