Hayleigh Conway (she/her)
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up in Ottawa, Ontario.
I now live in: Inuvik, Northwest Territories
I completed my training/education at: B.A in Geography from the University of Guelph, and an Advanced Diploma in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), from COGS (the Centre of Geographic Science).
What I do at work
I make maps that help answer questions about the health of the environment in the Western Arctic. To do this, I need to collect information for these maps. I do this from a helicopter, canoe, or on a hike. I also use drones and satellite imagery. Where possible, I will talk to members of the community. This information is collected in the summer months. I lead and participate in trips into the Arctic to collect this information. These trips can run anywhere from 3 to 12 days.
I use and am grateful for STEM every day! Some of the equipment I use are drones, GPS units, and Real-time Kinematic (RTK). RTK is a very accurate piece of survey equipment.
In the winter months, I process all of the data I've collected, and use it to answer questions such as the following. Did lake ice appear earlier this spring? Why do caribou have their babies in the same place every year? How close are cultural sites to falling into the ocean because of erosion? Geographic Information Systems (GIS) helps answer these questions. The answers to these questions help us make decisions to protect the environment.
My career path is
I accidentally ended up in a GIS career. When I graduated high school, I felt pushed to study science. I decided to study Marine Biology. In my first year of university, I failed 4 classes in my Marine Biology program and felt really lost. I remembered that I also loved Geography in high school, and ended up switching my major. I found these classes genuinely interesting, and I excelled.
However, my mandatory GIS classes were a major snooze. In my summer job at a provincial park, I was offered a job as a GIS summer student. Despite my reluctance about the subject, I accepted. This ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me! I was doing actual GIS work. I was mapping canoe routes and portage trails. I was helping people plan backcountry camping trips and improving the maps in brochures for guests. It was all incredibly fun and rewarding.
From there, I got my GIS diploma. I started off as an intern at a GIS software company. I liked the work but found myself longing to work outside again. I applied for a job I never thought I would get. And I got it! I spent the summer outside collecting data, and the rest of the year processing and analyzing all the data I collected. Taking the chance on that summer job was the start of a career that I love!
I am motivated by
I am always excited to be outside and explore Canada's North. Working in GIS means that technology is always changing, updating and adapting. I find it exciting to constantly be challenged to learn new things and stay on top of new equipment and ideas. I feel really proud when a map I make is used to support a decision. I’m always pleased when one of my maps is used to help my colleagues navigate travelling around in the Arctic. I love telling people about GIS and explaining why it's so much fun!
How I affect peoples’ lives
I work hard to elevate and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into my work. Maps, especially place names, are inherently colonial. It is important to me to use local place names and knowledge in my projects. I think that maps help keep people safe and navigate the land. Maps also help us explore new places and love the earth!
Outside of work I
I love exploring the land where I live by canoe and on foot. I am learning how to harvest plants and animals from the land. I volunteer as a Girl Guide leader. I curl, cross-country ski, skidoo and play baseball. And I love every minute of living in the North!
My advice to others
Get outside to practice GIS, orienteering and interpreting the landscape. If you just learn GIS in a lab and doing all computer work you might find it boring and un-inspiring.