How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?
My introduction to Geoscience started at a very young age. My father was an intrepid explorer, and worked most of his career at the U.S. Geological Survey. He completed the geologic mapping and geochemical sampling on several projects in Colorado, Alaska, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and globally. When he could, he took the family into the field and many of my childhood memories come from living out of a tent trailer and following him (Paul Theobald) around in the field. I was a driver, sampler, heavy mineral panner and general field assistant. Although I started out declaring a major in Computer Software programming, I quickly reverted to Geology as my major in University.
How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)
From the first summer in University, I found summer field work, in Alaska and Montana. These summer positions led to my first permanent job with Anaconda Minerals. We hit an industry downturn shortly after that, and I remember applying to over 100 jobs. The ones I thought might come through did not, and I was fortunate to get one of a few roles working with Freeport, with whom I remained in different roles, and locations for 10 years. It was with Freeport that I gained good geology field experience, working in greenfield exploration programs with far more experienced geologists, and ultimately worked as a Mine Geologist at two mines, which was excellent experience.
Can you briefly describe your career progression?
Early summer roles involved running a portable XRF unit in a camp in northern Alaska (west of Red Dog), and working as a field sampler for the geochemistry department at Anaconda Minerals with one of my better mentors (Rusty Riese). From my earliest roles working as a junior geologist on Greenfields exploration program, I had an opportunity to get some Mine Geology experience at what was then Freeport’s mines in Nevada. That seemed like a good opportunity to learn what it would take to make and develop mines. My 5 years as a Mine Geologist were indeed formative and I rely on lessons learned at Jerritt Canyon and Big Springs Mines in my career to this day. I returned to exploration within what was at the time a very dynamic exploration team at BHP Minerals, working on exploration geochemistry on projects around the globe, again working with amazing leaders (Hugo Dummett and Jeff Jaacks). That period at BHP introduced me to multiple commodities, global exploration work, an integrated team of exploration specialists, and some remarkable discoverers within the BHP geology group.
After a period with BHP, I worked as an independent consultant for 5 years. While I enjoyed the work, it lacked the camaraderie and intensity of the Exploration Hunt. At this point I took a turn and tried a completely different path. I accepted a role as a Business Manager working for ALS Minerals. This was key experience to learn how to run a business in the USA, the challenges and rewards. Not just staying within a budget but making a profit, and understanding the fundamentals of business economics, employee relations, business development and work with a wide range of companies and clients. Because of my background in exploration, I was able to work with some of the very capable chemists at ALS to probe new methods for exploration. While in business management at ALS, I was able to spend 2 years as part of an executive management mentoring program with Vistage. My mentor, Bill Hartman, taught me a PhD equivalent in business management and accountability.
I left ALS to return to a role as Chief Geochemist with Newmont Mining. That put me back into a highly dynamic exploration team, and I had a very rewarding experience with a talented group of geochemists. We not only worked on global exploration programs and were able to move the needle on state-of-the art applications on global programs, and also had the opportunity to improve and develop new geochemical exploration technologies. My final two years at Newmont I served as the Exploration Technology lead in a very challenging role, working with the geochemists, geophysicists, Chief Geologist and exploration software developers.
My current role is yet another change in the path, working as the Program Manager for a Professional M.Sc. program in Mineral Exploration and Economic Geology at Colorado School of Mines. I am looking forward to working with the students and contributing to strengthening the program and its link to industry professionals.
How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?
I have always taken my own initiative in my career progression. Several opportunities for advancement came along at key steps from which I learned a great deal.
If you had to do it again, would you?
Absolutely, and still looking for the next adventure and opportunity to contribute to exploration discoveries and the advancement of technology particularly in exploration geochemistry.
If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?
Hindsight always gives you better perspective and I have certainly made some mistakes in my career, small and large. Some of my greatest learning opportunities came with the most challenging positions. All in all, by moving positions when I did, I would move up with experience in Leadership, Business Development, grassroots exploration, near-mine exploration, Mine Geology, Business Management, and technology development. Some of those roles were more intellectually stimulating than others and I might have enjoyed staying in them longer, and the mix has given me a very well rounded perspective of the mining exploration industry.
What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?
Best: working to find exploration solutions in highly dynamic teams, working with people a lot smarter than me. International travel and meeting exploration challenges and marvelous people all around the world. I have fond memories of work associates from China to Ireland to Argentina.
Worst: Company politics that can turn ugly, personal and destructive; work cultures that lack trust and lack forward positive momentum. Being asked to justify the cost of buying one new colored pencil, that might have been a career low.
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?
Women in the field have come a long way in my 30+ year career in some countries. In others they cannot work or are relegated to specific roles. Based in the US or Canada and working globally, I would judge the opportunities have improved over time. Generally women are passed over in moves to other countries, which is a challenge in a global exploration environment.
I have thrived and had a great career thus far with some remarkable mentors and co-workers, and have been extremely grateful for my career; I would say that I generally felt the need to work harder and perform better to survive the competitive work environment.
What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?
- Develop a diverse set of skills to give yourself options for changes in the industry or personal decisions.
- Actively find mentors and listen to them. Keep a strong network.
- Do a great job; have fun, be curious, hold a high intellectual standard and work with integrity. Keep your eye on the ball and don’t get distracted by the less relevant issues.
- Have a strategic personal plan that is flexible to life’s curve balls. Be creative.
- Pick your battles.
- If you decide to have a family, find a good nanny. Re-entering the workforce has not worked for many women who step away, although some have been spectacularly successful.
- If you become a leader, surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. Don’t expect people to do what you would not do yourself; you may one day work for the people you are leading.
Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focussed on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?
Diversity of culture, race and gender remains a challenge in the mining exploration community. Once the exploration community is focused on folks with > 10 years experience, the diversity moves from to < 10% in North America. We have not yet reached the tipping point where a diverse workforce is the norm.