How did you decide on pursuing your degree(s)? Did you know about geology/geoscience before you entered university?
I grew up in New Zealand on the flanks of Mt Taranaki/Taranaki Maunga, an active volcano on the west coast of the North Island. This region is also the oil and gas exploration and production centre of New Zealand, so geology featured strongly. We took school field trips to the mountain, the ocean, and to various visitor’s centres associated with oil and gas production, so geology was embedded in the curriculum, although it is hard to know whether that was a deliberate teaching choice. New Zealand is also on a tectonic plate boundary and is very geologically active, so we had a lot of earthquake drills! As a child I always wanted to be a scientist and geology seemed like a natural choice.
Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.
I moved straight into a Master’s degree after finishing my BSc, then began working in the industry, first in consulting in New Zealand then in mineral exploration in Australia. Unfortunately, I graduated my MSc in 1997, right as the Bre-X scandal was hitting the news, the gold price was extremely low, and jobs in mining and mineral exploration were hard to come by, especially in New Zealand. I moved to Australia on a bit of a whim, and much to the chagrin of my mother (it was three weeks before Christmas) and eventually secured a position in a small exploration company looking for gold near Southern Cross, Western Australia. My first job was as camp cook and cleaner, but I took it because I wanted to get my foot in the door with an exploration company and figured that I would be a natural choice for the next Junior Geologist position if I was already onsite. This did eventuate, only a few weeks after I was initially hired, and I maintain that it was my geological excellence and not my lacklustre cooking that precipitated the promotion.
I worked on other projects in Western Australia in exploration and resource development, including on two active mines, one gold and one nickel, although I never worked in production. In 2003 I returned to university to complete my PhD on the hydrothermal fluid evolution of mineral deposits in crustal scale fault systems. I was fortunate to be part of the Predictive Mineral Deposits Co-operative Research Centre (PMD-CRC). This was a collaborative project between industry, government, and academia that focused on issues critical to ore discovery and it had an excellent program to mentor students and early career geoscientists. They provided opportunities and funding for personal and professional development, and I made contacts in the CRC that I still have today.
I moved to Canada in 2007 to take on a six-month contract as Senior Project Geologist with a junior explorer after attending Roundup and being offered a job at the Student-Industry networking event. When my six months was up, I stayed and took on a permanent position. I spent six years living in Vancouver and working primarily in the Yukon as Senior Project Geologist, Yukon Exploration Manager, and VP Exploration for several different companies exploring for gold, silver, and copper. In these roles I was responsible for designing, planning, and executing field-based exploration programs, leading site tours, presenting at technical and investment forums, claim management, target generation, evaluating projects for option, and so much more.
In 2013 I moved away from mineral exploration and embarked upon a second career as a college professor. I currently teach geology, including mineral exploration, at Fleming College, where I am the coordinator of the Geological Technician program. I create and deliver geoscience content, mentor students as they navigate their education and post-graduate careers, and work on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility initiatives in the college. I also have the opportunity to share my stories with a captive audience! And hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in geoscience upon graduation.
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 choose the same degree and I would still enter mining and mineral exploration. My career has given me the opportunity to see places and do things I could only have dreamed of growing up in small town New Zealand.
What are the three best things about your job/career? What are three things you would change?
The best things:
People I have met from diverse backgrounds and experiences, some of whom have become lifelong friends.
The opportunity to travel, whether for work or because the industry offers a salary that makes travel possible (I’m looking at you, Antarctica!)
The animals! Living and working in different countries with different (and sometimes strange) wildlife. I’ve lived in Canada now for 16 years, but I still love seeing moose, or bears, or bison, which are so different from wildlife in New Zealand.
Things I would change:
Better access to women’s workwear! It’s improving, but it’s still difficult to find women’s work clothing and small work boots in stores (unless they are pink).
More creative approaches to navigating life and career, particularly for women with families. I know too many women who were laid off upon returning from maternity leave, and many more who abandoned their geoscience careers because a FIFO lifestyle isn’t conducive to families for women (I know plenty of men with kids who didn’t have to quit their jobs when they chose to have a family).
More transparency around salary and compensation packages and more equitable starting offers, especially for young and early career women who may have a difficult time with negotiating wages. I also want to see better pay equity. I once had a boss tell me that I was paid 20 % less than my male colleague, who had the same role and responsibilities in a different project, because I was a single woman and he “had a wife and family to take care of”.
Why is gender balance in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience important to you?
Geoscience can be an amazing career, but there is still sexism and gender bias in the industry and women are still under-represented, despite advocacy organizations promoting change. We need a critical mass of women in the industry who will support other women, and advocate for meaningful change.
Why should it be important for everyone?
Geoscientists are uniquely poised to help solve the world’s wicked problems, including climate change, food insecurity, and access to clean water. We need diverse views from people with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, including women. Also, the opportunity to work in meaningful, well-paid careers that allow practitioners to support themselves and their families should be available to everyone.
What advice would you give to young women starting a career in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?
Be bold and take all the opportunities for growth, learning, and experience you can. I regret taking some of the “safe” options and wish I had pushed myself outside of my comfort zone earlier in my career. Find a mentor, or mentors. They don’t have to be women, although it is great to have women mentors to help with navigating some of the gender-specific challenges of the industry. Work with people who respect your values and whose values reflect your own. And know your worth. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your whole compensation package.
What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?
I hike or snowshoe in the local provincial park with my best friend and her dogs, travel with my husband in our RV that we built, read, sing, dabble in blogging about geoscience and travel, and volunteer on the advisory board of Resource Becoming, which is a non-profit working to advance opportunities for women in the mining industry.