What Make A Great Geologist? #GeniusUp!

I was prompted by a question on Quora some time ago to think about what it is that makes a great geologist. It’s something I’ve often pondered since I first heard our tutors at university discretely offer their opinion on who had that special edge, that level of insight, of ability to think through a 4D problem in their head. Despite facing a conundrum laden with gaps and uncertainties, this is someone who calmly and methodically constructs an argument, based on what they can see. What we like to call an interpretation.

Later in my career. I would hear this same compliment be paid and in much the same manner “… know, X, they’re a really good geologist”. Those giving it almost laboured over the compliment; it was a weighty thing, something rare and precious. It reminded me of how experienced pilots I would later hear talked about – and it was equally as rare and said in the same murmur – some of their compatriots and trainees. The trace of instinctive professionalism, craftsmanship of knowledge, innate talent or at least perseverance, engagement to the task at hand.

So, I thought I’d post here my own conclusions on this elusive topic, now I have a few years in this extraordinary, mysterious, profession and would love to hear if you agree or have anything else you’d add to the pantheon……


Humility. The Earth is greater than all of us. Up until now it has provided the basis of our everything. And equally it can take it all away in a flash.

The ability to imagine. What you see now in our world is not necessarily what has come before and the Earth System has a track record that goes back 4.6 billion years…..but has only preserved a portion of its tale. The rest we have to infer.

Ability to handle uncertainty. Unless you can pick up something in your hand and sample it, then you’ll always be relying on stand-off (second-hand) analysis of what it is. Often, you will be sampling no more than a trillionth of the bigger picture.

Synthesis. You will pull from a myriad of sources of information from the nanometric to the galactic. And you may voyage through this universe in a single day.

Grace. You will tap into all the other grand sciences which peer down at you, but you will have a wry smile to yourself that without you no-one would understand Home.

Passion. How can you not be excited by the Earth? This is a subject you never need to switch off from and keeps giving for as long as you ask questions.

A Story-Teller. You are suspicious of dogma for you know that too much is unknown, but there is still much meaning to be gleaned from careful and fair observation.

Patience. You will never likely have all the facts. But you are adding to a Great Story.

A capacity to never stop learning. Your “office” will be the grandest thing you’re ever likely to encounter and you will only ever discover a proportion of what there is to know about it.

I therefore tend to believe that a Good Geologist has many of the qualities of a Good Human Being.

Published By Empire Genius