VIEW FROM ACADIA
This year, our annual departmental newsletter and holiday greeting is going out a bit later than usual, in part because of the very busy 2004 we have had in the Geology Department, and in part because your correspondent is not quite as punctual as Rob Raeside, our long-standing department head who was on sabbatical this fall. Our year here at Acadia has been very eventful, with many positives (see below) and a few negatives (the faculty strike last spring, which although thankfully only partially disruptive, did have a beneficial impact in that it allowed faculty from different departments to meet and truly get to know each other, something that we seldom have an opportunity to do).
Some of the highlights of our year include the implementation of a new degree program in 'Environmental Geoscience' to complement our traditional degree in 'Geology'. This new program has a curriculum that is in line with the national educational requirements for the Environmental Geoscientist stream of Registered Professional Geoscientists (P.Geo.), and was created by defining a different blend of core and elective requirements, without the need of any additional curriculum. Our two major programs now afford our students more flexibility in the geological orientation that they pursue, and as a result our graduates, after four years of suitable geoscience experience, can qualify as professional geoscientists via two of the three professional streams (Geology and Environmental Geoscience) in any province or territory in Canada.
Another important event is the ongoing search for a replacement professor for Dr. Barry Cameron, who will be retiring in June after 24 years at Acadia. After some significant thought into what type of person we should look for to fill Barry's shoes, we drafted an advertisement for a 'soft-rock' geologist in the early fall. This attracted more than 50 highly qualified candidates for the position and, after poring over the applications and undertaking several meetings to decide on a short list, we are presently in the process of interviewing three of these candidates. Our intent is to have the successful candidate start in July, so s/he will have time to get up to speed when classes start in September.
Lastly, our department hosted a very successful Atlantic Universities Geology Conference (AUGC) in October. This task was undertaken by the Fletcher Geology Club, went off without a hitch, and was superbly organized and run! Other news from the department is covered in other articles in this newsletter.
Probably one of the most important, but least appreciated events that has taken place is the long term planning effort by our department. This was originally motivated by the succession planning exercise necessitated by Barry Cameron's retirement, but is continuing, and has taken on a life of its own with the discovery of some important demographic information regarding geologists in Canada. Many of you may not realize that over the next 10 years, 76% of all Canadian geologists will retire (or at least reach retirement age; Simpson 2004; Foden 2003). This reality is probably not too unexpected by many of you, as a quick count of the numbers of grey hairs on your colleagues down the hall will probably verify this observation. An obvious consequence of this fact, though, is that there will clearly be a dearth of geologists in the near future, and the various geology-related industries will be actively looking for, recruiting, and employing young geology graduates to fill the vacant positions (or at least they should be).
At the same time, some universities in Canada, as well as the United States, Australia and Europe, have, over the past decade or so, dissolved their geology programs, or merged them with other departments (Lubick 2004a, 2004b, 2004c; Foden 2003). This change has been largely due to declining enrolments because of a relative lack of demand for geologists by industry during a period of consistently low commodity prices, and a widespread failure to recognize the importance of geoscience to society. Furthermore, high schools have excised earth science courses from their curriculum, preventing exposure to geology by students at a fundamental level, and this change has also served to limit geology enrolments in universities (Roy 2002; Ridkey 2002; Pinkster 2002b; Foden 2003), a factor that has motivated some of the department closures. Even federal and provincial/state government funding of geoscience research and geological surveys has been substantially reduced, leading to fewer geoscientists serving the general public, lower demand for geologists (Geotimes 2001; Pinkster 2002b; Sever 2004), and fewer students enrolled in geology programs. As a result, just when a surge in geologist retirements is about to take place, a critically low capacity exists among geology departments in universities to provide new geologists who will take the place of these retirees.
In the Acadia Geology Department, we have been examining what this means in terms of future enrolments, the prospects that our graduates can expect to see, and the role that we can play in educating future geologists for service in our society. Clearly, prospects for our present and future graduates should be rather rosy, and we are already seeing more recruiting and employment opportunities available to our graduating students, probably due to recent increases in petroleum and metals prices. We can expect even higher levels of employment among geologists in the future and, given that demand will likely exceed supply, we should also see significantly higher salaries. When word gets out regarding the high paying jobs in geology, enrolments can be expected to increase significantly (but hopefully not to un-manageable levels). Clearly, both of these consequences can be expected to make for a strong Acadia Geology Department over the next decade, at least.
How successfully the Geology Department responds to these external factors will largely dictate to what extent we thrive over the next 10-20 years. Clearly, prudent and well thought out long-term planning will be essential, and the department is attempting to position itself to take maximum advantage of opportunities that present themselves over the next couple of years. Selecting the appropriate candidate to replace Barry Cameron is obviously foremost on our minds, but if our undergraduate enrolment numbers increase substantially, the Geology Department can be expected to push to add a teaching position.
For future graduate students, we are formulating a new avenue by which students can complete an M.Sc. in geology at Acadia, via a part-time, non-thesis program. If the geology job market is going to be as tight as we project, young geologists can be expected to rise rapidly through the geological ranks of their companies and organizations, and this will reduce their motivation to return to graduate school. As a result, although we expect an increase in undergraduate enrolment, we also foresee a potential reduction in graduate enrolment in the long term. Too small a graduate student population is not viewed by the department as a healthy development, as retention of professors who cannot attract graduate students will be difficult. Additionally, without graduate students, the department will lose an important set of contributors to the geological community on campus, and will lose the mentoring and teaching assistance that the graduate students tangibly and intangibly provide to the undergraduates just by being around the department.
The proposed part-time, non-thesis M.Sc. program is designed to allow industry geologists to upgrade their education by attending classes in intense compartmentalized short courses each spring without undertaking long-term absences from their employment. This mechanism will allow them to complete their M.Sc. program in less than two and a half years, and we expect such an option to be attractive to industry geologists in the near future. This program will initially be oriented in the field of Exploration Geochemistry (my specialty), but has the potential to expand into other applied fields of applied geology (petroleum exploration, environmental geology), as appropriate and required. This new M.Sc. program proposal is presently making its way through the approval process via the various academic committees at Acadia, and if implemented, will likely be launched in the spring of 2007, after I have returned from my sabbatical in Perth, Australia with the CSIRO.
Clearly, the Geology Department is making efforts to ensure its vitality and relevance into the foreseeable future. We hope to be able to continue our relationship with you, our alumni, and I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that if you are looking for a new employee for your organization in the future, please remember to look to your alma mater as a potential personnel resource. We believe that our undergraduate and graduate geology programs are among the best, and we are constantly tweaking these programs to improve the educational experience of our students. Please ensure that we have your up-to-date contact information so we can inform you of our news and the new initiatives that the Acadia Geology Department is undertaking to contribute to our university, our discipline, and our society.