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Mary Louise Hill, PhD, P.Geo.

How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

I was introduced to geology in high school. At Bell High School in Ottawa, Mrs. Jeanette Dean offered grade 12 and 13 geology courses. A few weeks into the grade 12 geology course I was hooked. I had discovered a field that combined my love of science and my passion for the outdoors. Mrs. Dean took us on field trips to find fossils in the Ottawa limestone. She invited a GSC geologist to come to our class and present a slide show about his field work in the Arctic. In grade 13 she took us to visit the geology department at Carleton University and encouraged us to attend university to study geology. She definitely shaped my future.

Much later, I learned how Mrs. Dean came to teach high school geology. She and her husband were both geologists and they had moved to Ottawa for his employment. It was more difficult for women to find employment as a geologist in those days, and so she became a high school teacher. She never mentioned this to her students, nor did she tell us how male-dominated the discipline was at that time. I was very surprised to see how few women there were in my first-year geology class at Carleton University in 1974, but comforted to recognize a few classmates from Mrs. Dean’s class.

How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)

I landed my first job as a summer field assistant with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey in 1976. The offer of employment arrived in the mail about two weeks before I was expected to show up in Saskatchewan to start work. I was hired without an interview. After applying for dozens of positions without success, I was excited to be launching my career. It turns out that I was the first female student to be hired by the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, and a reporter for a newspaper in Regina wrote an article about me. I later discovered that I had been hired at the last minute so that the female cook wouldn’t be the only woman on the field party!

Can you briefly describe your career progression?

As a student I gained experience in geological mapping and mineral exploration through various summer jobs in the field. Although the first employment equity legislation in Canada was passed in the late 1970s, that didn’t change attitudes and culture in the mineral exploration sector. I decided to go to graduate school to earn my doctorate with a goal of working for a geological survey. Before I completed my Ph.D. at Princeton University I was recruited to teach courses on a part-time basis at Temple University in nearby Philadelphia. Teaching at a university had never been my goal but I loved it and continued. A few years later I earned tenure as a professor of geology, and not long after that I was recruited into university administration. When I returned to Canada in 1999 I was Vice-President (Academic) and Provost at Lakehead University, with a tenured position in the geology department. At the end of my five-year term as VP it was wonderful to return to teaching and research as a professor of geology again.

Panning for gold, Yukon 1979

If you had to do it again, would you?

Yes, I would definitely do it all again! My passion for geology has never diminished, and I look forward to discovering new things every day.

If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

It would have been nice to have had more female colleagues during the early part of my career. I guess as trailblazers for women in the geosciences we were still few and far between. It is good to know that this is changing as more women enter the profession.

What are the best things about your job/career?

As a professor of geology, I work with students and help them launch their careers. It is rewarding to see how much students learn between their first day in an introductory geology course and their last day in a capstone course a few years later. I love hearing from past students and seeing where they are and what they have accomplished since graduating.

In my research on structural control of orogenic gold deposits, I work with prospectors, junior explorers and producers, and it is very rewarding to make discoveries that lead to prosperity for northern communities and the people who live and work there.

Do you see, in either your work place or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

There are many more opportunities for women in the geosciences now than when I started. While there is still room for improvement, we are definitely moving in the right direction.

For most of my career, I was the only female faculty member in the geology department. Now half of the faculty in the geology department at Lakehead University are women. That is progress.

Refuge station at Musselwhite Mine

What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?

When opportunity knocks, answer the door. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out exactly as planned. Take a chance and try something new. You never know where it may lead you.

Find ways to include other female geoscientists in your circle, as friends, allies, mentors etc. Sometimes the female perspective is different, and it will build confidence just knowing that you are not alone.

Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focussed on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the geosciences are very important to me. The more different perspectives we can bring to the table, the better we are able to make discoveries, solve problems, and achieve success. Diversity includes gender, and also ethnicity, culture, religion, age, experience, and all of the other differences that make us who we are. When we build our teams, we should welcome and include others who do not duplicate us. Equity, diversity and inclusion in education ensure that we have a qualified and diverse workforce to choose from.

Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?

It is a terrible waste of talent when qualified geoscientists are excluded because of differences that have no impact on their skills, knowledge or expertise. Diversity in an organization builds strength, and it has been demonstrated that diversity improves successful outcomes, including the bottom line. Why wouldn’t everyone be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?

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