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Melanie Mackay, P.Geo.

How did you decide on pursuing your degree(s)? Did you know about geology before you entered university? I used to collect rocks when I was a little girl and was always so curious about how the rocks were formed and why they were different shapes, textures and colors. I was also always fascinated with fossils. When I was in high school, I started working for my dad who owned a forest silviculture company. I decided to enter into Forestry at University and finished a degree in Forest Resources Management at UBC prior to entering Geological Sciences. I never stopped bringing rocks home during my time working in the woods.

Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

Right after graduation I worked for Schlumberger Wireline services and was sent to Alberta, Oklahoma, and Egypt for work/training. I then took a job as a mine geologist with Kemess Mine – Copper porphyry deposit – in North-Central British Columbia. As I began having children (I have three beautiful daughters) I started working in the metallurgical coal industry, in downtown Vancouver. I found the area of coal and coke quality and product determination fascinating and have specialized in this area since 2004. I found that consulting was a better fit for me while raising three children and I’ve always had work when I’ve wanted it. The coal industry in British Columbia is full of very lovely people and is a very inclusive group for women working in the industry. I’ve always had great opportunities offered to me such as involvement with the Canadian Carbonization Research Association, the UNECE Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane, and invitations to several International Standards Organization Committees. Eight years ago a group of colleagues and I formed the Western Canadian Coal Society which is a non-profit society with a mandate to deliver technical development and networking opportunities to the coal industry. I have also been a board director for several companies. I currently sit on the board of directors for Durango Resources Limited. This company is unique because the board and senior management is comprised only of women. We explore for gold, copper, base metals, rare earths, and lithium. We have a very flexible work schedule and are constantly challenging each other to think outside the box and be innovative in everything we do. I am also currently pursuing a PhD in Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia. I have two fellow women and one man in our PhD research group who are brilliant and are wonderful to collaborate with.

If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not? I would have gone straight into Geoscience instead of completing a Forestry Degree first. I loved my time in Geological Sciences at UBC. I was meant to be a geologist in the mining industry. I am glad that I’ve waited until this point in my life to pursue a PhD because mature enough to think of my own research ideas and I know the things that I need to learn about to advance my career in mining.

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

The three best things about my career:

  1. There is a lot of innovation happening in geoscience and mining. There is never a chance to get bored.

  2. I have wonderful colleagues who are supportive and innovative and who strive to make mining safe and socially and environmentally responsible.

  3. I love studying coal, rocks, and minerals.

Three things I would change:

I wouldn’t change anything. I think the experiences I’ve had have shaped who I am today.

Why is gender balance in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience important to you? Diversity is important in any setting. The best ideas and plans are generated from ideas stemming from diverse minds. Since I joined the geoscience world I’ve looked around the room at conferences to make note of the number of women in the audience. And recently at PDAC, I didn’t seen many women my age attending. I have recently read that the mining industry has the highest attrition of women between early and mid-career of all industries. I want women to know that it’s possible to stay in the mining industry while raising a family. I actually didn’t start going back into the field until this past year after an 18 year hiatus however there were still fulfilling roles to play in the mining industry.

Why should it be important for everyone? Diversity is the key to problem solving. If we want to develop mines and extract minerals in a socially, environmentally and economical way we need a diverse set of minds to best do this.

What advice would you give to young women starting a career in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience? Surround yourself with awesome people. If the vibe isn’t right, change your surroundings. Working with the right colleagues is one of the most important aspects for career development. You want to be part of a group that works to lift each other up, not push each other down. Support fellow women who are working in mining. Try not to be jealous or competitive. By working together you can achieve more than a single person.

What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of mineral exploration/mining/geoscience? Research. I am pursing a PhD in Mining Engineering and my favourite thing is to apply technology from other industries to solve problems in the mining industry. I also love studying coal, spending time with family and friends, and walking and running with my dog.

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