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Rachelle Boulanger

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

I was briefly introduced to plate tectonics and volcanoes in high school but didn’t realize geology was a career option before university. I started university as a Human Justice major and took intro-geology to satisfy a lab requirement. I enjoyed Dr. Janis Dale’s class so much that I switched to a geology major the following semester! I loved that geology focussed on explaining all the “why” questions I had as a kid.

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

My first role was as a summer-student field geologist boulder prospecting and soil sampling for a junior uranium exploration company in northern SK. I got the job by attending a geology conference (Saskatchewan Geological Open House). My friend struck up a conversation with a geologist at the meet and greet event the first night, and he offered both of us jobs for the summer. Little did I know this would be the most important career move I would make to date!

Can you briefly describe your career progression?

I completed my undergraduate degree at the end of 2009 which coincided with low uranium prices. The junior company I had worked for during the summers offered me a M.Sc. project on their deposit, which I gladly accepted. After completing my M.Sc., I applied at Rio Tinto and became a geologist working in Northern Saskatchewan. From there I focused my efforts on geochemical orebody knowledge and QAQC, eventually transferring to Rio Tinto Exploration (RTX) in 2015. I was always vocal about my interest in geochemistry throughout my early career. In late 2016, I joined the RTX geochemistry technical team where I am currently. I support and provide guidance to our exploration teams in North America. Any average day could include planning sampling programs, interpreting and modelling local or regional datasets, providing QAQC guidance, or training geologists on geochemistry.

How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?

Broadly, role expectations are laid out and openly available for employees to read. The idea is that in order to get a promotion, one should demonstrate in their work that they meet the requirements of the new role. The onus is really on the employee to be vocal and clear about their career goals with their line manager. In order to change careers (from exploration to mine site for example), a formal application needs to be completed when a job posting is listed, with CV and cover letter submitted.

If you had to do it again, would you?

I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and work with some incredible people and travel to some pretty amazing sites to see some cool rocks. I won’t say it’s always been easy, but it has always been rewarding. I would absolutely do it all again if I had the chance, but maybe with a few edits!

Credit: Paul Jones

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

I would go back to the start and have spoken up about imposter syndrome on day one and sought the support I needed. Knowing now that it is such a common condition, I would have taken the steps to address it early on instead of trying to hide it. I am a vocal supporter of normalizing mental health and hope that anyone with imposter syndrome that reads this will know they are not alone, and if they speak up about it, they’ll find a load of support and probably several coworkers who have experienced a similar problem.

What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?

I love this question.

The three best things about my job/career are:

1. Getting to train younger geologists on geochemistry and geochemical software

2. Access to vast and diverse minds from different fields and countries from which to draw training and support.

3. The variety in my work: Supporting multiple projects across multiple commodities ensures that I never get bored.

The three worst things…

1. Presentations! I’ve always hated doing them and it has never gotten easier.

2. When a new method or technique doesn’t work the way I expect. That can be disappointing, but it comes with learning and experience for next time.

3. Implicit gender and diversity bias in the industry. I do think the industry is moving in the right direction, but I think it still has a long road ahead.

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?

I believe that the place for women in geology has become and will continue to be more mainstream. However, I don’t think attracting women to geoscience is a problem, I think retention is the biggest problem. The industry needs to commit to exploring alternatives to meet the needs of women in ways that leave them feeling safe, heard, empowered, and respected in the workplace.

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

My biggest advice is to trust yourself. You were hired because of your abilities. Speak up, and if you feel ignored, try again, or put it in an email. Mostly importantly, ask for what you want. I asked for my first promotion, I didn’t wait for it. Also, take advantage of any mentoring opportunities that come by, and reach out to more senior female geoscientists in the company to see if they can offer tips and support.

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

Diversity is important because I believe that the best and most effective way to solve a problem is by using a variety of perspectives and experience. I believe that surrounding oneself with people that look like them and act like them will only ensure that their own ideas come back to them. I had the pleasure of experiencing the benefits of a truly diverse work culture firsthand. I worked on a remote field project where I was one of three women on site and our team of 10 geoscientists (including students) had come from 5 different countries. It was a phenomenal experience; I learned so much about myself and about other people’s approaches to geology on that field trip. We had great discussions around the geology of the area, best sampling practices, and different mapping techniques which greatly benefited each of us and the project.

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

We need to talk about diversity because awareness is the first step to change. People can’t change a problem they don’t acknowledge. Subjects like diversity are uncomfortable. The more it gets discussed and brought into the spotlight, the more opportunity people have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That is what will open the door to change and growth.

Credit: Paul Jones

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