How did you decide on pursuing a degree(s) in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?
It’s a long story! I was always passionate about astronomy and planetary sciences since I was a little girl and had the dream to become an astrophysicist and work for NASA! When I finished high school, as there was no undergrad program for astrophysics back home in Iran, I had to choose Physics with the aim of continuing my education for master’s and PhD in planetary science. However, during my undergrad program, I found myself more interested in applied physics and the application of physics in the industry more than theoretical studies. Meanwhile, I also took some elective courses in geophysics and geology which opened my eyes to the world of geoscience.
Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.
A few months after graduating from my undergrad, in 2004, I applied for a competitive job position as a geomagnetic observatory researcher at the Institute of Geophysics in University of Tehran, which was a great opportunity for me to study the Earth as a planet and conduct research about space geomagnetism. Due to my strong passion for practical geophysics and after a few years of working in this field, I decided to continue my studies with a Master of Science in geophysics with a focus on geomagnetism and magnetometry explorations. Working and studying in an academic environment gave me the opportunity to contribute in several geophysical projects including investigating geological features (fault systems, volcanoes, hot spots, aquifers, etc.) in addition to mining exploration projects such as iron and gold explorations. I continued working and researching at the Institute of Geophysics, University of Tehran, Iran, until June 2014, when I immigrated to Canada and the real challenge started!!
As most immigrants, I was looking forward to building my career in my special field of expertise. My main goal was to work in the industry and practice more practical aspects of geophysics, but it wasn’t easy!
Before arriving to Canada, I had started my research and I knew that in order to be recognized as a geoscientist in Canada and be able to work in the industry, I need to either go back to school or become a member of a professional geoscientists association, and try to get a designation that would help people know about the type of job I’m able to perform. Here in Ontario, it was https://www.pgo.ca. The first step was to apply to become a Geoscientist in Training with the association, next step was to get Canadian work experience. At the time I had applied to immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker back in 2009, geophysicist was among the high demand occupations list issued by CIC. However, when I got my visa five years later in 2014, the mining exploration market was down, and companies were even laying off their own employees!
To find a job in the field of Geophysics, I started by making a list of mining exploration, geoscience and geophysical consulting companies, then I started to apply for jobs, contact companies or reaching out to individuals on LinkedIn, messaging them and introducing myself. Even though this method of job hunting was not successful for me, I received lots of feedback and useful information; such as being introduced to KEGS monthly talks in Toronto. http://www.kegsonline.org. That was the turning point for me! I started to get out of my comfort zone and show up to networking events.
I believe I attended most of KEGS talks every first Tuesday of the month in 2015 and 2016 and that was when I started to know more about the Toronto’s geophysical society.
At the same time, I researched and found bridging programs in the area who would assist me in finding a co-op position or an internship. I can summarize those links as https://paietraining.ca/, https://www.careeredge.ca/, https://acsess.org/ and https://goodwillindustries.ca/goodwill-career-centre/
The best outcome of the mentioned programs was the fact that it taught me to not give up, have the courage to reach out to people and not to lose hope!
Starting in 2015, as no one had an optimistic vision about the mining exploration market, and as I had a background in environmental geophysics, I decided to go back to school and try something practical and related to my background. That was when I completed a one-year intensive advanced diploma in ‘Environmental Control’ at Sheridan College. This program helped me to learn more about the policies and regulation regarding conducting compliance audits and environmental site assessments phase I &II here in Canada. After graduating, I started my job search with a new energy and focused on my best strategy “networking”.
I tried to attend the Toronto Geological discussions, Canadian Exploration Geophysics Society (KEGS) talks and events and also the PDAC. It was in late 2016 when I met my current manager Jenna McKenzie, the principal Geophysicist and one of the founders of Ronacher McKenzie Geoscience Inc., who I believe is one of the lead women in the field of Geophysics. I joined the company as an associate in late 2016. Since then, I’ve been enjoying being involved in various projects and learning much more from Jenna who was a mentor for me at the same time. After gaining enough Canadian experience, I was able to take the PPE exam and became a full member of the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario in early 2019.
If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not?
I would prefer to have the opportunity to do an undergrad in applied geophysics instead of pure physics. Although I enjoyed studying a lot of physics and math courses during my undergrad, I had to take some very intensive geology courses during my master's studies because of the lack of geological knowledge. Hence why I would’ve preferred to do an applied geophysics degree including essential geology courses.
What are the three best things about your job/career? What are three things you would change?
The best three things are: the possibility of learning new things about data processing or modelling software's I work with. Second, the amazing feeling of solving a puzzle! For example, it’s a great feeling when we select a target from a geophysical database, and it turns out to be a real kimberlite! And third, the great and friendly relationship I have with my managers and colleagues in the company.
Three things I could change: first, I would like to see more active female geophysicists in the industry, especially the young generation choosing geophysics as their future career. Second thing I would like to change is to see more women participating and presenting in conferences and technical events. The last but not the least change I would like to see in Canada is to have a more green and sustainable development in mining exploration.
Why did you become involved with WGC as a director?
Coming from a country where women are even struggling to have their own basic human rights, I am always passionate to help other women and young girls to understand their rights and know about gender equality. Exploration geophysics and mining industry were considered kind of men appropriate fields of work back home, and although a lot of female students would graduate from earth sciences or mining engineering programs from top universities, not a lot of them would get the chance to work and make their own career out of their education. When I immigrated to Canada, I was expecting to see a much more gender balanced industry, although it was much better, I could still feel the glassy roof on top of women’s head! During the Exploration 17, I noticed that women are not considered as decision makers and the number of female speakers were dramatically lower compared to men. That’s when WGC was born, and I was a member since its first days. In 2018, when I saw the opportunity to join the directors, I didn’t hesitate to take part.
Why is gender balance in geoscience important to you?
As mentioned above, gender equality has always been a challenge for me, as I’ve had to experience it in Iran for most of my life! Women make up half of the world and they bring their own capabilities, ideas and points of view to the workplace, which benefits the businesses as well. I believe if we can have a gender balanced industry here in Canada, it will benefit the whole world as well. Believe me, people will model and follow us!
Why should it be important for everyone?
Because human beings are not isolated! Everyone is a woman or has a beloved one who is a woman!
What advice would you give to young women starting a career in geoscience?
I would absolutely want them to believe in themselves, be true and honest with themselves and if they feel they are capable of doing a job, take it with self-confidence. It is a reality that the geoscience industry might not look that fancy at first, especially when it comes to going to the field work, however, they need to know that there is always a beauty behind their hard work. If they have a passion about the nature and the science behind it, geoscience will give them enough opportunities to grow, learn and make a long-life career. They just need to be patient and put all their efforts to the work.
I also advise those who are looking to put their feet into the industry, to not give up and never forget the power of networking. This world is not a place to be shy anymore!
Geoscientists are humans first and foremost. What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of geoscience?
I like being active in the community where I live, so I sometimes volunteer with Burlington Green Organization or the City of Burlington to clean up mother nature! I also have an 8-year-old daughter and am a member of her school parent’s council. I play basketball once a week with a group of adult women.
I really enjoy being close to the nature, so I like hiking on the Niagara Escarpment trails during weekends with my little family. If all these activities give me some free time, I love to watch good movies and go to plays, read novels, visit art galleries and attend classical and jazz music concerts.