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I was born and raised in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario to parents who both came from southern India, which makes me a first generation Canadian. I grew up in the city where there weren’t many opportunities to do a lot of outdoor activities like camping or hiking. As a family we just didn’t do that sort of thing, at least not often. However, the lack of exposure never stopped me from day-dreaming of one day spending more time in the outdoors and getting to places that people thought I was crazy for wanting to go. I also always had a fascination for ancient things and a natural curiosity for why my surroundings and society in general, are the way they are. At that time I thought Archaeology was a neat subject and had no idea that Geology and the Earth Sciences was something one could actually specialize in.
Immediately following high school, I went to university thinking I would major in microbiology and eventually become a medical doctor. When things didn’t work out so well in the first year of my undergrad, I was left not knowing what to do. For a brief period I almost convinced myself that university wasn’t for me. Despite it all, I stuck with it which is when I discovered the Earth Sciences. I never would have predicted then that eventually I’d complete three Earth Science degrees (BSc, MSc and PhD) and become a Rock Doctor! Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since.
Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
A: Job title/classification is a Research Scientist with specific focus on the Precambrian bedrock rocks that are older than 542 million years old.
My job is to map the Precambrian bedrock exposed in Nunavut with the aim of understanding how and when they formed and whether or not there may be any economic mineral potential associated with them. It is impossible to do this all on my own. Because of the size of our office (four of us in total right now), our projects are carried out in partnership with universities and our direct colleagues working from the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa, Calgary and/or Quebec.
Since we walk and fly over vast amounts of land (i.e. > 10,000 km2) in any given summer, the projects are usually made up of at least three different geoscience teams (for example, bedrock, surficial and geophysics). In so doing we optimize on the amount and type of data that are collected over an 8 week field season. Sometimes it means that I am partly responsible for leading, organizing and hiring the crews (i.e. Southampton Island Integrated Geoscience Project 2007 & 2008).
Q: Who do you work for, and where are you based? Where does field work take you?
A: My employer is the Department of Natural Resources Canada. I work out of the Canada Nunavut Geoscience Office (CNGO) in Iqaluit, Nunavut where I am based year round.
Working out of Iqaluit, the capital city of the territory, my field work takes me to remote places in Nunavut. For example, the summers of 2007 and 2008 were spent on Southampton Island. In 2009, I will be on Melville Peninsula just southwest of the hamlet of Hall Beach.
Q: What is your typical work routine?
A: Monday through Friday I work from 9 AM ~ 6 PM. I usually leave work at work, but before a big conference and/or especially before the field season begins, sometimes working at home or on weekends it is unavoidable!
While in the field, every day for up to eight weeks, the work day starts at 7 AM and may end around 10 PM.
Q: Where do you work?
A: From September through mid June I work out of the office. Due to the lack of laboratory facilities here in Iqaluit, occasionally I am required to travel the Geological Survey office in Ottawa and work out of the laboratory facilities there.
During the Arctic summer months (July & August), the work I do is field based which means my office is Nunavut’s wide open tundra.
Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?
A: When I am working out of the office, I rely very much on a computer for my day to day work. Less frequently I use a transmitted light microscope to look at thin-sections of rocks; or a macro-scope when the need to hand-pick minerals arises. When I want to know how old a particular rock is, I rely on the folks who operate and fix an ion microprobe.
In the field I live and work out of a tent based camp. I am flown in a helicopter from the campsite to where ever I must go each day. The traversing distance between helicopter drop-off and pick-up points is usually 8 – 12 km. I rely entirely on my feet to get me from my drop-off to pick-up point. Along the way, I use air photos, a compass and a GPS to navigate. When looking at the rocks (every kilometre) I use a hammer, compass, hand lens, notebook, camera and hand-held computer to make and record observations. At the end of the day, when the helicopter comes to pick me up, I use a mirror or walkie-talkie and a big orange flag to guide the helicopter pilot to my exact location on the ground. I also always carry a satellite phone.
As you can probably imagine, a heavy duty back pack is an absolute must in the field!
Q: What education or training is required for your job?
A: The minimum education requirement is a Bachelor of Science degree from a recognized university. My formal education includes three Earth Science degrees – BSc, MSc, PhD. Experience conducting and leading scientific research is necessary, whether in the context of grad school, the work force or some combination of the two. Valid First Aid and Fire Arms Possession Certificates are a must.
Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?
A: Scientific curiosity: The research I am involved in requires an innate curiosity for the landscape and my surroundings what are the rocks on which we have built our homes and our lives; how did they form, where, when, why? Without this curiosity, our understanding of the way things work would not progress and scientific discoveries would be slow to happen.
