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 numerous geologic mapping and geochemical sampling projects in Colorado, Alaska, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere globally. When possible, he took the family into the field and many of my childhood memories come from living out of a tent trailer and following him 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 changed to Geology as my major in University.
How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)
Beginning with my first summer break from the University of Colorado, 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, just as I completed a M.Sc. at Queen’s University, and I remember applying for over 100 jobs. The ones I thought might come through did not, and I was fortunate to get one 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 (Lik Deposit, west of Red Dog Deposit), and working as a field sampler for the geochemistry department at Anaconda Minerals with one of my better mentors (Rusty Riese). Following my earliest roles working as a junior geologist on Greenfields exploration programs, 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 the 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 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 career turn and tried a completely different path. I accepted a role as the Business Manager working for ALS Minerals, an international analytical services company. This was key experience to learn how to run a business in the USA--the challenges and rewards. Challenges included not just staying within a budget, but making a profit, and understanding the fundamentals of business economics, employee relations, business development and working with a wide range of companies and clients
Because of my background in exploration geochemistry, I was able to work with some of the very capable chemists at ALS to probe new methods for exploration. While working in business management at ALS, I was able to participate for two years in 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, we successfully moved the needle on state-of-the-art exploration applications, and we 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 geochemists, geophysicists, the Chief Geologist and exploration software developers.
My current role is yet another change in career 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 talented students, contributing to strengthening the Masters Degree program, and the 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 occasions, from which I learned a great deal.
If you had to do it again, would you?
Absolutely, and I’m 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 career positions when I did, I enhanced my 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, but the mix has given me a very well rounded perspective of the mineral 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, meeting exploration challenges, and working with 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 both trust and positive momentum. Being asked to justify the cost of buying one new colored pencil might have been my 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 on my experience working in the US, Canada, and globally, I would say that the opportunities for women overall have improved over time. Nevertheless, women are commonly passed over in moves to other countries, which is a continuing challenge in a global exploration environment.
I have thrived and have had a great career thus far working with some remarkable mentors and co-workers, and I’ve been extremely grateful for my career; I have generally felt the need to work harder and perform better than others to survive in the competitive work environment as a woman.
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 carefully.
- 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?
While steadily improving, diversity of culture, race and gender remains a challenge in the mining exploration community. When considering geologists with more than 10 years of experience, diversity encountered in the workplace or at professional meetings is poor within North America. We have not yet reached the tipping point where a diverse workforce is the norm.