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Zina Boileau

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

Growing up in Tofino, BC, with a marine biologist for a father and a mycology enthusiast for a mother, I was definitely raised with an appreciation for the natural sciences. I always had a fascination with natural disasters, mountain ranges, and eventually plate tectonics. Unfortunately, no one recognized that this was a career path that I could follow, so I didn’t have a clear idea of what to do after high school.

I took a Geography class in grade 12, and that led to an erroneous enrollment in a Geography Degree. I knew within the first semester that I was looking for something with fewer people and more…rocks. Unfortunately I had to spend some time upgrading my basic sciences and math, but I (now) knew that Geology was my true love, and I would do anything to get to be able to study it.

If you could go back to your first day in undergrad, would you pick the same trajectory?

I would have definitely skipped the Human Geography classes, and I would have taken my high school sciences while they didn’t cost $500 per course. However, I have absolutely zero regrets with how my degree played out. It took a bit longer than expected, but I think that if I had graduated when I was 21 and tried to find a job in Geology, I would have been absolutely useless.

I also hold my college experience (versus university) in very high regard; I am a believer that small class sizes are ultimately the best way to learn. That being said, the University of British Columbia (UBC) has been a phenomenal experience, and I owe it to some absolutely wonderful professors and TAs.

Describe your current position and how did you get there?

I currently work at the Mineral Deposit Research Unit at UBC. I started working for them as a 2nd year Geology student in 2015 and have been working for them on and off since then, now full time. I have also done summer field work for the Yukon Geological Survey and the Geological Survey of Canada.

What are the three best things about your current position?

Being able to work such flexible hours in the same building that all my classes were in was incredibly convenient during my degree. I have received incredible support and guidance through my budding geoscience career from my coworkers and supervisors, and have been exposed to several different facets within the industry. My favourite thing about this job has been the Swiss army nature of my employment; I have worked in a lab preparing and running carbonate samples for isotope analysis, archived a massive Galena inventory, done research on various mineral deposits around the world, done field work in Northern BC, and numerous other projects. I never really know what project I am going to be put on, and I love how diverse my experience has been. Being exposed to so many different niches within Geology has been instrumental in my education.

What kind of career do you envision having? 5 years from now? 10 years? 20 years?

I have a particular interest in structural geology and tectonics, so I do see myself returning to academia in some capacity at some point in the next 5 years to continue with research.

I would love to do as much field work as humanly possible - get me into the mountains!! I don’t think I really care where I am, as long as I am able to do the science I hold so dear to my heart. Consulting, MinEx, Government - who knows what is next, but I sure am excited about it.

I think that after a long and rather illustrious field career, I can see myself working in public education, perhaps promoting Earth Sciences in secondary and primary schools in a larger capacity.

Geology is an infamously unpredictable field, so I doubt that any plans I make will go accordingly anyways.

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

We are forever in debt to the women who came before us and made it easier to be a woman in geoscience, and we are seeing changes in the industry slowly (but surely). Be the commander of your own fate, and don’t bother with the people who don’t take you seriously – those are not the people you want to work for anyways. Seek out employment that fulfills you and cultivates your strengths. Perhaps that is a very privileged point of view, since there seem to be plenty of jobs around these days, but I think that fostering that attitude makes you not just a stronger woman, but a better employee. Know your worth, and don’t let the bastards get you down.

Do you see gender balance at the university? If so, what do you think is different at the university compared to in industry?

I was very lucky to be surrounded by several incredible women during my degree. My year had an almost 50/50 balance of women in Geology, Geophysics, and Geological Engineering majors. Though I have been fortunate enough to work with many amazing women in my government jobs, the times I have been in industry camps, I have been one of the few women, if not the only woman on site. I think that life in an exploration camp is very isolating, and it can cultivate certain behaviours that would not be permissible in the ‘real world’. I think that this is a deterrent for some women, because we are not being respected for the work that we do.

Why is gender balance in geoscience important to you?

Because I absolutely love what I do, and I think I am quite good at it.

I want to be taken seriously and to feel safe in my workplace, and I don’t think that is too much to ask for, nor difficult for employers to achieve. This isn’t just a ‘social justice issue’ to me, this is my life that I live every day as a woman in geoscience.

Why should it be important for everyone?

Again, it shouldn’t be considered something radical. In 2019, there are just as many intelligent, capable, accomplished, strong women that are graduating with Geoscience degrees as there are men. To overlook us is erroneous and irresponsible. Don’t miss out on some great scientists.

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