How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?
I was very fortunate to have a Geology class, in fact two classes in high school. John Reid, the head of our Geography department at Glenforest Secondary School (Mississauga) was a Geological Engineer and taught consecutive geology classes in Grade 12 and 13. One of my good friends knew that I liked the outdoors and convinced me to take the class with her in Grade 12. These classes featured two field trips, one to central Ontario where we investigated everything from surficial (glacial) deposits to Precambrian pillow basalts, and one to the Sudbury area, with equally varied geology related to the Sudbury impact structure. I still remember how intrigued I was when we visited the ‘great unconformity’ between the Precambrian and Phanerozoic at a couple of spectacular localities on the first (Grade 12) trip! When I enrolled in my first year at McMaster, I therefore had a good idea that I might take Geology, and it was pretty much history from thereon in! The one thing that really attracted me to Geology was the possibility of working in the outdoors; I had spent summers in Muskoka cottage country through my childhood, and the combination of really cool science plus work in a natural laboratory of study (the wilderness, outdoors) really clinched it for me! Its notable that many students taught by John subsequently went on to do degrees in Geology, including Dr. Carolyn Relf (recommended below).
How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)
It depends what you consider to be the first ‘real’ position. My first geology-related job was the summer after third year university with Shell Canada Ltd. in Calgary. It’s a long time ago now (LOL) but I believe that I must have been alerted by my professors to apply when the notices came up; and eventually was granted an interview etc. That spring, I was also selected to participate in the annual SIFT (Student-Industry field trip). I had already developed a keen interest in structural geology & tectonics and the related field trip through the Rocky Mountains (part of SIFT) really cemented this!
Can you briefly describe your career progression?
The summer in Calgary with Shell was a great experience, but it also alerted me that I did not want to work in an ‘office’ for the rest of my career. Afterall, it was the ‘outdoors’ experiential learning that had attracted me to geology in the first place. As it happens, I had a good friend with connections with the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) and he encouraged me to apply to the GSC as well make a trip to Ottawa to ‘knock on doors’. This led me to being hired as a field assistant for Dr. Jack Henderson (and his wife Mariette) in a spectacular setting in the Arctic on the west coast of Hudson Bay (Wager Bay, Nunavut). This field season was more than I had ever imagined and completely solidified my interest in field-based structural studies! That same year I also applied to continue my education at the graduate level, and was eventually accepted at Queen’s University, where I carried out a GSC-sponsored field-based structural-metamorphic thesis under the supervision of Drs. Herb Helmstaedt and Dugald Carmichael. The scope of my thesis also warranted that I upgrade to a Ph.D. and so I was kind of ‘off to the races’ in term of following an academic career.
How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?
There was no specific road map. Upon completion my Ph.D. I completed two post-doctoral fellowships, each two years in length. The first involved mapping a remote area of Baffin Island for the GSC, while the second was undertaken under the Lithoprobe Project’s western Superior Transect. It was during the second post-doc, while back at Queen’s assisting my supervisor with teaching laboratories and mentoring B.Sc. students that my interests shifted toward a professorial (academic) career (as opposed to working for the GSC, which was my original goal). That period really alerted me to how much I enjoyed teaching and transferring my knowledge to the next generation. My goal of an academic career was realized when I landed a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Regina, a medium-sized university on the Prairies which has a good reputation in Precambrian geological research.
If you had to do it again, would you?
Yes, my career has been incredibly rewarding and satisfying in so many ways!
If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?
I would have loved to have worked at the geological survey; however, in retrospect it would not have been as directed toward teaching, so I would have missed out on a lot (see below). In working at the survey, I feel that there would have been more time for my own (personal) research and discovery. While this is still true in the university environment, teaching consumes a lot of time so research is often carried out more as an extension of oneself through students; both are rewarding in their own right.
What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?
One of the best things by far is teaching and mentoring young people both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Teaching is very rewarding in general, to see a student’s eyes light up when they finally grasp a concept etc.. It’s incredibly rewarding to the students learn and develop over a critical time-window in their lives and successfully take off on their own career paths. Equally rewarding is the sense of discovery and finding and documenting new things. My research is strongly field oriented so there is discovery involved at a number of levels, from travel to incredibly beautiful and pristine wilderness areas, to figuring out complex relations between rock types in the field and later reinforcing these findings through study in the lab. Finally, it’s great to see the hard efforts of your work in published form; student-led papers are particularly rewarding!
Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?
I can definitely foresee the numbers of women working as productive geoscientists increasing, although I feel that there are hurdles to jump i.e., this career path still has some obstacles. My sense is that the mineral exploration side is still very male-dominated and that significant inroads still need to be made; while the environmental geoscience area seems to be more friendly toward women. The situation at universities, for women taking on professorial positions, is improving but I feel that it should be happening faster. I am pretty sure that the rates of hiring of female professors is somewhat lower than current graduation (PhD) rates. Women need to be encouraged to undertake leadership roles, and be supported by their male colleagues in doing so. Role modelling is important and efforts need to be made to encourage girls to pursue diverse careers from a young age!
What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?
I would say that perseverance is the biggest asset. In the workplace women tend to have to work harder to get ‘noticed’, rarely receiving the benefit of the doubt like their male counterparts; unfortunately, this has not really changed that much. I would say keep working hard, be patient and eventually you will be noticed. In addition, be proud and self-assured and develop a good sense of your own worth. Women are still underpaid relative to men at the same career stage, women need to get better at advocating for themselves with respect to salaries, rates of pay etc. Note, attitudes toward professional women are much better these days, as men are more likely to have been taught be female professors etc. at the university level. The whole perception of women’s capabilities continues to improve and I am reasonably optimistic for the future, but we cannot let up in continuing to advocate for women!
Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focused on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?
It is well known that geoscience has a very poor record in the equity, diversity and inclusion area. A number of recent publications have highlighted this (I can dig them out if needed). We need to build EDI principles more solidly into everything we do, and it starts with educational programming, in terms of trying to promote diversity in our academic programs and, at a smaller scale, within our research groups. We need to recognize the value that diverse backgrounds broaden our ways of thinking and tackling research problems. We need to strive to make geoscience programs and career paths more accessible to a wider range of people, including those with disabilities.
Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?
Everyone needs to be talking about diversity and be striving for more inclusivity in the workplace. As mentioned, diverse cultures and backgrounds can contribute to thinking ‘outside the box’ in terms of the problems/issues that we are facing in science and society.