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Geology/School Project


QUESTION: Mr. Norris,

I am a high school student doing a project in which I need to ask a professional about their career and how much math was integrated into their study. If you have time, I have some questions for you I would like to ask asap.


ANSWER: I had quite a bit of math in college; probably more that I needed for a degree in Geology because I was an engineering major before taking a geology course.  I had algebra (two semester), calculus (two semesters), statistics, and differential equations.  

Much more important than what math I had in college is how much math did I use as a working geologist.  I used a significant amount of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics.  The geometry and trigonometry I did not have in college but in High School.  In the later years of my career I did mineral appraisals and therefore needed more financial formulas.

Good math skills are not just used in science and/or engineering but are really more about every day problem solving.  Someone with good math skills can fit into almost any job (maybe except sales) and excel.    

Let me know if you need more information, my phone number is (304) 586-0973   

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your quick response!! If you wouldn't mind answering these twenty questions for me, it would be deeply appreciated. Some of these you have already responded to.

1. What sorts of math classes were required for you to take in college?
2. How many years of schooling were required for your degree?
3. What kinds of math do you use?
4. How often do you use math on a day-to-day basis?
5. How much of your degree is based on mathematics?
6. Was math one of your strong suits through school? Did it have to become one of your strong suits?
7. How difficult was it for you to obtain your degree?
8. How difficult was it for you to secure a job after graduating?
9. In your particular field, is your job in high demand?
10. How often do you use problem solving in your field?
11. If a high school student had particular interest in going into this field, what would you recommend for them to do in order to prepare for it?
12. What was the application process like at your college/university when applying for this degree?
13. Describe your usual day on-the-job.
14. Which is one time that you can recall that you messed up on your calculations? How much of a difference did it make to the problem?
15. Have you ever thought about going into a different math-based career? Why or why not?
16. How long had you known that you wanted to go into your field before you went to college?
17. Did you spend time in other fields before choosing your current one? If so, why did you change?
18. What was the last math class you took in high school?
19. Did you have an internship at all through college? If so, what was that experience like and how has that helped you?
20. Why should students be interested in your field?

Again, thank you for your time.


1. Most schools require two semesters of algebra, two semesters of calculus and statistics.

2. My BS degree required 128 semester hours.  This assumes 16 semester hours per semester to graduate in four years.

3. I used a significant amount of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics.  The geometry and trigonometry I did not have in college but in High School.  In the later years of my career I did mineral appraisals and therefore needed more financial formulas.

4. As a geologist I used algebra almost every day.

5. I would suspect that 1/4 - 1/3.

6. No, math was not one of my strong suits but science was and in order to work in science it requires a lot of math; so I learned what I needed to do the science.

7. It took me 12 years but I had several major changes and ended up with 180 semesters because of this but I also got married, had a child, and spent two years in the military (Vietnam) during this 12 years.

8. I worked on weekends and summers as a geologist for two years before getting my degree and then continued on with that same company after I graduated.

9. No, geology is not always in high demand.  It depends on the world economy but it is very very interesting.  I never really understood geology until I had worked in the field for at least five years.

10. Continuously, that is what geology is.

11. That certainly depends on the field but for sciences and engineering math is always good.

12. I first applied for acceptance into a college in the mid 1960's.  Things are significantly different today then they were then.  Basically all that I had to do was have a High School degree and take the ACT test and score reasonably well.

13. There were not usual days.  I started out working as a consultant core drilling and field mapping mostly in the eastern US in coal.  I opened an office for this consulting company in Golden, CO about five years after I started working.  I realized, very quickly that my eastern sediment education was not good enough to compete in the Western US, as a consultant, so I went back to college at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.  After I completed my MS degree I went to work in Arizona for a uranium mining company where I identified deposits, drilled them and tried to understand the geology of uranium (which in my opinion is the most difficult geology in the world).  When uranium fell out of favor in the US I moved on to run a gold mine in Durango, Colorado.  When gold prices got so low that we had to shut down the mine I came back to the eastern US and worked as a mineral economist and expert wittiness in trails which I did for the last 20 - 25 years of my career.  Recently I counted the states that I have worked in.  I have done geology in 46 states.  The states that I have not done geology in are: Hawaii, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maine. I have also done geology in at least 20 countries.

14. I'm sure that there are times that I messed up a calculation but I don't recall any but a messed up calculation would make a tremendous difference.  I did however miss seeing an analysis one time because it was on a core log rather than on a separate form. The company was sued and ended up paying about $250,00 for the mistake.  

15. No, because there is nothing that I would like as much as geology.  You get to spend at least 1/2 of your working time outside looking at rocks and traveling all over the world.  I had an attorney at my office once and he went into my library (where most of my college books were along with numerous geology and mining books).  He asked did you take all of these courses; mostly math and science, to which I said yes.  He said you could have gone to medical school.  I had never thought about that because I had been interested in geology since I was first introduced to it but he was right.

16. I didn't that is why it took me so long to get a degree.  If I would have know that I wanted to be a geologist when I was in High School; I could have got a degree in half the time.

17. I served a four year apprenticeship as a brick mason; although I was going to college during these four years at nights.  Brick masonry has served me well; no one wants to be a brick mason it is very hard work and requires being outside 95 percent of the time but it pays well and has got me through many rough times financially.  

18. calculus

19. I suppose working on week ends and during the summer months for a consultant was an internship and it was overwhelmingly helpful.

20. Because it is so very interesting.  I still love geology after working over 40 years as a geologist and it pays good, lots of travel, meeting interesting people and seeing interesting rocks and things.  Geology is everywhere, you go, so if you understand geology (and believe me understanding geology takes a while) you will have fun where ever you are and whether being paid or not. And that is also why I like being an expert on all experts because I still enjoy geology and sometimes researching questions and promoting geology to young people like yourself. Best of luck on you project.  Let me know if you ever need any more advice about geology.


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Joe Norris


I am an economic geologist. An economic geologist does mineral evaluations and appraisals of mineral or mining properties. I can tell you if your deposit has value - remember that a mineral deposit, no matter how good, only has value when mined. Any value assigned to a mineral deposit, in the ground, is only the speculative value that deposit.


I have been a economic geologist for most of my 35 year career. Although I have done work in perhaps 45 states and numerious countries much of my work has been in Appalachian coal, intermountain west gold and silver, and Arizona uranium.

Past President of the Virginia Section of the American Institute of Professional Geologists and a certified geologist in twelve states.

BS Degree from Eastern Kentucky University. Work on MS Degree @ Eastern Kentucky University, Colorad School of Mines & Marshall University Numerious short courses on the value of mineral deposits and how to value same. Also several short courses dealing with the different types of geologic processes; sedimentary, igneous, metamorphic along with the mineral associated with each.

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