On Sunday I was lucky enough to go to lunch with four beautiful, intelligent young women. One is doing post-doc studies, one is a vet, one a graphics designer, and one a civil engineer in mining. I am sure all earn high salaries. We ate in the old market in the center of Santiago. I paid.
The conversation inevitably turned to women in mining. The three not-in-mining wanted to know from the one-in-mining what it is like working in a “man’s-world.”
The one-in-mining replied that “it is no big deal.” She said that she had never noticed prejudice or preference—except once when an old driller said: “I will never be comfortable with beautiful women around my rig. I cannot concentrate on the equipment.”
We noted that in Chile, women do not go underground. That is because Chilean miners believe that Santa Barbara, the patron saint of mining, would be offended by another women underground. She is jealous, and will not tolerate competition for adoration.
Be that as it may. Women are in mining and rapidly becoming major players in those aspects of mining that require degrees in civil, chemical, process, and metallurgical engineering. Here below, I repeat two quotes that show that women are also mining engineers. The first is from a report on the web today culled from McLeans, that venerable Canadian weekly. The second is an edited version of an email I received some time back. It seems right to publish it now as proof of the incredible opportunities for women in mining.
My name is Sabrina Miguel. I’m originally from Toronto. I’m a mining engineer now. I graduated from the University of Toronto in their mineral engineering program and I work for Rio Tinto Minerals in Boron, California.
Since you got there, your company has obviously treated you pretty well?
Moving from Canada to the U.S. is a lot harder than a lot of people think it is and they paid for my plane flights here—all first class. They paid for professional movers to come to my house and pack up all my little things and put them in storage until I was ready.
They gave me two months of corporate housing and a fully-furnished apartment, so I had time to set everything up. They gave me a rental car for a month or until however long I need… until I got my own car. And they set me up with a relocation company. I have two relocation agents, one locally and one that deals more with big-picture stuff. They helped me with everything from getting my work visa set up with the lawyers they hired to doing my drive-test to get my California driver’s license.
Say I’m a high school student and I’m considering going into mining engineering. What’s the most important thing I should know about the industry?
The most important thing is probably to know that for probably most or part of your career, you’re not going to be living in a big city. Like I kind of lucked out. I live like an hour outside of L.A., but I also have an hour drive to my work and where I work specifically is kind of in the middle of nowhere.
What’s the pay like?
For starting off, when you first graduate, I’d say $65,000 to probably $80,000 is realistic. Now, with the fly-in-fly-out jobs where you work on site every day for X number of days and they fly you back to your home city for another X number of days, they get paid a little bit more, just ’cause they work 12 hours a day. But they’re all salary, so those jobs range up to $100,000 starting off for a grad.
What kind of person is well-suited to mining engineering?
Just someone who wants to go for adventure. Someone who is cool with working on site and putting on their jeans and their steel-toes and a polo shirt and working in an office and then going on site. Someone like that.
Are there any aspects of your job you don’t like?
I don’t like sitting in the office all day. The good days are when I get to go out on the field or get to be in the office as little as possible.
From an email that I received a while ago:
I am heading into my 3rd year of mining engineering studies. I happened upon your blog one day at work this summer (through google), and I have been delving deep into your post archives and devouring the content of your website ever since.
Neither of my parents are in the mining business, but I was born and raised in Yellowknife. By some unknown force I chose engineering as my profession of choice and then somehow, now I am in a mining program. I am fortunate to be working in the processing plant at X for the summer as a part of the metallurgy department. It has been a great first exposure to the mining industry. Being up here, I am more than aware of the impact mining has on my home territory.
BHPB puts food on a lot of families’ tables in the far north, families that would not be able to sustain themselves in the non-existent economies of the arctic communities. The aboriginal mine operators have really taken me under their wing; they are all my friends. I am proud to see so many of them working hard on apprenticeships and skills. They have taught me so much, and I appreciate that they now have a chance to work towards sustainable careers in the future.
I am at a point where everything in mining is foreign and exciting, and I am trying to learn as much as I can. The amount of opportunity I have in my career is terrifying. Being from a (relatively) small and (significantly) isolated town, I will need a lot of courage to take advantage of the travel and work experience offered to me. I moved to Ontario for school. My first time to that province was also my first time to the campus. I thought I was ambitious for wanting to see another part of the country. A pretty blind leap of faith for a small-town girl, and part of me feels like I should be satisfied enough with that big step. I think I am starting to understand though, that I am ready for something more. If I can do it once, I can do it again.
In high school I was involved in a lot of humanitarian service clubs. I have always loved helping others and dreamed of doing something that benefitted society, of doing good work. When I keep this in mind, I think I understand why I was called to mining. I am enamoured with the social aspect of it, and how dynamic the industry is. Mining undoubtedly has a huge impact. You talk about the balance between industry and quality of life in your blog, and the “implicit permission of society” to mine despite environmental consequences. This challenge, as daunting as it is, interests me so much I don’t know how to express it or how to pursue it.
Right now I am registered in the mineral processing option of my program. I am torn though part of me is interested in U/G mine ventilation, while another is in mineral processing, and yet another in reclamation and tails (from growing up close to Giant Mine, probably). I am frantically trying to figure out what direction to take my career in. I am sure you understand that your career in mining influences very much your future lifestyle as well.
This scares me more than anything else; do I stay in mineral processing, or do I switch to general mining engineering? Should I go into consulting after graduation, or will I find my place with a mining company? I don’t know where I belong in the mining community, and what technical aspects my real skills lie in. Sometimes I feel like the various slight interests I have in different parts of mining are just that, and come out of my lack of knowledge in the subject.
I have never been one to be motivated by a big paycheck. And with slight interests all over the place, I don’t know which direction to turn. I know I want to work on projects, and as part of a team of engineers. That’s about it. I do not think I can work as a mineral processing engineer for a mine operation, I think it would be too repetitive for me and I can’t say exactly why I am interested in processing to begin with.
I do not think I am an extraction planning or rock mechanics engineer either. With summer coming to an end, I know I have to make up my mind soon. If I change mining engineering program options (from mineral processing to regular), I have to start planning this fall.
Your blog gives me a lot to think about. And some moments, when I think I have made a decision, I read your posts and take two steps back. But that is a good thing! It reads so easily- I can get right into your perspective and feelings on the topic. I get more understanding out of it than any editorial or news article I read on the web. It makes mining personal. If anything, I think you have helped me make my mind up about one thing- I am going to take a year off to do an internship next fall.