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"My heart and all my thoughts were connected with exploration and evaluation of deposits."

Tamara Golovina, Head of Exploration Technology at Polymetal’s Geological Directorate, is an inspiring example of a woman who balances work, study, and parenting throughout her career. In an interview with WIM Russia, she talks about futuristic exploration technologies, the benefits of graduate school, and sources of self-confidence.

– Why did you choose the Mining Institute and the specialty “mineralogy, geochemistry, petrography” out of all the opportunities provided by such a big city as St. Petersburg?

– I have not always lived in St. Petersburg. I spent my childhood in the city of Kirovsk, Murmansk region. This is a mining town, surrounded by mountains, with a city-forming enterprise for the development of apatite-nepheline ores. My mom is a teacher, and my dad is a miner, and my grandfather was a miner, so part of my choice was predetermined.

On the other hand, I finished school in 1995, it was a difficult time for the whole country, and in fact there were not many opportunities. It was possible to take exams for the Mining Institute directly in Kirovsk, there was a branch there, and we were actively campaigned to apply. I had good results, I entered and went to St. Petersburg to study.

I entered the department of mineralogy, geochemistry and petrography, I wanted to be an appraiser of precious stones, a gemologist – it sounded romantic. But in the process of studying, my interests changed somewhat, and I wrote my final thesis mostly on geochemistry.

After graduating from the institute, I had a choice – to remain in graduate school or go to work. I chose a job and went to Kostomuksha to work as a geologist at the Karelsky Okatysh iron ore enterprise.

– But I know that later you still defended your PhD thesis.

– At some point, I realized that I want to develop further professionally. Then I returned to St. Petersburg, entered graduate school – already at St. Petersburg University, but also the scientific supervisor, from whom I once studied at the Mining Institute – to the doctor of geological and mineralogical sciences Vladimir Vasilyevich Gavrilenko. You could say he inspired me to write my dissertation. Unfortunately, he is no longer alive, but he was an outstanding, versatile scientist, and I am really very grateful to him.

– Tell me, did your dissertation come in handy in your life?

– Quite often young professionals ask me why this is necessary. To be honest, my dissertation was not easy for me personally. I entered graduate school, and soon got married, I had a child, and I was finishing my dissertation with a small child in my arms. I had some kind of image in my head: the future candidate of science is sitting at a beautiful table with green cloth, under a lamp, and solemnly writing a dissertation. But in reality, it turned out to be a chaotic activity between cooking borscht and changing diapers – quite prosaic and at the same time a lot of work.

And yet, what the dissertation gave me and what I think it can give someone: this is a serious experience of a large completed project. The dissertation is about organizing yourself and your work, the ability to correctly collect, process, structure and present information. A PhD dissertation should not contain some great scientific discovery, but rather a qualifying work that shows the level of a specialist, his ability to complete the work and properly format and convey his ideas. And for me, the PhD became proof that I was capable of it, gave me confidence. A dissertation is a large individual project in which everything depends on you, a test, a challenge, as they say now. And I advise, if a person has ambitions and opportunities, and material, try to do it.

How did your managerial career develop?

– To be honest, after defending my dissertation, I had one desire – to take a break, relax and sleep. But it so happened that literally the next day after the defense I was invited for an interview – at the Arjayce company. At that time, it was a young and very innovative team that was engaged in consulting in the geological industry, one of the first to start making geological models in information systems. The interview was conducted by a person who was responsible for geology, and he checked my geological knowledge: he slipped pebbles, asked the names of minerals. And at the end, he says, “Okay, you’re a good fit for the role of project manager.” For me it was a complete surprise! I used to work as a geologist, doing my dissertation, and from that moment, let’s say, my managerial career began.

I worked at Arjaysi for quite a long time, about eight years, I invested a lot of my personal time and work, for me it was a kind of brainchild, the company grew before my eyes and with my participation. Working at Arjasi gave me the opportunity to gradually study the entire cycle of work with the field – from exploration design to geological and economic assessment. At some point, the general director, Mikhail Fyodorovich Kornilov, to whom I am undoubtedly very grateful, suggested that I get an education in the field of management, complete an MBA. It was also very difficult for me, because at that time I already had a second child, a small one, he was literally a year old. Combining work and study, and two children was, of course, not easy. But it gave me a lot. On the one hand, I was convinced that as a manager I was doing everything right, although before the MBA I was guided more, as they say, by worldly logic and common sense than by management science. On the other hand, I learned a lot of new things that we were able to apply in the company.

A big discovery for me was the preparation in terms of economics, corporate governance. Before that, I had a kind of naive idea about the business that we work to make everyone feel good. After the training, my eyes seemed to be opened that business is about money, any business has an owner who has the right to manage the business as he sees fit. It sobered me up, I began to look at things differently and “grew up” in many ways. It is also important that during the training I talked with different people, many of whom were themselves business owners or managers of large companies. Being able to communicate with them on the same level gave me confidence. I am very glad that I had such an experience.

– How did you come to Polymetal?

