Nancy Chow

I am a Professor of Geology in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. The job is multi-faceted and includes teaching introductory geology courses and sedimentary geology courses, and doing research on ancient limestone reefs in Canada and Australia. My teaching involves developing and delivering lectures and laboratories, running field trips and supervising students on research projects. My research addresses important questions about the history of ancient reefs that are ~400 million years old and the role of past climate change, sea-level variations and crustal movements on reef evolution. The work has taken me to many interesting places such as Australia, China, Barbados, Arctic Ocean, Iceland and throughout Canada. I have a job where I am paid to do work that I greatly enjoy.

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta and went to the University of Calgary for my B.Sc. Honours degree in geology. With hindsight I suppose it was not surprising that I went into geology given that I collected minerals and rocks as a child, enjoyed science subjects in school and lived in the city that is the center of the Canadian petroleum industry. I worked for a major petroleum company in Calgary for several years after graduation, and then continued my studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, completing a Ph.D. degree in geology. I went back to Calgary to work in the petroleum industry for a few more years and then moved to Winnipeg to work at the University of Manitoba where I have been for over 20 years.

Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do?

A: I am a Professor of Geology and my job involves teaching geology courses and doing research on ancient limestone reefs in Manitoba, Alberta and Australia.

Q: Who do you work for, and where are you based?

A: I work for the University of Manitoba in the Department of Geological Sciences and I am based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My field work has taken me to the Kimberley region in northwestern Australia, the Interlake region in Manitoba, the Arctic Ocean and north Atlantic Ocean for an Ocean Drilling Program project, and the west coast of Newfoundland. Planning is underway for fieldwork in Thailand in the near future. I have also done short trips to view similar rocks and modern examples in China, Great Britain, Iceland, Bermuda, Barbados, Cayman Islands, as well as many places in Canada and USA.

Q: What is your typical routine?

A: During the teaching terms in September to April, my daily work is mainly preparing and delivering class lectures and laboratories, and supervising students on research projects. The work involves extensive computer use and lots of interaction with students. I find some time to examine rock samples and write papers on my research projects, and to work on committees for the university or geoscience community. In the summer months, my work is focused on research. I travel to Australia for field work and to Calgary for examining petroleum drill-cores, and I work in the laboratory doing microscopy and other analyses on the rock samples collected. Every few years I try to take a 6 or 12-month research leave which allows me to work full-time on research projects.

Q: Where do you work?

A: My work involves an interesting mix of office, laboratory and field work. Although I am based in Winnipeg, I have spent a lot of time during my research leaves working in Perth, Australia and in Calgary, Alberta. Field work for my current project is in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia.

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: My laboratory work involves the use of several types of microscopes to examine the composition and texture of rock samples and some high-tech analytical instruments, such as an electron microprobe, to determine rock chemistry. For field work, I use a hand lens to view rock textures and a geological hammer for collecting rock samples. If detailed measurement of the thickness of rock units is required, a surveying level and tape measure are typically used.

Q: What education or training is required for your job?

A: The only way to enter the geology profession is to have a minimum of a four-year B.Sc. degree in geology. My job at the University requires advanced study, specifically a Ph.D. degree in geology and some relevant research experience and/or industry experience.

Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?

A: Good organizational skills because the job requires multi-tasking and has numerous deadlines.

Strong motivation because the level of supervision is minimal and performance assessment is based on specific achievements.

Patience because the job involves dealing with a variety of students, staff and the public.

Q: What is the salary range of your job?

A: Approximately $60,000-$120,000 depending on the professorial rank attained.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I enjoy the opportunity to travel to interesting places and to interact with students and other Earth scientists to share knowledge about current projects and to learn about other work. I also like that my job gives me the capacity and flexibility to work on a variety of research projects.

Q: What are the advantages?

A: The advantages are international travel, meeting interesting people, and working on interesting and challenging projects.

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: In geology, there are many good employment opportunities in the resource (petroleum and minerals) and environmental sectors. University jobs are more limited but current age demographics suggest that more opportunities will become available due to retirements.

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: My office and laboratory work are typically not very physically demanding but the field work component more than makes up for them! Field work involves a lot of walking over rough terrain to examine rock outcrops, and extensive rock sampling that requires using a geological hammer and carrying a large number of samples back to the vehicle. Field work in Australia typically involves camping in the outback which takes quite a bit of energy but is also a lot of fun! I sleep in a swag (an Australian term for camp bed) under the stars and enjoy roaring campfires.

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: I collected minerals and rocks as a child, and enjoyed my science courses in high school. I wanted a career that was in applied science, took me outdoors and offered a variety of challenges.

Q: What is your most memorable moment/event/place related to your experience as an Earth scientist?

A: One of my most memorable experiences was visiting Iceland at the end of an Ocean Drilling Program cruise and being able to stand alongside a fault that is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: If you want to become a geologist, I would recommend having a strong background in math, physics and chemistry. You should be curious about Earth processes and the Earth's long history, and enjoy the challenge of collecting evidence to solve a problem that helps us understand more about Earth and the way in which humans interact with it. A love of adventure and travel is also important.

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