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Early Career Geoscientist Support to Attend AESC 2014

AIG’s New South Wales Branch is offering to support early career geoscientists to attend the Australian Earth Science Convention (AESC 2014) to be held in Newcastle NSW in July this year.

The AESC will be the largest gathering of geoscientists in Australia in 2014 and offers a very wide range of scientific themes as well as exciting Plenary speakers, a stimulating   Public Forum on the Monday evening and two major symposia (visit the AESC 2014 website:  http://aesc2014.gsa.org.au for more information about the convention).

To be eligible for assistance you need to be an early career geoscientist, a member of AIG, and resident in New South Wales.  Preference for support will be given to younger members who are currently unemployed or who are unable to obtain funds from their current employer. Support is expected to cover the registration fee and a portion of attendance costs, with remaining expenses to be met by the member. Actual benefits will be determined after applications close.  Interested members should download the eligibility criteria and the application form and at http://www.aig.org.au/education-training/nsw-aig-support-fund/.  The closing date for applications is 31 May 2014.

Only a limited number of members can be supported and assistance will be granted based on the merit of the applications.

8 April 2014

Book Review: Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics

Book Review
Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics, Fifth Edition

Gordon C. Andrews
Publisher Nelson Education Limited, Scarborough Ontario, Canada
ISBN 13: 978-0-17-650990-3
ISBN 10:0-17-650990-9

I was somewhat surprised and pleased to be asked to review Gordon C. Andrews’s book “Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics” last November. It’s a book, sight unseen, I would not have considered to have been relevant to Australian geoscience, where is no requirement for professional licensure of geoscientists. Reading the book over the Christmas – New Year break, however, proved just how wrong pre-conceptions can be.

The fifth edition of this book is a valuable reference for engineering and geoscience professionals globally. The latest edition, just released, refreshes a reference book that was first published in 2009 and has been a widely used reference by Canadian engineering and geoscience professionals in the decade since then.

“Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics” is written as a comprehensive reference that provides a sound and well-presented reference on the structure, practice and ethics of the engineering and geoscience professions. Although written specifically for a Canadian audience, the subject matter is just as relevant to engineering and geoscience professionals in other countries. Ethics is a topic that spans borders and ethical principles and conduct are central to professional practice in any discipline.

In Canada, the book is the recommended text for candidates preparing for the Professional Practice Examination (PPE) that must be successfully completed to obtain a licence to practice in most Canadian provinces and territories. Currently, professional engineers must be licenced in all Canadian provinces and territories while geoscientists must be licenced throughout Canada, apart from Yukon and Prince Edward Island.
The author, Gordon C. Andrews, is professor emeritus of the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Dr Andrews is a licenced professional engineer (PEng) in Ontario and works as a teacher, researcher and advisor to industry. Dr Andrews is also a former member of the Academic Requirements Committee of Professional Engineers Ontario. The book benefits considerably from practical insight gained by Dr Andrews in these roles.

Engineering and geoscience practice in Canada is regulated by provincial and territory boards. The requirement for formal licencing of geoscientists has only existed in Canada in relatively recent times. Provincial regulation of engineering as a profession commenced in the 1920s, but regulation of geoscience was introduced in Alberta in 1955 and has extended to all regions of Canada except Yukon and Prince Edward Island. Efforts to place engineering on the same professional footing as law and medicine in Canada commenced in 1887 with the first general meeting of the Canadian Society of Professional Engineers. Recognition of geoscience as a profession commenced with the establishment of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1842, and with the explicit definition of geosciences in the Engineering Act of Alberta in 1955, and the introduction of separate designations for geologists (P.Geol.) and geophysicists (P.Geophys.) in 1960 and 1966. Two important events, however, catalysed the professional licencing process: 

  1. the collapse of the Quebec Bridge over the St Lawrence River in 1907 followed by a second collapse in 1916 with together resulted in 88 fatalities; and,
  2. the Bre-X fraud of 1997, which is estimated to have resulted in losses by investors exceeding $6 billion.

Provincial and territory governments regulate engineering and geoscience through an “Act” that establishes engineering and geoscience as professions and, in turn, creates an Association of Professional Engineers and/or Geoscientists which are the licencing bodies that set standards of professional practice, set the qualifications required for admission to the professions and discipline members who fail to meet these standards.

The Associations also prevent the misuse of professional titles and prosecute illegal practice by unqualified individuals. Two not for profit organizations, Engineers Canada and Geoscientists Canada, assist the Associations by coordinating licencing policies and procedures across Canada. There are currently around 9,600 professionally licenced geoscientists, estimated to represent about 85% of geoscientists in Canada, a country of over 35.0 million people, in comparison to an estimated 8,000 geoscientists (estimated from Census data) amongst Australia’s 23.3 million inhabitants, suggesting that the geoscience sectors in simple terms have some similarities in respect of their significance to the local communities and economies of these countries.

