Dec '10/Jan '11

Women in Mining

For the love of…helicopters? Senior geologist knows life is what you make it

By Heather Ednie

Birgit Rameseder

Rameseder is a member of the emergency rescue team at Victor Mine. Photo taken during ERT high-angle training | Photo courtesy of B. Rameseder

Birgit Rameseder lives by the credo that life is what you make it. The De Beers geologist has capitalized on opportunities as they arose throughout her career. She exudes an enthusiasm for life and a driving will that carves out a path to success. From helicopter-hopping at exploration camps to being the senior mine geologist on site at a mine, she has experienced many sides of the mining industry and looks forward to what new adventures may come her way.

Originally from Germany, Rameseder began her studies in geology there before coming to Canada to undertake a master’s degree at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Much to her surprise, the topic of her thesis — gold deposits in eastern Quebec — attracted unlikely attention.

“At one point, the team was panning for gold in a river and a reporter wanted to run an article, with photo, in the local paper,” she recalls. “Next thing I knew, CBC Radio called wanting to run a story about panning for gold in the Eastern Townships. I thought it was a joke, but it was real.”

Camp life

Rameseder’s career began like that of many geologists — at an exploration camp. In 2001, she found herself exploring the territories while working for De Beers; she continued this work throughout the next few years. “One of the reasons why I came back up north was because I’m fascinated by helicopters,” she admits. “I’d fly in on a helicopter every day and stay in exploration camps. I participated in summer programs and winter drilling initiatives. I now have a collection of stories to tell involving bears, wolverines, etc.”

A few years later, Rameseder began managing her own projects with De Beers, the first of which required moving the exploration camp every 10 days. Her next stop was the Fort à la Corne camp in Saskatchewan, where she remained until 2006. There, she was the on-site rep responsible for ensuring the 120-person camp ran smoothly, and for overseeing the entire workflow that defines an exploration project in the field.

After five years of working in the field out west, Rameseder came to Toronto — but it turned out to be a brief stint. In 2007, she headed to the De Beers Victor operation in northern Ontario to run the exploration program while the mine was under construction. Today, she remains at Victor, albeit now as the senior mine geologist. “I was seconded to the mine for a short term, but I’m still here,” she says.

Camp vs mine site

Having worked in both exploration camps and on site at the mine, Rameseder says she has experienced the best of both worlds. “At the camps, your roles are so diverse and you’re dealing with all aspects — geology, logistics, HR and so on. I had to make sure there was enough fuel and food to keep everyone happy and the camp running. Meanwhile, at the mine, I’m working with the different departments and sometimes see myself as the mediator between mining and processing.”

A key difference between the two situations lies in the increased amount of structure at a mine site. Out in the small exploration camps, solutions are engineered using only the tools, technology and personnel available on site. “It’s like the Red Green Show — you figure it out and make a solution happen,” Rameseder notes. “At the mine, however, you have to follow certain channels and there is much more structure. It took me about a year to get used to that.”

Grabbing the bull by the horns

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Rameseder has made a practice of taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. Recently, she has started a training program on the valuation of rough diamonds. “I learned early on that you need to show an interest and do your best, or just make it happen yourself,” she says. “Take my training in diamond valuation — I showed an interest and asked for exposure or training. My supervisor was open to it when the opportunity arose.”

At Victor, Rameseder is on a two-week on/two-week off rotation, and her home base is Toronto. Many of her weeks off, though, have been spent travelling to Singapore, Asia, Honduras and home to Germany — until recently. Rameseder has started an executive MBA program at the University of Western Ontario, adding full-time studying to her load for the duration of the 18-month program.

Rameseder might have chosen geology as a career, but it is not what she had set out to do. “I wanted to study archaeology after reading books on the Valley of the Kings, but realized there weren’t any jobs. I tried different routes, and found a new path.” And so far, that path has been carved out of the Canadian tundra. Yet, all of the moving around has not phased her. “It’s funny, during my 12 years in Canada, I’ve had four health cards and four driver’s licences,” she jokes.

So, what’s next? Always open to opportunity, Rameseder does not lock herself down to major long-range plans. “Where will I be in five years? I’m not too sure, honestly,” she says. “Again, I’ll play it by ear and see what comes up. I’ve learned that if you map out too many plans, you’re set up for nothing but disappointment.” And so far, this invigorating approach has worked wonders.

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