People skills: Though I study rocks, I cannot do my work without interacting with a variety of people. And believe it or not, people don’t all think the same especially in the research world! There is always more than one way to look at and approach a problem whether it is scientific or social. A willingness to learn from people, especially when just starting out in your career, and remaining open to views that differ from your own will ensure that you get the most out of any and every situation.
Flexibility: things very rarely go according to plan. Weather delays, mechanical breakdowns, conflict of personalities, changes in priorities and/or availability of $$, these are all part of our ever changing environment. Being flexible to the change will usually serve to make the experience a positive one.
Respect: the most effective way to get the best results from a group of people working as a team is to bring out the best in each person. To achieve this is to acknowledge and respect that individual team members have something to bring to the table.
Positive Outlook: Every cloud has a silver lining. When the going gets rough, recognizing that positive things that will eventually come of a situation will serve as the encouragement needed to get through it.
Determination: For those of us just starting out in our career paths, recognition among our peers does not always come with the job title, but having the determination to become an authority figure in a certain field does. The results may not always be immediate. As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.
Sense of adventure and fun: Travelling to places that many people have never been, there is always an element of the unknown. Every day in the field is always an adventure that is unique to the day before.
Q: What is the salary range of your job?
A: $ 43,000 – $ 95,000
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: What I like best about my job is the fact that I spend the whole summer outdoors. Additional perks include meeting new people every summer; spending time in locations that most people never get to; the challenge of living and working through sometimes physically and/or socially difficult situations; the fact that I am always learning and growing as a person.
Q: What are the advantages (benefits, seasonal work, travel, people, etc.?)
A: After spending the bulk of every year planning the next field season as well as process and interpret the data collected the summer before, it is very satisfying to get out there and see those plans in action.
For July and August, the best weather months of the year it is great to be out there, on the land. My work place is the wide-open tundra occasionally interrupted by water, all of it spanning as far as the eye can see. Once we have been dropped off by helicopter, the only other person I see and interact with all day is my traversing partner and the occasional caribou, Arctic fox, hare, wolf or polar bear. If we are lucky, we may sometimes catch a glimpse of a whale in the off shore. To top it all off, I travel to and from this office in a helicopter!
Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?
A: As a research scientist, advancement opportunities are based on the level to which an individual is willing to contribute to research. The more recognized an individual becomes in the scientific community (i.e. the more of an authority figure you become) the better the opportunity for advancement. Its not all research though, each candidate must also exemplify an ability for leading scientific projects and communicating their importance not only to the scientific world, but the general public as well.
Q: How physically demanding is your job?
A: The field work is very physically demanding. Setting up and demobilizing a camp for up to 25 people involves a lot of heavy lifting and manoeuvring of big and awkward objects over the tundra, which is far from flat and firm! Hiking 8-12 km seven days a week for 8 weeks after camp has been set up can really take its toll on the body and joints too. Meals make up for it though. A great cook is a highly appreciated individual in camps like ours, which make the kitchen and attached dining tents important ones to really tie down!
During the fall and winter months I am required to travel roughly once a month within or outside of the territory to attend conferences, meetings and workshops. Travelling by plane, living out of hotels and eating at restaurants can get a little tiring.
Q: Why did you choose this career?
A: I chose a career as an Earth Scientist largely because of my desire to understand how the planet on which I live works. Everything we use in our day-to-day lives from toothpaste; the school bus and the fuel that powers it; the black boards we stare at in class every day; to the dishes and utensils we use to eat our meals, comes from the Earth. Though for some reason many people have forgotten this. I personally don’t want to forget.
The other reason I chose this career path was for the fantastic travelling opportunities and for all the opportunities to work outdoors. It is through my studies and work that I have had the fortune of visiting and seeing every province and territory in Canada, as well as visit various countries in Europe and the Himalaya.
Q: What is your most memorable moment/event/place related to your experience as an Earth scientist?
A: I have had a few memorable experiences (with hopefully many more to come!), but one of the most amazing was at the summit of a volcano called Stromboli, which is situated in the Aeolian Islands just north of Sicily. While sitting there breathing in sulphur fumes and watching the volcano erupt fountains of lava from its three vents, I remember being over come with excitement and joy. As a kid I had watched volcanoes erupt on The National Geographic and remember thinking how cool it would be to see it in real life. It wasn’t until that day on top of Stromboli when I realized it was possible!
Q: What is your advice to newcomers?
A: Ask a lot of questions, be open to new experiences, and don’t shy away from hard work.