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Career Profile

Max Salman

PH.D. Student / Affiliate Researcher
McMaster University / Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
Max Salman aux commandes d'un avion.

Max Salman doing one of the things he loves best - flying!

Max Salman aux commandes d'un avion.

Max Salman doing one of the things he loves best - flying!

Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway

I ask questions to things that don’t have answers yet.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Toronto, ON

I now live in: Waterloo, ON

I completed my training/education at:

Bachelor of Science, (Earth Science/Geology) from the University of Waterloo

Master of Science, Geophysics, University of Waterloo

Master’s Degree of Applied Science (Civil Engineering), University of Waterloo

Doctor of philosophy, PhD, Geophysics and Remote Sensing, McMaster University (In progress)

I have my commercial Pilot’s license from the Waterloo-Wellington Flight Center

What I do at work

My job as a research affiliate for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and my work on my Ph.D. are very similar.  Most days I spend a lot of time in front of four large computer monitors. I analyze data, read papers and take notes. I use email and video calls to keep in contact with colleagues, industry partners and friends. I also get to practice with a variety of different software. Some of this software creates models of land surfaces. Some show me the features that are below the surface.

I think the best way to describe what I do is that I ask questions to things that don’t have answers yet. After I read research papers that have been done, I look for things that have not been studied yet. Or where more study should occur. Then I brainstorm how we might answer those questions using different technology. For example, how can satellites be used to look underground? It’s expensive and difficult to travel to remote areas to collect data. Using remote technology, such as satellites, is a useful tool to answering questions about the land in Canada. For example, in the north, a lot of the ground is permanently frozen. It’s known as permafrost. When you build new buildings and roads, you have to understand what permafrost is, what will happen if it melts, etc. It’s not as simple as building the same things in the south. This requires data from the area and modelling to see how different things can affect the area.

My career path is

I sort of fell into what I am doing today. I’ve always had a passion for flying. Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an airline pilot. I’m not sure why I decided to study earth science and physics at university. I wasn’t a very good at math and had a tutor. Also, I didn’t have the best attitude to school. I took a physics class in grade 11. At the end of the term, my physics teacher took me aside and told me I did not have a future in physics, and to not aim at pursuing a career in it. Today I’m working in geophysics. Go figure J

I became a better student at university. It just sort of clicked with me. I wanted to push myself a bit and I still had that itch about wanting to fly airplanes. So, while I was doing my B.Sc. I got my pilot’s license. I wanted flying to be part of whatever career I ended up doing.

When I finished my B.Sc. I worked in airborne geophysics. This involves doing land mapping and surveys from the air. I worked in South America looking for gold flying 200 feet off the ground in plane with special equipment. It was very exciting! We were flying just over the tops of the trees. As an airborne geophysicist I got to travel to Nunavut, Greenland, Norway, Iceland, and all over the USA.

When price of oil dropped in 2015, exploration work dried up. I was laid off so I started a consulting business. I work with the people in the mining and agriculture sectors who need geophysical expertise. I also decided this was a good time to upgrade my qualifications. I went back to school to do a Master’s degree in Earth Science. While doing this I was a teaching assistant on some university courses. I found that I enjoyed this and got my certificate in university teaching. I thought that I might want to teach full time at university. To do this you need to have a Ph.D. so I stated a Ph.D program.  Unfortunately, my first kick at the can was up not my standards. I had conflicts with my supervisor and felt I wasn’t progressing as I should. I decided to switch universities. I moved my Ph.D. to McMaster where I am now. This has set me back several years but I’m back on track. On the positive side, the work I had done toward my first attempt at the Ph.D was credited into a Master’s degree in Applied Science (Civil Engineering).

So there I was; a geophysicist who flies airplanes and working on a Ph.D. My research is on integrating geophysics with satellite data. My new supervisor suggested I take a course on Synthetic Aperture Radar. This is a type of radar that creates 2D and 3D images of the Earth using satellites. Pulses of radio waves are sent to the surface under study. Then sensors record information that is reflected back. This is used to create an image. It can be done at night and through clouds.

One of the instructors from that course works for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. She was looking at how drones can be used for agriculture scanning. I reached out as my previous work was related. I got a position as a research affiliate with the Department. So, now I’m working on a Ph.D. that focuses on my personal interests. At the same time, the results of my study are supporting the work that I do for the federal government. As you can see, my path has not been straightforward but it all makes sense. With all the things I have happening, my time is limited. My consulting business is more of a part time operation now. I take on interesting projects when I can fit them in. I still fly at every chance I get. In a lot of ways, my Ph.D. is like my hobby. I’m looking forward to the next adventure!

I am motivated by

People! And the impact my work has on people. I care for people; not just care about. By caring for people, I do work to make their lives better. When it comes to flying, I love being the guy who flies people around. Making their trip memorable and enjoyable is very motivating!

How I affect peoples’ lives

Everything in research I am doing is related to the environment, ecology and climate change. These are all the issues currently in news. They are all issues that are important to Canadians. The work I do is helping us understand the processes and the impacts of our day to day lifestyles. I look at possible impacts of things we do or don’t do. Then I share this information with the people who make decisions about how land gets used and managed.

In the North, this is very important to the indigenous people who live off the land. We need to understand what is happening to permafrost to decide how we can build infrastructure there. If we don’t then the infrastructure won’t last. My research is giving us the information and capacity to help make sure we stabilize what we do in north.

Outside of work I

Even with my busy life, I always have time to volunteer for good causes. I am a member of my local Knights of Columbus. We raise funds for many different causes. Recently I ran a half marathon to raise funds for the Tiny Home takeout in Kitchener. This is a group that provides meals for people who are struggling financially.

I also like to record music and I teach piano. I do some running and skiing. I love swing dancing and used to teach swing dancing. And, of course, I fly whenever I have time!

My advice to others

I find it hard to give career advice. I did not see that I would be where I am 14 years after I left high school. I did not see myself doing this.

So the best I can offer is that you do everything you can, that you ought to do, while you can still do it. Our time on Earth is limited. So at every moment, do what you can. Carpe diem!  If you see someone who needs help, help them. If you see an opportunity to align your passion with a career path, do it.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • History
  • Music
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Wanted to be in charge
  • Never wanted to be in the classroom
  • Learned best "by doing"
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades

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