Meet Ian Cutler: APT Geochemist

Today we would like to introduce Ian Cutler, a Geochemist located at our North Wales office. Ian has been with APT for 16 of his 35-year-long career, boasting extensive experience working worldwide on both single client and multiclient reports, including NW Europe, Barents Sea, Central Europe, North America, Gulf of Mexico, Middle East, Far East, and Africa.

What sparked your interest in geochemistry, and what are you most passionate about?

My passion started at school around 15, strangely! I was studying geology for O-level and was keen enough to do a fair amount of background reading. At the time, I had a great liking for chemistry and was considering that for a degree until I saw the word “geochemistry” in a book I read. Intrigued, I read further and didn’t consider anything other than an undergraduate geochemistry degree after that.

Tell us a bit about your role at APT and what you do day-to-day.

I’m a senior (well, oldest!) geochemist in the North Wales office, and in my day-to-day, I mainly work on conventional geochemistry projects. So liaising with clients and the labs, devising appropriate work programs, then compiling and interpreting the data generated. APTUK has always taken a bespoke approach to studies, so each is unique and tailored to answer the specific questions that the clients have.

Additionally, I program in VBA and use this to provide tools for generating tabular and graphical outputs for the other APTUK staff to use. I work (at a low level) to maintain these (there are always a few bugs of course!) and seek to improve the tools so they’re more flexible and faster to use.

What has been your most memorable experience during your 35-year career?

A single experience doesn’t stand out in my mind, but it still remains most satisfying when you complete a project, having worked on it from start to end, and receiving feedback that the work you’ve done has proved useful. If I had to narrow it down to one, it would probably be my first project management of a substantial multiclient. Something you work on and oversee for the best part of a year is hugely gratifying when it’s finally finished and well received!

Tell us about your work in data manipulation, database construction, and data loading and how it’s helped you in your role as a geochemist.

My early career was pretty much at the start of computerization, and I quickly realized that I have a knack for data manipulation programs. I was a really early adopter of Lotus 123 (the spreadsheet precursor to Excel) and took on the responsibility at RRI for compiling what were previously paper-only geochemical data and creating digital databases. This extended into a major multiclient where old data from multiple sources and laboratories had to be combined correctly, so all the often disparate data could be interrogated.

Some projects I can remember involved weeks of such work and occasionally months. They give you a genuine appreciation of how data varies and how it will only come together if you are totally focused and methodical. It also makes you look for ways to automate where you can, which led me to start looking at programming as a tool.

Is there any advice you would give students looking to build a career in geochemistry?

Off the top of my head:

  • Aim to increase your skill set over as wide a range of areas of geochemistry areas as you can and gain experience on as many software packages as you can access.
  • Learn to program, it will always be useful.
  • Always remain curious and open to learning, as you will never know everything.
  • Once you get a job, don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. We all started in the same position once (albeit a long time ago for me!).

What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

On a personal level, working (very slowly, unfortunately) to get a spare room reorganized as a record/CD/tape and book library/study. It’ll be nice to move away from the random and haphazard non-system I currently have.

Workwise, increasing my software knowledge base and introducing some new Excel VBA-based items I’ve been coding to further streamline day-to-day studies.

Outside of work, what is your favorite pastime and why?

I’m a dedicated music collector (vinyl, CDs, tapes - all formats) and have been for 45 years! Why? Nothing beats getting lost in good music, and it’s a rarity when I’m not listening.

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