Our world is more interconnected than ever before, thanks to Smart Phones, Laptops, TVs, Automobiles and Aircrafts. Lets not even imagine what will happen if the most basic components of these fascinating products, Metals & Alloys, do not exist any more? 

Thankfully, Shivani Sharma, our next pathbreaker and GeoPhysicist at Vedanta Corporation, and several other professionals like her work on locating minerals and ores that are transformed into the metals and components that we use everyday.

Shivani talks to  Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about fascinating aspects of GeoPhysics and some of the discoveries she was part of !

Shivani, tell us about your background?

I grew up in a middle class family in Saharanpur. My mother is a teacher. My love for books is in my genes. My father is a retired hostel attendant from IIT Roorkee. We are four siblings. My father had a dream that his children would study in India’s best Institute. He used to discuss this dream with us. During my school days I was good in mathematics. Me and my sister were studying in a school where girls and boys used to sit in separate classrooms and after school ended, my mother used to pick up us from school.

What did you study?

During school and graduation, Math and Physics were my favourite subjects. After graduation (BSc Maths/Physics/Chemistry) I started preparing for IIT. Luckily, I was through in the first attempt. After getting selected for the IIT Masters program (MTech), I chose Earth Science (or Applied GeoPhysics) so as to know about rocks and minerals and understand how they were all discovered and what role they play in this world.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My father took the decision to get us all a good education at any cost. Every teacher including my mother has been a mentor at every stage of my life.

My selection in IIT required a first class degree in my graduation. But i got marginal marks in the First Year. I realised that it was important to work hard to achieve a better position. So, I did it and succeeded. There is no replacement for hardwork.

Meeting so many students from different parts of the country in IIT was a big turning point, which made me think that it was not easy to leave parental house for study.

Tell us about your career path

I did summer internships and field trips, which were a mandatory part of curriculum. These experiences really helped me shape my thoughts about a career in Earth Sciences.

My first summer internship was at Wadia institute of Himalayan Geology in Seismology. Seismology is the study of earthquakes. That was the first time when I realized that this field is so fascinating. In seismology , we record the behaviour of earth in an event of a vibration, be it natural like earthquake or man made.  There is an instrument called seismometer which is a small drum shape and has a needle over it printing the pattern of vibrations. The record is called Seismograph.

Later, I undertook an internship in ONGC which is an Oil exploration company where i learned about seismic survey for deep earth study to explore Oil & Gas at a depth of >3 km. Seismic survey uses geophones as recorders placed on ground and the source is a dynamite placed somewhere few meters below ground and the geophone records the response of vibrations created by dynamite explosion. Trucks mounted with Vibroseis equipment are also used for thumping on ground with force to create these vibrations. This truck has a recording facility to look at the recorded data for immediate quality check. Though the survey areas are very remote, companies have good facilities on camp-site for comfortable stay and food.

In 2006, I started my career as a new graduate in Hindustan Zinc. Being the only woman in the mining and metals industry was unique. I was trained on the job as I was part of a highly energetic (all male) team working on exploration for Lead, Zinc, Copper, Iron in new areas (within Rajasthan) using different geophysical techniques. I worked on different exciting projects (also in a role as Safety Champion) for next five years and got my first promotion after which I was given the opportunity to lead some very challenging projects. I can proudly say that I am part of the team that discovered Kayad Mines for Hindustan Zinc. I believe that consistency and perseverance are the two major factors in my growth story. I am an ambassador for Women in Leadership in Vedanta where we are working to improve female representation at every level. When I think about barriers, I consider two areas, professional and personal.

I recall the element of grudge that existed in terms of hiring women in the mining and metals industry, with many approaching it as a requirement which they had to make work. Resilience as well as changing mindsets in the industry were key to overcoming this barrier.

From a personal perspective, I assumed that one had to be in certain circles to achieve something in their career. However, my thinking over the years has completely changed once I realized that it also had to do with ability, hard work and commitment. 

How did you get your first break?

A degree in Earth Sciences is crucial for getting a job in the mining or Oil & Gas industry and I had chance to get exposure of both the fields before coming into industry. I appeared in the interview and got selected. Before having the degree, I had the job in my hands.

What were the challenges? How did you address them? 

The biggest challenge was in understanding the work requirements and staying in rural areas for work. 

Managing the local people of the area was also a challenge as we were working in their area and they have to agree with the work we are providing them. So we need to show them how we are helping the country grow. 

Where do you work now? What do you do?

Currently I am working as Principal Geoscientist- Geophysics for Geophysical exploration at Vedanta Exploration India.

I work for a mining company Hindustan Zinc Ltd, a Vedanta group company which deals with exploitation of Lead, Zinc ,Silver, Copper and Iron metals. My job is to search for new ores in existing mining areas and in new unexplored or partially explored areas where some work has been done which are called Green fields. Being a geophysicist, I use geophysical instruments such as Magnetometers which measure the variation in magnetic property of the earth. This information is helpful in understanding the behaviour of rocks present in the area. We use Gravitymeter which measures the local variation in density property of earth. We use electrical equipments like transmitters and voltmeters to record the electrical property of earth. That helps us to understand the different conductive rocks present in the area. This, along with with the geochemical ( taking rock and soil to test at laboratory), geological information ( to understand different rock types present in the area) is integrated and interpreted to make decision son drilling ( not deeper than 1 km).

How does your work benefit the society? 

Vedanta Brand campaign “Desh Ki Jarooraton ke liye” is the right way to answer this question. Whatever we are exploring above Earth comes from within.

The import of all the metals is costing our country too much. Exploring the metals within India will benefit multifold for the growth of the country and to generate jobs for future generations. 

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

There are many to say but the most recent one is related to project execution in an area where community people were not allowing us to work in their Wheat fields. It is always tricky to handle situations like this one. We had to undertake multiple discussions with the local people to sort this issue and start working.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

This field is very fascinating yet challenging. Working in very remote areas is a very common condition and one has to be really passionate about work.

Companies like ONGC,OIL India, Cairn India ( producers of Oil & Gas) and GSI, MECL, COAL India (Mineral Exploration& Mining) are some of the very well known companies which are producers of Oil & Gas and in Mineral Exploration & Mining respectively. This industry gives a very rich experience if someone is willing to work with full conviction.

Future Plans?

Starting my own consultancy in future is a long-term plan. In the short term, I am planning to pursue a PhD in the same subject to share my exposure of the industry and as a Geoscientist with the next generation.

Mining industry is looking forward to having more and more male as well as female geoscientists. I hope through this step I will be able to make necessary improvements in the awareness about this industry in India.