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Victoria Tschirhart - WGC director

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

My dad was a physical geography teacher and would take us on camping trips across Canada during the summer. He would teach us about landforms, rocks and inspired a love of the outdoors in his children. His not so subtle summer lessons had an impact as both my brother and I ended up in geosciences. After high school, I went to university for Geological Engineering thinking an engineer would have a higher earning potential than a geologist; however, following a few “Introduction to Engineering” classes I was worried I would end up in an office as opposed to the field, so I quickly made the switch to Earth Sciences.

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

I definitely would have gone into Earth Sciences rather than Engineering!

Describe your career progression since finishing undergrad.

I was hired on as a Research Scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) in 2014, but was already associated with the GSC since becoming a field assistant during my third year of undergrad. I am on my way to becoming a GSC lifer! I completed both my undergraduate and PhD theses under the GSC’s Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) Program, in the GEM-NUC project, northeast Thelon Basin sub-project led by Dr. Charlie Jefferson. This sub-project gave me experience conducting government research in a remote field area and the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of geoscientists. I had an amazing opportunity to integrate aspects of geology, geochemistry and remote sensing into my applied geophysics PhD research. Working with the many disparate geoscientific datasets ignited my love for integration, which I still try to incorporate into my research agenda.

Throughout my PhD, I was leaning heavily toward an industry career, but while I was finishing, I could see that industry jobs were sparse, and the GSC had already given me interesting opportunities. Calculating long odds on graduating without having a job lined up, I applied for my current position at the GSC and won the competition. I took the job with the intention of staying two years to increase my industry marketable skillsets and then making the jump to industry. Five years later, I have periodically questioned my sanity for working in government, but I am actually happy with where I ended up.

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

I often describe working as a Research Scientist at the GSC as a pick your own adventure novel where I get to choose my area of research and collaborators. I am very fortunate to be working with a great team of young scientists in frontier exploration regions of Canada. Working for the federal government also offers anomalously good job stability and the opportunity to travel to remote parts of Canada.

What are things you would change?

Aspects of my position I would change are fundamental to working in government: unnecessary bureaucracy, slow approval processes, etc. While these operational issues are sometimes frustrating, for the most part they cannot be avoided, and I realize that large industry corporations have similar issues.

Why did you become involved with WGC as a director?

During university, my geophysics lab group under Dr. Bill Morris always had more women than men. As well, the university department also had more women than men and my student work with the GSC connected me with quite a few women. As such, at the time I applied to the GSC, I did not realize that gender balance as well as other gender issues were still issues. Entering the workforce, things were indeed different—I have always been the only woman in my Section and the higher level Research Scientists are predominantly male. Unfortunately, one of my main motivations for becoming involved with WGC was both witnessing and experiencing gender inequality and sexism. I felt the best way to improve the situation was to get involved in an initiative like WGC, which constructively but strongly advocates for representation and recognition. I hope that through WGC and similarly minded initiatives, underrepresented groups finishing university and entering the workforce will not have to experience, or at least will have less exposure to, the same issues.

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

Do not be afraid to speak up. This is something I still struggle with, particularly if I am the youngest or only woman in the room. If I do not speak up, my opinion will not be heard, and my scientific contribution will not be recognized or will be overlooked.

Apply even if you do not meet all the necessary qualifications. I find my male colleagues will always apply without having checked all the boxes, whereas women will wait until all the boxes are checked.

Women need to work with men, but women need to work with, advocate and support other women.

Why should gender balance be important for everyone?

Because women make up half the world! It actually blows my mind that gender balance is still an issue in 2019. Many of the smartest scientists I know are women; however, I still hear of issues or conflict directly resulting from their gender. Everyone needs to understand and celebrate the well-documented fact that truly balanced diversity leads to ideas that are more diverse and results in innovative solutions to scientific and societal problems.

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