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Sarah Devriese - WGC director

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

I entered the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) declared as a chemical engineering major because I absolutely loved chemistry in high school. But university chemistry was different and I did not enjoy either the professor or the TA’s. I then found out that chemical engineering was mostly computer work and that didn’t appeal to me either (the irony of that makes me laugh though, as you’ll see later). So almost through the first year of university, my parents pointed out geophysical engineering: a combination of math, physics, and the natural world… three things I really enjoyed. After visiting with the department, impressed with the professors and the small class sizes, I switched majors.

I don’t think that before going to Mines I had ever heard of geophysics. We had covered basic earth science in middle school but I don’t recall it in high school at all. This baffles me actually, since I attended middle and high school half an hour south of Denver, which has both a decent oil/gas and mining influence and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists holds their annual meeting there every 4 years.

Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

During my undergrad, I worked as a research assistant (learning the ins and outs of the inversion of potential field data) and as a software intern at Maptek (programming in Python and object-oriented C++ for Vulcan). I was primarily interested in planetary geophysics but also inversion so lined up a few schools to apply to in the fall before graduating. Among others, I was accepted into the University of British Columbia with a spot in the Geophysical Inversion Facility and decided that was the place for me: to really delve into inversion algorithms, numerical methods, and making models (lots and lots of computer work… the irony!).

I moved to Canada in 2010 as a master’s student, working on a geothermal project using ZTEM and an Athabasca uranium project using ground-based EM. After a year and a half, I upgraded to the PhD program and started work on my PhD thesis project: investigating the use of EM to monitor steam chambers in the Athabasca oil sands. I defended in 2016 and then started a post-doc in the same lab. About ten months later, I was hired as a project geophysicist by Condor North Consulting and apply/process/interpret geophysics (and inversions) to real-life problems of all shapes and sizes, which I am really enjoying.

If you could go back to your first year in undergrad, would you pick the same degree and career trajectory? Why/why not?

I think so! I have very, very fond memories of the geophysics department at CSM and how my class felt like one big family. The material was varied and kept me engaged and interested and challenged. Grad school was difficult and a long-haul and there are different ways to spend your twenties as a young geophysicist but it was the right path for me. I enjoy puzzles and solving things, and so far my career trajectory has allowed me to do that. I don’t think I could be happy doing the same thing, day in, day out. I need to scratch my head and be frustrated about my work for a day, a week, or even months at a time.

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

The three best things are:

- The people I work with – they have a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise and I’ve really learned a lot from all them. I think this helps me see things from many different angles and expand my own knowledge. And it’s great to be part of a team like that on projects.

- The puzzles I get to work on – there’s always something to tinker with or figure out or scratch my head about and I love that.

- The variety of work – it’s never the same, even if two projects use the same geophysical method or are in similar geologic settings. It’s always different and that novelty keeps it fresh and exciting for me.

Three things I would change are:

- The lack of discussion between geophysicists and geologists. I think we can do better!

- The difficulty of publishing in and accessing peer-reviewed papers… Pay to publish, pay to read it. I think this system is quite dated and we need to be more open about sharing our knowledge, especially as exploration becomes more and more challenging.

- The way inversions of geophysical data are approached. It’s complicated and reports on this work should be more than just sharing models. It should include much more about the approach and parameters, just like any other geoscience interpretation being done.

Why did you become involved with WGC as a director?

Gender diversity was not something on my mind through most of grad school, to be honest. I was aware that I was one of few women surrounded by many, many men, but it did not affect me personally (luckily) and I did not stand still that my whole career could be like this or be impacted by being female. That changed as I attended more and more conferences and started to notice more that outside of academia, there weren’t many women at these conferences. When WGC was started, I was encouraged to come on board by the others and I’m glad I did.

Why is gender balance in geoscience important to you?

I think when there’s balance, there’s more change for growth, prosperity, and the exchange of ideas. If the whole box of cookies is chocolate chip, it can be a bit mundane. But if there’s variety, all of a sudden, there are choices and discussions about which is a better cookie. I think geoscience would really benefit from that, and that depends on having all sorts of people with all sorts of experiences and backgrounds.

Why should it be important for everyone?

It’s been shown that balanced teams and companies perform better. So from a business standpoint, it should be important. I think too that families and communities would benefit. Seeing strong role models of all genders, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, etc is great for the younger generation and they can envision themselves in those future roles.

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

Don’t set out to plan the next 5 or 10 years. The industry moves quickly and what we think 5 years from now looks like is very likely not to be the case. Have goals but be flexible. That being said though, if there are certain things that are absolutely important to you, stick with those things. I’m glad I did.

Learn as much as you can from the literature (sign up for email notifications for the different journals so you’ll get a list of the titles each time an issue is published; it’s a great and quick way to keep up with new science and case histories).

Learn as much as you can from the people (network like your life depends on it; it’s a small industry but it’s still really important to know as many of them as you can and they’re generally all very chatty about their experience/knowledge).

Geoscientists are humans first and foremost. What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of geoscience?

I’m an avid mountain biker, including being an ambassador with my local shop and getting more women out riding and being a director for my local trail association. I love skiing and wish I could do it more. We have an Australian Shepherd and he keeps me on my toes with his ridiculous intelligence and never-ending energy. I do trick training and agility with him and in return, he gives me unconditional love and sheds all over my clothes.

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