Elizabeth Hughes is a fourth-year mining engineering co-op student from the University of British Columbia who is currently completing a co-op term with Goldcorp in Vancouver.
Hughes, who is originally from Pacific Palisades, California, was about halfway through her eight-month stint with the Canadian-based gold producer when she agreed to answer a few questions about what it’s like to be starting a career in the mining industry.
Q. What originally appealed to you about working in mining?
A. I originally was drawn to mining because of the operations aspect. Mining operations aren’t projects that finish with strict end dates necessarily—they’re continuous, always changing—and as an engineer I get to see if my decisions worked or not.
Q. How did you land your current job?
A. Goldcorp posted a job with our faculty and through the co-op program. I interviewed with them when they came to campus.
Q. How does a typical day at your current job go?
A. I spend the day doing either drill and blast designs and letters, stope valuations, development designs, or ventilation surveying underground
Q. What is your favourite part of the work you do?
A. Right now I really like designing longhole stopes (a stope is essentially a chute we create by blasting a section of rock [about 6m wide by 15 m deep by 25 m long] so we let gravity do part of the mining for us as the rock falls down this chute).
They’re challenging because I have to design in a way that is economically feasible and safe as well as operationally possible. There are lots of important and expensive factors to take into account and each stope is different. There is no absolute design that works for all stopes and I have to draw from previous experience a lot.
Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A. Some challenges you can’t see when you work underground. Faults, open drill holes, unstable rock formations are possible dangers that underground mining engineers face, but often we don’t know where exactly they are or how they will react to mining activities until we come to them.
It is difficult to anticipate everything that may happen.
Q. What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about working in mining and how would you bust it?
A. There are lots of opportunities to work in the mining industry that don’t require moving to remote locations and working in a mine. However, the career paths that are offered from the cities like Toronto or Vancouver are very different from the ones that come with working directly in the operations.
Busting the misconception that mining only involves living in remote locations starts in the classrooms. Professors should talk about other career possibilities in the relevant courses, such as the careers in mine supply in mechanical and maintenance courses. First-year engineering courses rarely touch on the mining industry even though many types of engineers can find careers in mining.
Q. Is there anything you think students and recent grads should know about starting a career in mining?
A. For students, the most important thing to do is get as much relevant experience as possible on your work terms. Employers are looking for grads that have at least a few summers worth of experience and the more the better. It also makes interviews easier if you have some experiences to talk about.
For more information about starting your career in the mining industry, check out www.acareerinmining.ca.