Accretionary Wedge 61 – What do I do?

Mika, over at GeoMika is asking what everyone does on a day to day basis. So, since this might be useful for other people, here goes.

I work for a small geotechnical engineering company. My background is normal, academic, geology (plus computer science, but that is another story), so I have not really studied for my job. Much of the fieldwork is similar, although there is a far greater focus on “soft” geology, and soils.

On a day to day basis, I could be doing one of three things, essentially.

  • Fieldwork
  • Reporting
  • Proposals and general admin

Just as an aside, since most of the readers of this post are likely to be non-South Africans, I have no idea how general my experiences are. I think that a bigger company would be much more compartmentalised, whereas everyone where I work does a little of everything.


This is a major part of my job. Usually at least two or three days in every two weeks will be spent out of the office. The places we cover vary, from the middle of town looking at an existing shopping centre to a couple hours off the last tar road in the bundus. Usually we try to do our fieldwork with a mechanical excavator, simply because to try and dig to 3 meters manually is impractical if you want to do 6 holes a day. The holes get logged on standard forms, samples are taken according to the schedule, some other, in-situ tests are performed, the holes get covered and we go home.

The number of trial holes and samples and such depend on the size of the job, obviously the bigger the job, the more we do. In some cases, it may depend on the phase of the job, so if only a general assessment of the suitability of a site for a given type of development is needed, we will do fewer trial holes than if something in-depth is required.

Fieldwork is generally enjoyable, but there are some downsides: it is generally quite stressful for me, because you only have a limited amount of time to get (usually) quite a lot done. So management of that time is critical. There can also be issues related to people living in an area being unhappy because we rocked up with a TLB and are now digging up what they consider their front lawn. Another major concern, especially in rural areas, is that you often have no idea what is buried, in terms of existing water-lines and such things. Hitting a water pipe can seriously ruin a good field day.


Probably the most time-consuming part of the job is writing the reports and capturing the field data. These need to be put together in such a way that the client gets an understanding of the site and the conditions underlying it. The company prides itself on providing really good reports, so we spend quite a bit of time writing and rewriting these. Most of our software is standard office/desktop publishing type stuff, but we do have some stuff to help with generating trial hole logs and to do some numerical analyses if it is needed.

There is not really too much to say about this, since it is largely standard.

Other Admin

This is just the general stuff to make sure that we can do everything else. Attending meetings, writing proposals, fetching posts, e-mails and the usual.

An important part of this aspect is planning. We usually try ensure that we have as much information as possible, in the form of architectural drawings, aerial imagery, directions and so on, because it just makes everything else flow so much more smoothly.


Any further questions?

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