(from Stephen A. Sonnenberg)
Almost all geologists think of themselves as scientists. Unfortunately, far fewer seem to think of themselves also as professionals; this thinking constitutes an unrecognized career handicap.
Geology is both a science and a profession. A science pertains to accumulated systematized knowledge. A profession pertains to a special occupation often for monetary gain. Petroleum geology, for example, is an occupation that requires specialized knowledge and academic preparation.
What is Professionalism?
The dictionary defines professionalism as the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a professional person. A professional person is one who is engaged in a learned profession and who has an assured competence in a given field or occupation. A professional develops an attitude that brings about a dedication of time and effort to acquire knowledge, and to apply it for the benefit of mankind.
Professionalism and Ethics
Professionalism also is linked to ethics. Ethics is the discipline of dealing with what is right and wrong. “In a general sense ethics is the name we give to our concern for good behavior.” Ethical behavior is motivated by adherence to high moral principles (based on personal philosophy and ideals): desire for a good reputation; enhancement of productivity; fear of sanction demands of society (environmental regulations and protection of investors); and requirements of professional affiliations.
Maintaining and Expanding Your Expertise
Other important qualities of a professional include knowledge and competence. Formal education gives an individual a certain amount of knowledge that leads to professional competence. Work experience supplies additional knowledge and competence. The half-life of one’s scientific knowledge has been estimated as being 8 years in other words, half of what you know today will not be correct, useful, or remembered after 8 years.
The answers to the problems keep changing, which means that the professional must be committed to expanding and improving his or her knowledge. Maintaining professional and technical competence, however, requires continuing education, which can take many forms.
The changes that have taken place in our profession during the last 10 years are remarkable. Part of being a professional geologist implies that the individual stays current with the latest ideas. Such is the state of progression in geological science, that the geologist who stands still for but a very little must be content to find himself left behind. The following guidelines for becoming a professional are modified from those offered by Gibbs:
– Know what you know; always keep learning.
– Know what you don’t know; don’t bluff or proffer opinions on matters about which you’re not informed.
– Acquire a broad overview of geological knowledge, not only as a science, but also as a business and a profession.
– Comply with the highest standards of ethical behavior.
– Communicate. We all need to help educate the media and to pass on our knowledge and enthusiasm to students and the public.
– Professional practice is an ongoing, active undertaking.
– Professionalism is not a product, it is a process of becoming.
– Professionalism is an attitude; it is a frame of mind.