Dr Jeannette McGill, who recently returned to the CSIR to head up the Novel Mining Methods competence area at the CSIR Centre for Mining Innovation (CMI).
Jeannette (with the red bandanna), looks at gold-bearing ore in Mali, West Africa, while consulting with small-scale mining communities.
Jeannette conducting field negotiations with small-scale mining comminities for a sampling project in Mali, West Africa.
After studying the last five years in the US, Dr Jeannette McGill returned to the CSIR to head up the Novel Mining Methods competence area at the CSIR Centre for Mining Innovation (CMI). She returned with her second Master’s degree in mineral economics, as well as a PhD in economic geology from the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), one of the best engineering universities in the world.
“Things have changed quite a bit since I left my post five years ago,” says Jeannette. She was research group leader of the environmental resource economics research group here at the CSIR. “For one, the CSIR CMI doesn’t form part of Natural Resources and the Environment unit any more. But there are a lot of challenges that lie ahead of me in my new post and I am looking forward to those.”
Jeannette sees one of her major challenges as giving guidance to the group of researchers that she will now be leading, driven by her newly-gained knowledge and years of experience in the industry. She particularly plans to instil and improve on the standards within the research area to the level that she had become accustomed to at CSM.
“I believe that CSIR Novel Mining Methods is positioned to be at the cutting-edge of science and development in the mining industry. It will be important to maintain links with all our current CSIR partners while forging new ones that can help us with staying on that cutting-edge. Through collaboration, we can help the mining industry to think outside the box,” she comments.
Jeannette explains that the South African mining industry is established, hence tends to lean towards the conservative, ‘tried-and-trusted’ ways. “It is important that we keep thinking of what lies ahead and be willing to leapfrog over some steps to get there, using new technologies and methods that will keep our industry competitive.”
Earning industry credibility
And she knows what she is talking about. She did, after all, spend several years in her overalls working shifts underground. She was the first woman on each of the mines she worked at and only the second woman in the country to have acquired an underground blasting licence. “Actually working side-by-side with miners whose families have been doing just that for many generations is the only way to gain credibility in the industry,” she says, commenting on the fact that many youngsters struggle to get into the industry by riding on the back of a degree or two alone. “Having done all that time underground laid the foundations for my career.”
She continues: “I didn’t really choose a career in this industry, it sort of chose me.” She explains that she nevertheless found that she had a knack for excelling in this hard environment. “I majored in geology and zoology and was given a scholarship in geology. As there are very few women in this industry, I got looked after quite well and was fortunate enough to have won the AngloGold Ashanti award for ‘Best annual contribution’ for my three-dimensional underground mine modelling. It was on the back of this achievement that I was approached to join the CSIR in 2002.”
Soon thereafter Jeannette completed what is known as the ‘MBA in mining’, a Master’s degree in Earth Science Practice and Management at the University of Pretoria. In 2005, she was sent by the CSIR to study further at the CSM.
Time for other pursuits
Before returning to South Africa, Jeannette took some time off to visit China and Russia. She deliberately went there to see how their commodity markets worked and so that she can merge practical examples with the world view taught at CSM.
While in the US, she became the Colorado state champion in squash and learned to snowboard. But she is glad to be back where the snow does not fall so that she can take up mountain biking again. It was this passion that saw her complete the Cape Epic cycle race in 2005, an endurance race that takes place over several days and that very few people can claim to have completed.
“Work wise, I’m also looking forward to learn from my team members and learning new technological disciplines,” she remarks. “In the past I have been involved in a great variety of projects. That is the best part of working at the CSIR. It is an environment that allows you to grow your own career. You can tackle the things that interest you and develop that into skills that can be used in real projects.”
She concludes: “I feel exceptionally humbled and privileged that the CSIR placed its trust in me. I was given the opportunity to study at a world-class facility and to come back and share that knowledge with my colleagues. I hope to provide them now with the leadership that they have asked for.”
News contributed by Petro Lowies CSIR Strategic Communications and Stakeholder Relations