“At some point, Arjayce began to lean more towards sales of exploration software, and my heart and all my thoughts were connected with exploration and evaluation of deposits. I realized that our interests with the company no longer coincided and went “to nowhere”, I was out of work for a month.

We worked with Polymetal in the same building, so I knew this company well. In St. Petersburg, this is probably the most desirable place of work for any geologist. But somehow I didn’t try to get into Polymetal myself, I wasn’t ready to start looking for a job right from the very “top”. Suddenly, I was invited by the representatives of Polymetal themselves, to the investment directorate. Naturally, I agreed, especially since for me it really was a dream job.

At that time, Polymetal opened a new direction – Armenia. My task as a regional geological manager was to support and develop all exploration projects in Armenia. This, of course, was very interesting: a fundamentally new direction, a country with its own characteristics – political, legal, and geological. And in 2018, when projects in Armenia were curtailed, I moved to the Geological Directorate of Polymetal and headed the Exploration Technology Department.

– Tell us, what does your department do? Judging by the name, it is not so much about exploration itself, but about technology.

– Polymetal is, first of all, a mining company, it extracts ore in mines, quarries and processes, receives gold and other metals. Geologists at Polymetal for quite a long time were engaged only in exploration and additional exploration of existing objects, flanks and areas that were, let’s say, in mind, for which there were some data, reports of predecessors. Now, due to the general situation with the replenishment of the mineral resource base in the country, we simply ran out of objects that can be immediately explored. And the scope of work for Polymetal geologists has greatly expanded, we have begun to engage in prospecting, the earliest stages of exploration. Accordingly, there was a need to master new technologies for geological exploration, primarily prospecting, which had not previously been used in the practice of Polymetal.

In general, I have several areas of work. The first is the geoinformation support of geological exploration – everything related to data flows, various data collection and accounting systems. We are currently working on a large project – the information system of the geological service, which will give geologists access to all the necessary information: these are maps, a huge amount of cartographic data, and reports, and databases, and field models. The second big direction is our joint projects with juniors, and the third one is new technologies. We are always in search, we look at what modern, relevant technologies appear in the world.

– Are there any technologies that you yourself seem close to science fiction?

– Of course, the possibilities of remote study of the subsoil are very impressive – with the help of satellites, multi-channel satellite imagery. There is such a method – hyperspectral images of the earth’s surface, by which it is possible to determine the distribution zones of certain types and types of minerals. Abroad, hyperspectral imaging from unmanned vehicles is also used on a larger scale. But in Russia we have not yet found partners for this type of work. Drones are generally used – for magnetic surveys, for photographing the area, for shooting the landscape – but so far they have not seen the use of hyperspectral cameras.

Portable analyzers that geologists can use in the field are gaining popularity. X-ray fluorescence analyzers show the presence of certain elements in rocks – this method is already familiar to Polymetal. And there are also devices that allow you to determine the presence of certain minerals in rocks – in terms of search tasks, this is more interesting than just the chemical composition. But this is a completely new technology, it is still difficult to introduce it in Russia, there are simply no specialists who know how to work with these devices and with the data they provide. In this regard, the leaders are the Magadan branch of Polymetal, where geologists already have such a device and use it in their work.

Even in geology, they begin to use mathematical methods – something that is associated with machine learning, artificial intelligence. We also have such a project, we are already starting to analyze the results, and we think this is also very effective and interesting, and we will develop it. Because, as I said, we digitize cartographic data in any case – and it remains to translate them into certain criteria, signs of one or another type of deposits. And then you can apply mathematical methods for processing large data sets to predict the possibility of discovering one or another type of deposits based on a set of features. This is an effective auxiliary method for working with large areas, for primary sorting.

– Could these technologies displace living geologists in the future?

– The fundamental foundations have not disappeared anywhere, moreover, all new methods require a very high qualification of a geologist in fundamental knowledge. Because instruments allow recording rather subtle characteristics of the geological environment, but their understanding and interpretation require very good geological knowledge. By themselves, the data does not say anything at all, not a single device has a sensor that will show whether there is a deposit or not.

– How often do you have to go on business trips? Which place touched your heart the most?

– Yes, before the quarantine, I often went on business trips, especially when there were projects in Armenia. Armenia, of course, is completely unique, original in many ways, it cannot but fall in love with itself. And nature, and special people, and traditions. But, to be honest, Magadan struck me to the core, because it reminded me one to one of my native Kirovsk – in architecture, in nature. When I arrived, there was a blizzard. Those who live in St. Petersburg hardly know what it is. I felt so at home in Magadan that I really remember this city.

– How old are your children, and how do you manage to combine work, business trips, household chores now?

– Now my daughter is already 16 years old, my son is 10 years old, and they no longer require as much attention as before. Although, as they say, little children are small troubles, and big children are big troubles. Every age has its own problems. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything! I am very critical of myself, and it seems to me that I could work better and pay more attention to my children and husband. But I think this problem is familiar to all working women. We have to look for a balance, a compromise, to accept the fact that it is impossible to embrace the immensity. This forced choice just forces you to prioritize and pay attention to the most important thing.

Interfax correspondent Olesya Elkova