A world of experience

Posted September 29, 2014

Professor Paul Dirks


Three expeditions to Antarctica, the discovery of a two million-year-old hominid fossil and an empowerment program to train historically disadvantaged young South Africans are among the accomplishments on Professor Paul Dirks’ resume.

Professor Dirks is a structural geologist and now also the man at the head of JCU Townsville’s new College of Science, Technology and Engineering - a job that requires strong leadership and “a lot of paperwork”.

“I haven’t had enough time to really get involved on site for a while, I really miss it, I’m very much a field geologist,” he said. “I still do some fieldwork - I have a project going with Anglo Gold Ashanti in Tanzania and I’ve been doing some work in the Philippines, but it’s not nearly as much as I would like.”

Professor Dirks’ work experience spans five continents including trips to Antarctica in 1987, 1991 and 1992 for geological mapping.

“I’ve had the chance to map in places that nobody else has ever been to before,” he said. “It’s wonderful, if you like that sort of stuff. Sitting in a tent for weeks and weeks on end, flying around in helicopters and being dropped off hundreds of kilometres from the nearest person. It’s an experience that’s very hard to get these days.”

In 2003, as the Head of School of Geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Professor Dirks became a founding director of the AfricaArray program.

The empowerment program trains young black students in geology and was started in an effort to break down racial barriers. Professor Dirks credits this as one of his proudest career achievements.

In what little spare time he has, Professor Dirks relaxes by writing papers. He’s currently working on research based on the discovery of a new species of hominid (an ancestor of the human species).

“We found this fossil five years ago. It’s a very exciting find and is about two million years old. We also found a new cave last year, with spectacular new fossils,” he said. Professor Dirks is involved in describing the geology and doing the dating, which sees him travel to South Africa two or three times a year.

He hopes to bring the best of what he’s learned on his international experiences to his position at JCU, and “if he gets time” to get involved with the big projects in North Queensland.

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