EurGeol of the month: Pertti Sarala

“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 Pertti Sarala, member of the Finnish Union of Environmental Professionals (YKL)He is currently working as a Research Professor of geochemical exploration in the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and Oulu Mining School (OMS) of the University of Oulu and obtained the EurGeol title in 2011.

Name: Pertti Sarala
EurGeol title number: 960
Country: Finland
In which country do you currently work? – Finland
In which field of geology do you work? – Education, Minerals, Sedimentology, Soil, Geochemistry, mineral exploration, glacial morphology and processes, Quaternary chronology

What inspired you to become a geologist? – 
I’ve been interested in nature and rocks from a little boy. At school, I liked very much geography. Geography and geology were the main issues I wanted to study at university and I was lucky with geology when applying the study place.

How many fellow students did you have? How many of them were women? – Our group was quite large at the time I was studying in the University of Oulu at the beginning of the 1990s. There were 24 fellows, of which about 15 graduated in geology.

There are fewer women working in geology than men. What would you say to girls who might be interested in a career in geology? – Several decades ago working as a geologist would be quite physical and masculine, and for that reason maybe favourable for men. However, nowadays geological things and tasks are covering a very wide area of needs coming from developed community and at the same time computers, machines etc. have become an essential part of the working instruments giving equal possibilities for both women and men to work as a geologist. Furthermore, there are many tasks relating to environmental research, natural monitoring and sustainable use of nature which seem to provide many interesting job opportunities for women, of course not forgetting basic geological research like geological mapping, hydrogeology, mineral and other raw material exploration, peat geology etc.

Which field of geology did you study in particular? – I studied surficial geology, i.e. Quaternary and glacial geology, in the University of Oulu in 1990s.

In which sector(s) did/do you work? –  My expertise in geology is relating to Quaternary and glacial geology, glacial deposits and processes, geochemistry, and their use in mineral exploration. In Finland, almost 97% of the land area is covered by the glacigenic sediments and that’s why it is essential to understand glacial processes in the erosion, transportation and deposition of different landforms. Geological and geochemical mapping, data collection and research produce surficial geological data which are useful in activities of all kind of society.

What do you currently do in your job? Could you describe an average day? – At the moment, I’m working as Research Professor of geochemical exploration in the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and Oulu Mining School (OMS) of the University of Oulu. It’s a five-years appointment. It includes surficial and geochemical research and I will lecture and provide field guidance on my areas of expertise and participate in student supervision. As Research Professor, I will also have a central role in applying funding for the research/development projects and working as a leader and expert in research projects jointly funded by GTK and OMS.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to describe an average day, because the working days differ so much from each other. When doing scientific work, it needs field work for sample and data collection, sample processing, analysis, data processing and reporting as well as scientific writing and presentations in geological conferences. When doing project applications, a lot of paper works, meetings, contacts to potential partners or sponsors, and consulting with financiers. When doing project leading, it includes regular meetings with the project team, steering committee and financiers, contact partners and interest groups during the project, practical research, data processing, analysis, reporting and presentations, and finally advertising the results. When doing teaching, it includes both lecture preparation and lecturing as well as student project planning and supervision.

What’s your favourite part of your job? –  I have had an opportunity to work in many types of projects and tasks with plenty of people, which makes “normal” work very variable, challenging and rewarding. Furthermore, my job has included/includes a lot of development components, which increase its interest and importance.

Why should young people consider a career in geosciences? – Geosciences are the basic part/key issue of our understanding about the nature and processes behind wide things that influence our every-day life. Geoscientists are also researching things that without them, our modern society, industry and economy could not work. For example, without the knowledge of raw materials of different types and exploration of their sources, it is practically impossible to maintain modern lifestyle and production.

What kind of personal qualities do you need as a geoscientist? – Good social and team working skills, leadership, skills to learn new things quickly, open-mindedness, perseverance as geological research typically includes many phases and requires a long project from the beginning to final reporting.

Could you explain when and why you applied for the European Geologist title? –  I applied to the EurGeol title in 2011. The title will give a certificate of experience of practical skills in geology that would be helpful in applying projects and getting funding to them. In addition, it would increase the reliability of the reported results from the projects and the scientific research in general.

Did you already work abroad? If yes, could you tell us about your experiences abroad? – I have some experience of working abroad, mainly in Russia with some projects relating to mineral exploration. However, those working periods have been very short and only more or less advisor type. Instead, I have several years’ experience participating in scientific work as a member of journals’ editorial boards, editor and associate editor, reviewer and the member of international societies (like INQUA Peribaltic Working Group and the Association of Applied Geochemists).

What does the European Federation of Geologists represent for you and what do you expect from our association? – It is an association that gives reliability to geological research, data analysis and reporting. The EurGeol title also encourages to use and develop good practices in research. Of course, it is also connecting geologists in Europe.

Would you advise fellow geologists to become a member of a professional association? – Yes, it is not only connecting the geologists in Europe but also encourages individuals to maintain their skills to keep their practical knowledge.

To know you a little better: what do you like to do in your spare time? – My main hobbies are relating to music. I have played the drums more than 30 years since the 1980s; at first in rock bands and last 20 years in dance bands. Furthermore, I am also a luthier. I have built electric and classic acoustic guitars since 2008, and recently also acoustic drum sets.

More information on the EurGeol title: