EurGeol of the month: Olivier Féménias

“European Geologist of the month” is a section of EFG’s monthly newsletter GeoNews. Each month we ask one of the European Geologist title holders to tell us about his professional experiences and which role the title has played for his career. This month we talked to Olivier Féménias, member of the Belgo-Luxembourg association BLUG/UBLG.

Olivier Féménias obtained a master’s degree in geology at the University of La Rochelle (France) in 1999 and a joint Doctorate from the Free University of Brussels (ULB Belgium) and La Rochelle in 2003.  Subsequently he obtained an HDR (Research Manager Qualification) at the University of Nantes (France) in 2008.  He was nominated Assistant Professor at the Brussels University in 2006. His multi-disciplinary research approach was rewarded by the Belgium Royal Academy of Sciences and the Professional Geologist Association of Leuven (Belgium). During his tenure at the Brussels University Olivier Féménias developed contacts with the mining industry through research projects in different countries.  This finally led to his reconversion to exploration geology in Mali with IAMGOLD, a Canadian Toronto-based mining company. From 2009 to 2012, he was heading the $32.5 million Kalana exploration program (Southern Mali) up to its resources estimate. In 2012 he moved to Dakar (Senegal) to become during 1 year responsible of the “Geological Support, Database & Project Generation Group” for West Africa. In 2013, he came back on the Kalana project joining Avnel Gold Mining Ltd., owner of the project, as Vice President Geology. With this company he was involved in the release of a positive Preliminary Economic Assessment for a potential open pit mining operation in the first quarter of 2014. Subsequently, Olivier Féménias participated to complete four updates to the Mineral Resource, a drill program in 2015, and a Definitive Feasibility Study in March 2016.

Olivier Féménias

EurGeol title number: 1115
Country: UK/Belgium/France. I’m a French citizen; I’m also a Belgian geologist member of BLUG/UBLG (Belgisch-Luxemburgse Unie van Geologen Union Belgo-Luxembourgeoise des Géologues) living in Scotland.
In which country do you currently work? – UK
In which field of geology do you work? – Engineering geology/Minerals/Mineral Exploration/Mineral Exploitation/Mining/Gold

What inspired you to become a geologist? – Wanderlust! During teenage years, I wanted to become a sealer to explore the remote oceans, then a botanist to explore the rainforests. At the end of my high school cursus I understood that only few domains would allow me to really work outside and travel responding to my strong childish desire to explore the world.

How many fellow students did you have? – During my 10 years of scientific research and lecturing at the Brussels University, I did more than 3,000 hours of lecture/exercise at all level and various public. I was involved in the supervision or co-supervision of 1 post-doc, 7 doc, 5 MSc and 10 master1 thesis. My former students are now professional geologists in different countries, some of them teaching in Universities, others working in Private Companies.

There are fewer women working in geology than men. What would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in geology? – Time is changing and I see more and more girls in mining, from the field up to the executive level. As many scientific or field domains, girls gently appropriate these areas formerly considered for male. What to say? Go ahead, you are more than welcome.

Which field of geology did you study in particular? – As for academic research, the trans-disciplinarity is a strength for any economic geologist. Structural Geology, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Petrology, Mineralogy, Metallurgy and Resource Estimates among others are intimately linked. I actually have never really stopped being specialised in nothing (or everything!) and I do my best to maintain this situation.

In which sector(s) did/do you work? – Academic teaching & research / Gold Mining & Gold Exploration

What do you currently do in your job? Could you describe an average day? – As Vice President Geology of a mining and exploration company listed at the Toronto Stock Exchange, I’m involved on both Mine Geology and Exploration Geology. I’m responsible to support the mine geology, to define the exploration strategy, to drive the exploration work and to communicate the exploration results inside and outside the company. I have no real average day and I split my time between a technical work I do essentially at home in Scotland, a field work I do essentially in Mali and a communication work with various stakeholder I do essentially In Bamako, London, Paris and Toronto.

What’s your favourite part of your job? – No day looks like another, I really enjoy not knowing what will be my schedule in the next 6 months. New journeys, new people, new culture. It is a perpetual renewal.

Why should young people consider a career in geosciences? – Well, it is probably less dangerous than military and perhaps more epic than accounting, who knows? More seriously it is a rich scientific field combining the natural sciences and the so-called hard sciences. Geologists are involved in the mining sector from exploration in a remote bush to financial analysts for the London or Toronto Stock Exchanges. Mining sector employs so many Geoscientists from so many fields of expertise (Mine geology, Mineral Exploration, Geotechnics, Hydrology, Environment, Resources Geology…) that it becomes possible to build his own career according to its needs and goals.

What kind of personal qualities do you need as a geoscientist? – Most occupations require ubiquitous qualities however as a geoscientist is de facto directly confronted to the study of a natural object for which he will act as guarantor; Observation, Rigor and Integrity should certainly be part of an intrinsic quality package.

Could you explain when and why you applied for the European Geologist title? – In 2013, Avnel Gold Mining Ltd. offered me an Executive position (i.e. VP Geology) at the condition I accept to endorse the responsibility, as a QP (Qualified Person) for the geological results the company press-release for the Toronto Stock Exchange. This Qualified Person is required to be a well-respected professional who has sufficient experience relevant to the subject matter of the mineral project. To fully respect the Canadian National Instrument 43-101, I had to become member a professional association and, in the case of a foreign association, recognised by Canadian organisations. Moreover, this title gives confidence to my interlocutors who are almost all non-geologists.

Did you already work abroad? If yes, could you tell us about your experiences abroad? – I had many student jobs in France, I have worked for the BRGM (French Geological Survey) or for the Museum of Natural History at La Rochelle among others; however my real career kick-off took place in Belgium. I’m French and I have never been a professional geologist in France, I left France when I was 22 years old. During my academic years I had the opportunity to work in Romania, Serbia, Mali and Mauritania, then I moved to West Africa (working in Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso and South Africa) with several field trips in Canada or Brazil. Since 2013, I’ve been living in the United Kingdom and travel frequently to Mali, Canada, USA, Australia, South Africa and France. I think working abroad is intrinsic to any geologist profile active in the academic or mining sectors. Personally I do not like many human borders, knowledge is de facto universal and cultural meetings make the profession more exciting.

What does the European Federation of Geologists represent for you and what do you expect from our association? – Beyond the obvious necessity to have a worldwide recognised title for European professional geologists working oversea, my personal experience has shown me that we exercise a little known profession in Europe. The European Federation of Geologists is certainly a good prerequisite for making possible the cultural reconnecting between European citizens and our domain of expertise.
As a European citizen who lived and studied in France and Belgium, worked with Italian, Romanian, Serbian and Portuguese colleagues who now is living in the UK, I’m more than convinced that we have to develop our profession at the European level. I expect the EFG acting internally (harmonisation of professional certifications, titles…) and externally (National & European regulations…) to make our profession more visible and useful for the society.

Would you advise fellow geologists to become a member of a professional association? – Of course, being part of a professional association is in fine a necessity at a certain level in your career. Now the real question for many of us is which one? Next step should be to have an Association of Professional Geoscientists of Europe…

To know you a little better: What do you like to do in your spare time? – Even though I travel a lot for professional reasons, I like travelling with my family and discovering new cultures, new foods and new landscapes. During the winter I practice Curling in Scotland. I’m a Science Fiction novels and Bandes Dessinées (graphic novels) strong reader.

More information on EurGeol Title