May 2009

Student Life

A student of the industry

By M. Chowdhury

A future mining engineer realizes that industry involvement is an essential component of his education

As a class that entered the mining department at the University of British Columbia at the peak of a commodity boom, we were sold on the benefits of becoming a mining engineer. Students tuned in with satisfaction as professors and industry leaders promoted financially rewarding careers, boundless travel opportunities and immense voids in the corporate sector waiting to be filled. We listened to graduating students present the lineup of offers they had to choose from while desiring that our own futures follow a similar trail. Having witnessed the recent meltdown in the mining world, this trail has led students to an unforeseeable end, if any. Captivated by the glamour and glory of this sparkling industry, we may have overlooked the true meaning of being a mining engineering student.

Upon entering university, many of us knew very little (if anything) about mining engineering. Our knowledge of this field has increased manyfold since joining this department, yet there is much to be understood about the industry. We often speak of linking to the industry, but in order to effectively establish this connection, we must understand the fabric on which this industry is built.

In his “Introduction to Mine Engineering” class, Professor Malcolm Scoble challenges secondyear students to explore this fabric made of the relations between major, intermediate and junior mining players, through assignments and presentations. Combining practical assignments with memorable fieldtrips, such as our annual trek to Highland Valley Copper, has been a sure way to spark our interest in the industry we will soon enter. At UBC, these activities are paired with regular student participation in industry events to give us a better understanding of the importance of mining in our society.

One industry group that particularly encourages active student involvement is CIM. In Vancouver, the local CIM branch creates opportunities for us to associate with experienced professionals and gain insight into the future of mining. From organizing industry-sponsored student nights to engaging us in volunteer roles within the organization, CIM helps bridge the gap between students and industry.

At the first annual UBC-CIM panel held in March to discuss the benefits of CIM, Tom Broddy of Taseko Mines presented a key message that the mining industry is a community and, like most communities, it is run by volunteers. He mentioned that new mining engineers must contribute more than math, science, analysis and good judgment to their regions of practice in order to be successful. Another speaker on the panel, Patricia Dillon of Teck, stated that we need to become students of the industry in order to understand our place in this tight-knit community. Indeed, the industry plays a large part in defining the role of a mining engineer, but is there a place for students in this commune?

We are often told of the skilled labour shortages facing the mining industry around the world. In Canada, the retirement of babyboomers is increasing the demand for new faces to fill familiar positions. In order to walk in the shoes of these highly experienced industry leaders, it is crucial for today’s students and graduates to get trials and test runs through summer jobs and EIT placements. Otherwise, the large gaps in practical “know- how” that retiring professionals leave behind may never be closed, and the promise of pulling young individuals into senior level roles may end in a leadership meltdown. Truly, it is a triple combination of education, experience and involvement that will help define the trail of a mining engineer from student to industry and ultimately to society.

So what is the true essence of being a mining engineering student?

Simply put, it is to learn. Rather than filling cover letters with company facts, we must demonstrate our core purpose: to study how we, as contributing members of a worldwide community, can recover the building blocks of technology and infrastructure. Responsibly doing so from summer jobs to upper management, we can help sustain economic growth and promote social prosperity across the board. No longer holding claims to the glory and glamour of our history, we must hold ourselves accountable for positively transforming the way we practice and the way society perceives our profession.

The industry is in need of students who value the meaning of mining and, as students of the industry, we are preparing to deliver.

Mohsen Chowdhury is a second-year mining engineering student at UBC. He is an active member of the NB Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering, CIM and Engineers Without Borders. Working with smallscale gold miners in Ecuador this summer, he hopes to gain an international outlook on the industry.

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