The book is divided into five sections:

  1. Professional licencing and regulation, which describes the licencing processes and requirements throughout Canada;
  2. Professional practice, which delves into concepts of professional practice; the need for engineers and geoscientists to work as part of multidisciplinary teams; the business of professional practice including a discussion of the roles of consultants; liability, standards and safety; liabilities and ethics problems associated with the use of computers; and fairness and equity in the professional workplace;
  3. Professional Ethics: an examination of the principles of ethics and justice; ethics concepts in employment, including conflicts of interest, union activities and dishonesty in employment;
  4. Environmental practice and ethics, which looks at the duty of engineering and geoscience professionals to protect the environment, the professional duty to report unethical behaviour, and the importance of sustainable development; and,
  5. Obtaining and maintaining professional status: most relevant to Canadian engineers and geoscientists but relevant to anyone interested in the importance of continued professional development, and how to maximise the benefits of professional and technical society membership.

The discussion of concepts in each section of the book is enhanced through extensive reference to well selected and described case histories that examine actual events, many of them recent. The case histories graphically illustrate the consequences of unethical practice or pose realistic ethical problems and ask readers to consider appropriate courses of action and solutions. The book sets a number of assignments that are most relevant to PPE candidates but are highly thought provoking for other readers.

The book’s content is further enhanced by a web site containing useful supporting information including additional case studies, assignments and references to Canadian legislation and the Codes of Ethics of many technical societies.

The book is much more than a guide to assist readers to successfully complete the Canadian PPE. Dr Andrews has assembled a wealth of thought provoking background material that adds depth to the discussion of professional ethics and the practical application of ethical principles. Of particular interest were the definitions of engineering and geoscience embodied in laws governing licencing and professional practice and discussion of the ethical obligations of professionals. Geoscience is defined as “a science (largely observational) that uses the scientific method to investigate, map, model and predict the behaviour of Earth’s natural systems (in the past, present, and into the future), the actual behaviour of which the geoscientist absolutely cannot control”, attributed to Oliver Bonham, CEO of Geoscientists Canada, 2013. Dr Andrews uses the Webster’s dictionary definition of a profession to help set the scope of his discussion of ethical standards and practices: “A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive preparation including instruction in skills and methods as well as in the scientific, historical or scholarly principles underlying such skills and methods, maintaining by force of organisation or concerned opinion high standards of achievement and conduct, and committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work which has for its prime purpose the rendering of a public service”. The relevance of the definitions of geoscience and engineering are constantly reinforced and referred to in the case studies and exercises presented throughout the book.

Licencing of engineers and geoscientists in Canada requires at least four years of formal education and three to four years of relevant work experience before they can practice, which Dr Andrews points out, equals the preparation required in medicine or law. The Canadian requirement is also comparable with the requirements of professional institute membership (AIG or AusIMM) in Australia. The requirements for licencing in Canada are summarised as: education; experience; knowledge of local practices; language; good character, and knowledge of professional practice and ethics. These fundamental requirements are just as applicable outside Canada.

Dr Andrews makes a number of significant and topical observations regarding the use of computer software for data management and analysis by both engineers and geoscientists and professional obligations pertaining to the reliability of decisions and recommendations stemming from software use. This is a very relevant topic affecting professional practice that arguably receives little attention. The critical importance of communication to engineering and geoscience professionals is also a recurring theme in the book, where it is seen as pivotal to career success and demonstration of technical ability. This is accompanied by an extensive discussion of the features and requirements of working as a professional, either as an employee or a self-employed professional, and the added requirements attached to working as a consultant.
The requirements of the professional workplace and working environment are also given considerable attention, with Dr Andrews making a very valid point, that all engineering and geoscience professionals ultimately form part of a team which links back to the importance of professional communication mentioned previously.

The role of professional societies receives attention in the fifth section of the book where Dr Andrews makes a case for active involvement in society activities in order to maximise the benefits and relevance of membership, many of which stem from engagement and exchange of information and ideas with peers.

The book also addresses the ethics of several current issues, amongst them climate change, where the issues are discussed in terms of professional responsibilities to the community at large and the professional standards required of interactions with peers involving these issues.

“Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics” is a thoroughly interesting and engaging book that deserves a place on any geoscience professionals’ bookshelf. The book raises the profile of the need for high standards of ethical practice in all professions in a very practical and effective manner.

Andrew Waltho 
30 January 2014

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