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Joanne Angai

How did you decide on pursuing your degree(s)? Did you know about geology/geoscience before you entered university?

I started my BSc under a general earth and atmospheric sciences degree. I loved being outside and I was always fascinated by nature, particularly water and rocks, but I could never quite put my finger on what exactly motivated me about the outdoors. In my first year, I took a few geology courses and my interest was immediately piqued. At my university it wasn’t possible to major in geology straight out of high school, so at the end of my first year I applied to the honours geology program, and the rest is history. I always loved the aspect of hands-on learning, being out in the field, mapping, and looking at rocks, so geology felt like the perfect fit.

Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

The geology program at my undergrad university was exploration based, in the sense that all our field courses were focused around mapping and structural geology. In my third and fourth year, I remember taking several environmental geochemistry courses that piqued my interest. I had a gut feel that aqueous geochemistry was where I wanted to be, however I was still set on following the geology path through. At the end of my fourth year, I took a summer bedrock mapping position in Nunavut. I loved so many aspects of the job, however I struggled with visualizing the structure and piecing together the geological history – I think it was the inexactness of the science that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. I came out of that role with the decision that I would pursue environmental geochemistry and from there I accepted a MSc at the University of Waterloo.

Environmental geochemistry is where I finally felt comfortable – I really loved having numbers and data that I could play around with.

Following my time at Waterloo, I took a research position on the environmental technology team for a mining company. I’ve been in this role for almost four years, and in that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects spanning multiple mine sites across Canada. My main focus has been on Source Control, which aims to find solutions to reduce leaching of constituents of interest from waste rock piles at the source, rather than being fully reliant on active water treatment. While environmental projects are my main focus, I’m also working on projects with more geoscience elements, including geometallurgy and tailings reprocessing, which take me back to my geology roots. There’s no shortage of projects to work on and every day brings a different and exciting challenge.

If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not?

Absolutely. I’m a believer that your path in life is never a straight line – the twists and turns along the way are what prepare you for each role that you take in your career. I love my job and where I ended up on the environmental side, however I believe that my background in geology gives me an edge. I always try to look at environmental problems with a geoscience lens. By that I mean that I understand the importance of geology and I am an advocate for collecting geological information upfront. This is particularly important when thinking about environmental risks towards the end of the mine life cycle. Without a good understanding about the geology of the waste rock, it’s very difficult to make smart decisions about waste management.

What are the three best things about your job/career? What are three things you would change?

The best aspects of my career are:

  1. The people – I try not to take this for granted because I know how lucky I am to work with so many intelligent and open-minded individuals. The people on my team are passionate in their work and always willing to help. I see overlap every day between the geoscience, environment, and metallurgy teams in our department. I think it’s this willingness for collaboration within the workplace that excites me, because I know if I can’t find a solution, there is always someone I can go to for help.

  2. The projects – the variety of projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on has helped grow my skillset and change the way I approach problems. There is so much to learn out there and I love that I haven’t been siloed into a specific role.

  3. The challenges – sometimes it can be overwhelming thinking about the problems we are trying to find solutions for. However, on the flip side, it’s also exciting to know that I’m making progress towards a larger problem that needs solving, even if it’s one small step at a time.  


Three things I would change about my career are:

  1. Confidence – when I started my role, I struggled a bit with confidence in myself and my skills. I wish that I had been more confident in asking questions and speaking up in meetings. Now I know that everyone brings something to the table, no matter how early you are in your career.

  2. Making Connections – I’ve always been on the quieter side, so coming into the role I focused more on meeting deadlines and doing a good job. However, I think a whole other aspect of work is the connections you make throughout your career. The people you meet along the way can support you and help you approach problems from a different perspective. I believe this is just as important as meeting deadlines and delivering a good work product. If I could go back in time, I would have prioritized making connections earlier on.  

  3. Being Accepting of Change – change has always been difficult for me to process, whether in the form of different managers or varying projects. I used to dwell a lot on change and I really struggled to catch my bearings in the event of uncertainty. I am now more accepting that change is inevitable and usually out of my control. Instead of stressing about the inevitable, I’m learning to lean into the change and see it as an opportunity rather than a setback.

Why is gender balance in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience important to you?

Gender balance in this industry is important to me because as a younger professional, I recognize the importance of seeing gender diversity in your colleagues, in your managers, and in the people that hold leadership positions. For me, it’s hard to picture where I want to go in my career and even what roles are possible if I’m not able to see a female in that role, somewhere within the company.

During my entire BSc, I did not have a female professor for any of my core geology courses. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much that affected me. Now, I sit on meetings where the majority of the subject matter experts on the calls are females. I think that shows that change is happening and that we’re on the right path to gender balance within the industry.

Why should it be important for everyone?

At its core, gender balance enables the diversity of ideas and thoughts. However, I believe it is also a stepping stone to diversity within the broader industry as a whole. I know it will take time, but the goal should be to have more women in leadership positions and more female mentors within the workplace to encourage and guide the newer generation of young professionals. If we want to see more females in this industry, we need to show them that this career is possible by being in positions that can be seen. Change comes about slowly, but I hope one day we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

What advice would you give to young women starting a career in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?

Be willing to take risks, try new things, and accept that just like life, your career cannot always be planned out. Find people that inspire you, that you look up to, and that you want to emulate. Listen and watch how they do things and take the time to learn from them. Also, recognize the importance in being confident in what you bring to the table, speaking up in meetings, and asking questions without hesitation. Lastly, remember that work isn’t always everything – find time to do things that you love outside of work and set healthy boundaries at the very beginning. Those boundaries may become more important later in life and there’s nothing harder than trying to change a learned habit.

What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?

I enjoy anything that gets me outdoors, whether it’s mountain biking, skiing, or hiking. I’m especially motivated by a good sunset. If that means hiking all day to catch the perfect sunset or ski touring up to a mountain peak only to sit in the raging wind for 2 hours before the sun actually sets, I will be there. Lately, I’ve also been on a travelling kick. I’m hoping to knock a few more countries of the bucket list in the next year. 


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