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Uranbileg (Urnaa) Yondon, P.Geo., MBA, MSc

How did you decide on pursuing your degree(s)? Did you know about geology/geoscience before you entered university?

I developed a keen interest in physics and natural sciences during high school, largely influenced by an exceptional physics teacher. This passion led me to pursue a profession related to physics, prompting my application to the National University of Mongolia in the Physics and Electronic Department. Upon acceptance, I had the opportunity to choose from various professions such as nuclear physics, geophysics, theoretical physics, and electronics. I did not have much knowledge about Geoscience and Geology/Geophysics before I entered the University. After meeting with university professors to explore each field, I decided on geophysics because the interdisciplinary nature of geophysics, involving physical, chemical, and mathematical disciplines, appealed to me. I still remember that some of my professors mentioned the increasing demand for geophysicists in the future, a prediction that now makes perfect sense.

Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

 I consider myself fortunate to have been hired by Ivanhoe Mines for the Oyu-Tolgoi (OT) deposit immediately after completing my undergraduate degree, a year ahead of schedule. Over the course of eight years, I progressed from a Geophysical Technician to a Senior Geophysicist, contributing significantly to the exploration efforts during the discovery phase at OT. As the exploration stage concluded, a new geophysical system called Zeus (the prototype of Ivanhoe Electric's Typhoon system) was put into place, Ivanhoe's Geophysical Exploration team, which later became GoviEx/IBEX was ready to explore other potential lands around the Mongolia and other countries. I worked for GoviEx/IBEX till 2016 as a Manager and Lead Geophysicist of the company. During this time, I worked in Inner Mongolia, China, and Australia. I came to Canada in 2016 with my family and worked for Canadian junior exploration company Makara Mining Corp. for past three years as a Geoscientist/Technical Officer. Now I am working for Arca Climate Technologies Inc., a Vancouver-based cleantech startup as a Program Manager. 


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

Absolutely, without a doubt. Despite the significant time, effort, and sacrifices in terms of personal and family time that this profession demands, the rewards and impact are immense. If you have a genuine passion for earth science, a thirst for knowledge, and a curiosity, pursuing a career in geoscience is not just a job; it's a fulfilling journey that leads to success. Yes, it does. In addition, having this profession as a Geoscientist or any of the Geoscience branches, when you realize the impact of your work is just amazing and gives you more motivation to love your profession and what you are doing. For example, I worked for Rio Tinto’s Oyu-Tolgoi copper-gold mine during discovery years and did geophysical exploration. Those 8 years were very hard and tiring in terms of physical load and responsibilities. But we now know that the OT is the 4th largest copper-gold mine in the world and it alone provides about 30-40% of Mongolian GDP and supports thousands of people’s lives. Is not it amazing and proud to think I was there to discover those chains of pure ore bodies. Isn't it amazing?

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

From my perspective, the best things about being an exploration Geophysicist:

  1. Critical Role in Discovering Buried Deposits: My profession plays a critical role in determining deeply buried mineral deposits, sometimes as far as 1.5 km below the surface. This is especially crucial in areas where geological outcrops are limited.

  2. Versatility in Geoscience Branches: The nature of Geophysics, which combines mathematics, chemistry, physics, and geology, makes it relatively easier to transition to other geoscience branches. In my experience, it's often more challenging for geologists to learn geophysics than the other way around.

  3. Fascinating Imaging and Modeling: The job is fascinating because it involves imaging the subsurface, creating anomalies, developing 3D geophysical models, and superimposing them with drillhole and other data. The ability to do this or understand how it's done is truly incredible, and my job provides these opportunities.

Three things like to change:

  1. System Change within the Industry: There needs to be a shift in the industry towards collaboration among professionals with different Geoscience disciplines. Negative comments or biases against certain disciplines, such as Geophysics, should be addressed, as all disciplines play an important part in achieving success.

  2. STEM Industry: Addressing gender and other forms of inequality in the STEM industry is crucial. This requires systemic changes at the governance and organizational levels to support more women in STEM fields, help them navigate challenges in balancing personal and professional life, and ensure equal pay.

  3. Increasing Public Awareness: There's a need to increase public understanding, particularly about Geophysics and Geoscience. Ensuring that correct and compelling information is disseminated will help in fostering a better appreciation for these fields.                                                                                                                              

Why is gender balance in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience important to you?

We know that the perception of the mining sector as male-dominant is rooted in the physically demanding nature of the work and the often remote and challenging working conditions. While these conditions pose challenges for both men and women, achieving gender equality in the sector is crucial. This is not just about fairness; it brings diverse and enhanced perspectives to decision-making and problem-solving approaches.

In addition, ensuring gender balance benefits organizations too by accessing the full talent potential. It also addresses a key factor for maintaining long-term workforce sustainability. Embracing gender balance is not only a positive step for workforce dynamics but also aligns with corporate social responsibility values. I think the organizations should actively encourage and support gender balance, fostering an inclusive environment. In addition, employee education is key to overcoming traditional biases related to gender issues within the industry.

Why should it be important for everyone?

There are multiple compelling reasons why gender balance is crucial for the mining industry and society at large. First and foremost, it ensures equal opportunities for both men and women, contributing to a social norm and justice. From an economic standpoint, gender balance has a substantial impact, breaking down traditional gender stereotypes and providing increased opportunities for education and career advancement.

The long-term effects of promoting gender balance are evident in the cultivation of sustainable work cultures, community support, and overall well-being.

I worked in a number of developing countries and this is particularly significant for rural communities, where encouraging gender balance becomes a critical factor for the progress and prosperity of both local communities and the entire nation.

What advice would you give to young women starting a career in mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?

First, I would advise that your emphasis is on taking initiative, even when feeling less than 100% prepared, is important. The notion that perfection is not a prerequisite for action is a powerful message for overcoming self-doubt. Because as a woman, our nature is to want to get prepared or ready for something 100% and if not hold ourselves to participate. Sometimes, it is okay to go ahead and try, even when feeling less than fully prepared. Try new things and I would encourage try to get out of your comfort zone where the growth occurs.

Furthermore, your encouragement to navigate through discrimination and biases while maintaining self-belief is crucial. Resilience and self-trust are powerful tools to counteract challenges and foster personal and professional growth. Never lose your trust, believe in yourself, and try to be your number one cheerleader for yourself.

Finally, try to be your authentic self. Being genuine and expressing oneself is not only empowering but also contributes to creating diverse and inclusive environments. Your words resonate as both practical advice and a call to embrace one's unique voice and perspective. So, do not be shy about asking questions and addressing issues or making comments and being who you are. 

What motivates you and keeps you busy outside of mineral exploration/mining/geoscience?

My family and kids, my dog, my garden, and a beautiful place to live and walk. More importantly, positive thought and self-encouragement motivate me and help me to be more present and look forward to a brighter future.

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