- Tell us about your role in S-IMEW and how long you have been involved.
My involvement started around eight years ago. Scott Jobin-Bevans, then PDAC President, asked me to help coordinate a Val-D’Or field trip, and I was hooked! Students are always enthusiastic and their questions cut to the chase. Early on it was all about contacting local mining and exploration companies to see who might be interested in hosting students, explaining their businesses, showing them around active exploration sites, arranging field trips, including one to the local Resident Geologist’s office of the Quebec MERN (Ministere de l’Energie et Ressources du Quebec), and occasionally inviting some special guests to liven things up a bit.
- If you were to describe S-IMEW to someone who didn’t know anything about it, or the mineral exploration and development industry, what would you say?
For the many who only know PDAC by its convention in Toronto, S-IMEW is my first reply because it is proof of how much more we actually do. In fact, during the PDAC Convention, S-IMEW events have grown into their own program, complete with alumni events, luncheons, and of course the networking opportunities for which we are so well-known.
S-IMEW in a few more words. Take around 25 of the luckiest and best students from across Canada, pluck them from their universities, throw them into minivans to Sudbury, and give them two weeks of courses, talks, inspired case histories, visits to underground mines, meetings with local suppliers and contractors, industry veterans, S-IMEW alumni, government ministers, leading technology companies, field trips and fabulous networking opportunities, mixed with socializing. The group at the end is very different than the group at the beginning, and they are our ambassadors.
Mining and exploration is quite simply a treasure hunt for adults, with all of the perks for success, and all of the impediments to make it a challenge. How do you find a mine worth billions of dollars? Blind luck, technology, good ideas, supportive communities and solid partnerships.
- What does S-IMEW represent to you?
The best part of PDAC, other than the convention. It is the entry level, the next wave of professionals, and the participants benefit from the highest echelon of mentorship. I think about how lucky they are because I would have loved to have had an opportunity like that. But I am grateful to be a participant, however small the role. Experience, access to exploration sites, learning about new techniques in geophysics, geochemistry, diamond exploration and becoming aware of new trends and enhancements to older techniques, such as core logging, and soil and sediment sampling. PDAC makes these things accessible to students who generally have very limited knowledge outside of academic experience.
- Have you noticed any changes in students over the years?
The biggest change is there have been more than 200 of them in total! Their enthusiasm, appreciation and commitment are constants, but now they are their own community and so many of the alumni are giving back to the program. It takes a while for them to appreciate the grandeur of their experience, but they do get it and they do come back and continue their involvement.
- The S-IMEW itinerary covers many aspects of the geosciences. What is the most important thing you learned as a student?
Graduation Day is not the end, it is just the beginning. I was a bit shy with how little I knew at the start of my career, at least from the perspective of pure, grass-roots exploration. S-IMEW is a big step towards recognizing that most students find themselves in similar circumstances, the so called "knowledge gap", when they show up at their entry-level jobs. It is a bit of a shock, but then, most of us go through it and here we are. S-IMEW is a way to short cut some of the hurdles, teach industry best practices, and encourage early dialogue with communities and recognize that not all parts of society, Canadian or international, have the same opportunities. Knowing that helps our students be better at their roles—it removes the mystery of exploration from some communities who may not be aware of our intentions, and strategies.
- Was there anything like S-IMEW available when you were studying?
Two summers of Canadian Armed Forces in Petawawa gave me the bug for being outside and then reading about the Klondike and the fine line between desperation and motivation helped make geology look good. There was certainly nothing like S-IMEW.
- What advice do you have for aspiring geologists and prospectors?
Buy the Mining Act for your province, understand it, and get your prospector’s license. I am often amazed at how many geologists and earth scientists do not have a prospector’s license. It is astounding how much power an individual has at their disposal. Stake a few mining claims. The industry will have its ups and its downs, you will always be glad to have that “prospector” hat when things get quiet. And you will learn that is why the biggest transactions and best opportunities come from those cyclical bottoms, not the tops. You’ll be plenty busy at the tops anyway, so get those prospector tools for the other parts of the natural economic and commodity cycles. Survival is the key to success, and prospecting will teach you many basic survival skills.
- Did you have a mentor? If so, who was it and what did they achieve?
It is fair to say that I had two of them. My Uncle, Ashton Mullan, was one of the early owners at McPhar Geophysics which evolved into Phoenix Geophysics, which still exists. He saw how I loved the outdoors aspect of being in the Armed Forces (not a natural path for someone from downtown Montreal) and knew that I had visions of the Yukon, prospecting, finding a mine, and so on. Uncle Ashton gave me not just my first break, but first Brunton as well (Google it!). That first job was north of Norman Wells, NWT, in the Gayna River area. It blew my mind and I was hooked before the first supper. I was being paid to get into a helicopter and go break rocks, something I would have done for free. Then I worked in Hemlo, Chibougamou, Kirkland Lake, Timmins, and finally my favourite of all, Val-D’Or, which I still consider the best exploration community in Canada. My Uncle, who was a mining engineer, constantly encouraged me and in particular, to become independent and stay that course. I will always be grateful for that first opportunity.
Shortly after I ended up in Val-D’Or, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Jean Descarreaux, a gentle and soft-spoken man. Long after that I came to appreciate his stature and many accomplishments. Such a noble man who left a legacy that benefits so many, flow-through shares in Quebec being one of them. But he was a classic mentor, always sharing, talking, encouraging me to explore in places others were not, and to relook at areas that had been passed over. He was most definitely someone I sought out for encouragement and direction.
Both of my mentors were well-rounded individuals who were years ahead of the pack in that they respected small communities, rural environments, First Nations and Aboriginal engagement, and what we now call corporate social responsibility. I think they both had their own terms which certainly conveyed “do it properly”.
- What kind of career opportunities await students today as they enter the sector, and why is a career in mineral exploration, in your view, worth pursuing?
There are certainly more opportunities today than back when I graduated, but much of the motivation should be the same. The challenge, the thrill, the way your heart beats when you are popping open one of your core boxes, the way you can see something that is attainable but has not been done before—all of that. It is a great profession, all of the earth sciences, but to me, prospecting is still the best part. Don’t do it for financial motivation. You have your entire life for that, and things have an amazing way of finding equilibrium over time, don’t be in a rush, but do get that prospector’s license, and do it soon.