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Mary Ann Middleton, Ph.D., P.Geo., Geoscientist



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

I was fortunate to grow up in a remote fishing lodge in Northern BC, which served as a base for researchers for a large fish-forestry interaction project, as well as a summer home for many geologists for mineral exploration. I had the opportunity starting at a very young age to go out and learn in the field as a volunteer with the scientists and that exposed me to so many possible career paths (biology, hydrology, geology, geochemistry etc.). All of my life I was passionate about salmon and water, and I knew I wanted to work in that field (except for the brief stint where I wanted to be a firefighter). I had limited knowledge of hydrogeology, but I learned early in university about the importance of groundwater to support fish habitat, and that was when the pin dropped, and all the pieces came together. I ultimately went on to do a PhD in groundwater-surface water interactions, with an emphasis on vulnerability of fish habitat to changes in groundwater conditions.


Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

I have been actively working in environmental consulting since before I started university. From volunteering my time on the research projects, I started taking small contracts to collect data for graduate students, and then went on to start my own sub-consulting company for fish habitat assessments. In university I took a co-op position that sent me into forestry and entomology for a few years. After finishing undergrad (and through grad school) I worked in the field of contaminated site investigations and remediation, doing a lot of drilling work and installation of monitoring wells. Drilling remains one of my favorite work activities, and really draws on both my geology and hydrogeology training and appeals to my interest in geochemistry. More recently (2020), I re-united with my roots and joined a biology company where I’ve been able to marry my water resources work to my love of fish and aquatic habitat again, and habitat protection. My new role has the added challenge of creativity; allowing me to develop new initiatives for data management, business development, and strategic planning.


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 graduated with an honors undergrad, and two extended minors, and nearly enough credits for two full degrees! Not one of those courses or experiences has been wasted, or not informed me somewhere along the way. My career and educational pathways have been non-linear and often times unconventional, but that has allowed me to develop the skills I have now and supported my ability to operate outside my comfort zone. By following an unconventional path, I’ve had the opportunity to explore many things, take the time to learn, and I’m incredibly fortunate that all of that has allowed me grow into a career I’m passionate (and excited) about. I think the key is keeping curiosity and actively looking for the opportunity in the experience.

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


Three best things:

- Field work for sure is one of the best things in my career.

- The opportunity to see out of the way places that many people never get to experience.

- I’m in a job that enables me to stay true to connection with science and contribute to advancement of science and protection of the environment.

Three things I would change is a tough question:

- I would say that consulting can be very demanding, and work-life balance is always challenging.

- As much as the field work is fantastic, the travel and schedules can be hard after the first few years.

- On the non-technical side of my job, there has been a lot of learning as I go and being self-taught, and if I could change that, I would have taken some formal training, or found a mentor earlier on in areas such as project management, leadership, negotiation etc.


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

On the outset, this question seems straightforward, but its actually quite complex. In many situations in my career (less so now), I have been the only woman on a worksite, or in the room. For me, gender balance is important because it allows me to focus on my technical ability and bring my best self to a job or project, and not have to partition my energy towards feeling like I need to fight to create space in the room, or proving I belong there first. That takes a lot of time and energy and takes away from the task at hand. I have been able to really flourish in my current role, in large part because of the gender balance in my workplace at all levels of the organization. Where I am now, the path has been forged for me to show up and do the work I’m there to do, and there already exists an environment where the clients and colleagues only have the expectation of technical skills from me, and I don’t feel anyone is questioning my contributions just because there hasn’t been a woman in that space before.


Why should it be important for everyone?

It should be important to everyone because of my previous point, where the environment is hospitable, women can bring their best selves and excel, and with a gender balance, my experience is that everyone feels encouraged to bring their best selves. Also, gender balance brings with it different perspectives, approaches, and strength, and thus creates stronger teams. Research has shown businesses are better performing when gender balance is present at all levels, including the executive level. Also, in my opinion, many of us working in field of geoscience are facing a shortage of qualified people now, and it is only going to get worse, and we need to encourage gender balance, recruitment, and retention of women as part of a solution. Everyone benefits from gender balance.


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

I have participated in several mentorship programs, and this advice comes from a lot of one-on-one conversations and experiences I’ve had. The advice I wish someone had given me at the start of my career is “Don’t be your own limit!”! What does this mean? It means don’t be the one that lowers the bar on yourself, making assumptions that maybe you don’t have the right qualifications, or enough years experience, or can’t speak up with new idea. If you see something you want, if you see a good fit, or think you have value to add to a conversation, go for it!! Chances are really good that you are far stronger and capable than you give yourself credit for, so take up that space!!




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

Outside of work, I’m a competitive powerlifter, competing as a Master 1 lifter. I only started my fitness journey in 2014 and competed for the first time in 2016. I love the rapidly growing numbers of women lifters and the supportive and motivating community in lifting. I currently hold a BC Provincial record (370lb) for deadlifting, and I plan to compete at the CPU National Championship in 2023. This love of lifting also translates into part time fitness and nutrition coaching, and I love working with women who are starting out or re-discovering their journey with strength.



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