PhD Student, Gold/Copper Mining & Geo-Blogger Stephanie Sykora @stephsykora: A Day in the GeoLife Series

miningNAME:  Stephanie Sykora

CURRENT TITLE:  PhD student and geo-blogger

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Mineral exploration, ore deposits (gold and copper), structural geology, geological mapping, geotourism, blogging, travel, earth science education

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 1.5 years as a PhD research candidate at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposit and Exploration Studies (CODES) at the University of Tasmania, Australia; 1.5 years working in Canada as an exploration geologist for gold and copper; 2 years into blogging!

EDUCATION:  PhD research candidate at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposit and Exploration Studies (CODES) at the University of Tasmania, Australia; Bachelor of Science (BSc), major in earth science, at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.


What’s your job like?

I guess I will write this “Day in the GeoLife” post regarding two aspects; my job and my “job.” What I mean by this is my PhD research and my ongoing blogging about travel and geology.

My university PhD job is researching one of the largest gold deposits in the world; Lihir in Papua, New Guinea. This requires field work on site, where I map and sample within the gold mine and focus on lithotypes, alteration, mineralization and structures within the deeper areas of the gold deposit. Building upon my field work, I compile and interpret my data at the university and use a series of different analytical techniques (i.e. spectroscopy, petrography, K-feldspar staining, etc.) on my samples to further increase understanding of the gold deposit. My job also involves lots of research and reading up on previous work and writing and editing chapters, papers and figures for my own thesis.


Looking at rocks within the active White Island Volcano in New Zealand.

I also have an exciting other “job,” which I guess is more of a hobby at the moment. I have a passion for traveling and exploring the natural science (i.e. geology, geomorphology, etc.) behind some amazing places, so I write my own blog ( and recently started doing videos as well, focusing on exploration, science and travel. This mostly builds upon the travel I do whether for field work, field trips or just recreational fun. I guess it’s about really trying to interest the public in geoscience, geotourism and the not-so-advertised geology to some amazing places in the world.

What’s a typical day like?

Fortunately, days are never quite the same when you’re a PhD research student and blogger! When I’m doing research at the gold deposit, my day would be waking up, going to the mine and mapping or logging drill core. When I’m back in university, my day would be waking up, going to the university and doing a series of tasks, usually along the lines of working with my samples using different techniques available at the uni, synthesizing, compiling, modeling and interpreting data, preparing and presenting work to supervisors, and lots of reading and writing (i.e. mastering the skill of writing as little as possible, but saying as much as possible with those few words and/or figures). I also take short courses in mineral exploration and ore deposit studies and do teaching assistance in undergraduate labs.

In the evenings and weekends, I find time to write, compile photos, and edit videos for my blog from any recent field trips, travels, hikes, etc. Being able to be organized and make my own schedule as a PhD student gives me the time and opportunity to go on field trips and short courses and travel. This is definitely one of the perks about being a graduate student.

What’s fun?

I guess I was starting to go into this question at the end of my last answer! The fun part for me is being in the field, traveling and looking at the rocks and scenery; then trying to figure what’s going on! In other words, I enjoy linking first order observations (i.e. look at rocks, the landscape, etc.) with “big picture” ideas. I also, of course, enjoy presenting and sharing my research and general geology to others, which is what I try to do with my blog, videos and various other social media outlets.

Painted cliffs sandstone liesegang bands on Maria Island field trip in Tasmania, Australia

Painted cliffs sandstone liesegang bands on Maria Island field trip in Tasmania, Australia

What’s challenging?

When you are looking at rocks in the heart of ore deposits, you often have to see through what was a series of texturally-destructive, overprinting alteration and mineralization events. This makes identifying rock types and different mineralization events a bit tricky sometimes. Also, I work in an active geothermal system and mine, so being safe and accessing areas I need to map can be challenging. Another one of the most challenging aspects is time management. It’s tough to be a full-time PhD student, be active with sports, travel and do field work, and then write a blog and film/edit videos! Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but since I enjoy it so much, I make it a priority to organize my time accordingly.


Caution working in a geothermal system in a mine.

What’s your advice to students?

Start with doing something that you enjoy, or something that stimulates your curiosity. The trick is to not give up and work hard. Of course, there will always be aspects of what you do (e.g. school, assignments, work, etc.) that you don’t particularly enjoy and find very difficult… but always remember to keep your enthusiasm, put in the time and effort and be patient!


1 Comment

  1. Pete Walsh

    Very interesting reading and thanks for sharing.There are quite a plethora of “Rock Heads”that just plain enjoy or shall we say “dig”rocks.

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