Edition 5 - Meet Dr Ron Hackney

Ron works for Geoscience Australia in our Basin Resources Group.

What's your job title?
I'm a geophysicist, which means that I use data that reflects the physical properties of the Earth (e.g. density, magnetisation, electrical conductivity, speed of sound waves) to infer geology beneath the surface.

Describe a typical day, week, month.
On a daily basis, I'd come to work, check emails for requests for help or advice, send a few emails seeking help and advice, deal with admin, and work with the geophysical data that forms the basis of my science (with many interruptions from all the other things of course!). I regularly talk with colleagues about what's been, what's happening and what's coming. I read papers and reports that help to build my knowledge and to further my own endeavours. Over the weeks and months I'd process geophysical data into a form in which the relationships with geology become clearer. These data would then be integrated with the work of others and I'd contribute to that integration. This would also involve spending time explaining concepts to colleagues that they are not so familiar with (an immensely satisfying aspect of my work). Writing up reports and publications that describe my results and interpretations is also important. From time to time I'll head off somewhere else to present these results and to receive feedback from peers from around the country or the world.

What sort of dress code do you have to follow in your profession?
Currently I turn up to the office smart casual. In the field it'd be appropriate gear to keep me safe and well.

Who were your heroes when you were young?
At school and when younger, I think I mostly looked up to many in my family. There was plenty of encouragement, support and advice from all of them. I did particularly enjoy the relationship with my German grandmother - she survived some amazing things in her life and her company was fascinating. At university I really admired my lecturers who knew so much. I still clearly remember the day when I finally realised I didn't know as much as them because I hadn't been around as long as them!

Measuring variations in the Earth's gravity field in the Hamersley
Range (Western Australia) to constrain the crustal structure
associated with iron ore deposits.

Training for crevasse extraction prior to geophysical field work
on the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica.

When did you know you wanted to work in this profession?
Possibly in Year 9 when I did an assignment on Mount St Helens. Something was probably planted subconsciously whilst putting together my display poster based on a National Geographic article on the spectacular eruption in 1980. The turning point came in 1st year university when I dropped a computer programming course that I hated and somewhat arbitrarily chose a geology course. Ironically, the programming skills have proven useful during my career, but geology was captivating and all around me. Doing geology also meant I could keep up maths and physics, but not to an advanced level (which I was never really capable of). The geology path was cemented in second year when I saw a talk from an MSc student who'd just come back from mapping geology in Antarctica. I set myself the goal of getting there too (and I made it there a few years later!).

Give us some advice for people who want to follow your path, and add three things never to do in this business.
My main advice is that everything is easier if you are doing something you love. Goals help too. My career path has often been governed by where I wanted to be or go (Antarctica, Germany, back to my roots in Canberra) rather than what I wanted to do. There are so many interesting applications of geology, there is something to do in whatever place you want to be.

Three things never to do in this business?

  1. Never keep your ideas to yourself
  2. Don't be deterred if it's not how you thought it was (just when you thought you had the answer, something else comes along to send you back to the start)
  3. Never do everything on a computer - get out and look around!

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, with whom would it be?
I'd swap with an astronaut on the International Space Station so I could enjoy the brilliant view of the Earth. Failing that, maybe I'd swap with an international airline pilot - their view is also pretty good. Or maybe I'd just swap with my kids and build Lego and muck around for a week...

If you only had six months to live, what would you do with the time?
If I hadn't managed it yet, I'd be off to see a volcano in action. Preferably one of the explosive ones that sends ash many kilometres into the atmosphere, not the gentle ones like in Hawaii. If I had 6 months to live I'd have nothing to lose by getting up close!