What Does 'Professional' Mean?

Division of Professional Affairs

For 21 years I’ve sung with a German men’s chorus. We sing all sorts of music, from church motets to classical men’s chorales to show tunes, in German, Latin and English. For the last six years, I’ve been honored to serve as their musical director -- only the sixth in 115 years. I am, in other words, an “amateur tenor,” for whom the Mikado had harsh words! But for 26 years, I’ve been a professional geoscientist.

Which gets me thinking: What is an amateur and what is a professional, really?

The simplest meaning, the one used in sports, is that amateurs don’t get paid and professionals do. But that isn’t very enlightening. Plus, some paid people are pretty “amateurish,” and some unpaid people (like my chorus) are very professional at times!

From the word origins, an “amateur” does something “for the love of it,” because he/she loves to do it. A “professional” originally professed his/her vocation or calling to a religious or quasi-religious order.

Of course, many professionals (including you and me) may love what they do in their profession, and many of our singers feel an almost religious calling and devotion to their work.


A definition of “professional” that speaks to me is one from American Heritage Dictionary: “One who has an assured competence in a particular field or occupation.”

Based on this I’d like to share a few things that “being a professional” means to me:

 We are trained and skilled to an industry standard.

Please log in to read the full article

For 21 years I’ve sung with a German men’s chorus. We sing all sorts of music, from church motets to classical men’s chorales to show tunes, in German, Latin and English. For the last six years, I’ve been honored to serve as their musical director -- only the sixth in 115 years. I am, in other words, an “amateur tenor,” for whom the Mikado had harsh words! But for 26 years, I’ve been a professional geoscientist.

Which gets me thinking: What is an amateur and what is a professional, really?

The simplest meaning, the one used in sports, is that amateurs don’t get paid and professionals do. But that isn’t very enlightening. Plus, some paid people are pretty “amateurish,” and some unpaid people (like my chorus) are very professional at times!

From the word origins, an “amateur” does something “for the love of it,” because he/she loves to do it. A “professional” originally professed his/her vocation or calling to a religious or quasi-religious order.

Of course, many professionals (including you and me) may love what they do in their profession, and many of our singers feel an almost religious calling and devotion to their work.


A definition of “professional” that speaks to me is one from American Heritage Dictionary: “One who has an assured competence in a particular field or occupation.”

Based on this I’d like to share a few things that “being a professional” means to me:

 We are trained and skilled to an industry standard.

A profession in our sense requires years of study, including advanced study in our field leading to a degree, followed by years of experience. We can then be certified in our field by a certifying body like the DPA in AAPG -- a body of our peers that says we have had study and experience that qualifies us as a professional; and we can be registered by a state agency.

An amateur geologist loves rocks and earth history as much as we do, but generally doesn’t have the training. And because of that training…

 Our clientele (the public and the industry) can trust us.

We are expected to produce geoscience findings and reports that meet a high standard of competence -- work that can be relied on to be accurate and precise within clearly stated limits.

We are expected to keep our confidences, avoid conflicts of interest and respect other’s work. We are expected to respect our data, to respect the truth and to behave honorably.

By being a professional, we create trust in a low-trust world, whether of business or of politics.

As part of this…

 We can and will stand by our work.

When we write a report, give testimony or present a prospect we make statements supported by information and understanding. They may be disproven later (by drilling or more research), but we will not disown those statements based on the knowledge available to us at the time.

We respect our data, and if we make speculations beyond the data (as we often do in generating a prospect), they are consistent with geological possibilities and clearly marked as unproven.

 We know when a matter is beyond our expertise, and refer to other professional s.

No geoscientist can be an expert on all of geoscience. We have techniques and specializations in which we are fully competent, things in which we will probably never be competent (but we should at least know what they are) and a number of things in between, competencies that we’re working on.

When an employer or client wants or needs competencies we don’t have, we must refer them to, or collaborate with, other professionals who have those competencies.

This may be the hardest thing that consultants have to do -- turning down work, admitting our limits. I do not have a full professional competency in, say, global climate or seismic processing -- though I do have a professional interest in them!

But admitting our limits is a key part of creating trust.

 We are in the community of professionals, and carry forward a tradition.

It is probably impossible to be a professional in isolation, partly because of points one and four. Through graduation, certification and registration, we profess our membership in a community, a “Guild of Geoscience” if you will, and are admitted to practice.

Full use of that community of professionals is essential to building our career, to collaborating with those who have complementary competencies, to formation of our knowledge base and our ethical skills. We carry forward the tradition of competence and trust, bringing new scientists into the profession through mentoring.

Petroleum geology has a proud tradition of finding and helping produce the energy that the world needs -- the energy that has created the wealth, the power and the capacity of today’s society.

And for future generations, we have a lot left to do.


If you strive to be a professional petroleum geologist (energy resource geoscientist) -- and I hope you do -- and want to associate with other professionals in promoting and shaping the profession, join the Division of Professional Affairs.

(And when you’re in San Antonio, come sing “Ein Prosit!” with the “professionally amateur” San Antonio Liederkranz!)