Patty Simpson (she/her)
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Uranium City, a small mining town in the far north of Saskatchewan. My family moved to Saskatoon when I was 4 years old and I lived there until I was in my 20s.
I now live in: Now I live in Saskatoon again, but I fly up to the mine site for 2 week shifts, so I spend half my time in the remote north
I completed my training/education at: At the University of Saskatchewan I completed an English Degree, and then after a 9 year break I went to the University of Waterloo for a Master of Environmental Studies degree.
What I do at work
Every day I meet with the Environment Technicians and we plan their day’s work. They go into the field to collect samples of air, water, vegetation, and aquatic life. Some days I go with them to help out, to observe their sampling techniques, and to see how things look for myself.
I check all the data collected the previous day. I do this to make sure there are no problems. This also helps check that the data-collecting instruments are working properly. Some days we have to trouble shoot instruments or digital connections.
The samples my team collect are sent to laboratories for analysis. We monitor the level of various substances in the surrounding water and air. I review all the results from the labs. Knowledge of biology and chemistry, and understanding statistics, are key to recognizing what the data says. For example, if I see that the amount of ammonia in the wastewater from the mine is increasing, I have to interpret what that means. Then I have to decide whether we need to take action. I have to understand if the level of ammonia is high enough to be dangerous for the fish downstream of the mine. It would also be important for me to find out why the level is increasing, and whether it is going to keep increasing. Where there is an issue, I work with other departments to find a way to solve the problem.
I also meet with other departments to help plan their activities in ways that will be safe and not cause harm to the environment. Sometimes I put on training sessions.
I am also responsible for reporting to the government. Our reports include all of our data, and I explain any trends or unusual results. I ensure that my company is up to date on laws and regulations so that we meet all requirements. The reports I write demonstrate that we are doing everything needed to protect the environment. Sometimes I also meet with people from the nearby communities. Here I provide them with information on my company’s environmental protection activities.
My career path is
After high school I went to university and completed an English degree. After graduation I worked as an editor for a year. I learned to write clearly, which has been very useful. Then I went travelling overseas for several years. Seeing the world sparked my interest in protecting the environment and sustainable development. Sustainable development is development that does not destroy natural resources.
I returned to Canada and took a year of university science classes. After this, I got into a Master of Environmental Studies program. After finishing, I got a job with a mining company. This was not what I had expected to be doing. I thought I’d be a consultant, or else work in government. But I believe it is important to have people who really care about the environment working “on the inside” – for the companies that have the potential to harm the environment.
I’ve worked my way up from being a research assistant in the city office, to being the head of the environment department at a mine site.
I am motivated by
My career really feels important because I am helping to protect the environment. I love the outdoors! I am glad to be playing a part in keeping natural places safe for wildlife, and safe for people, too. Also, because uranium mining supplies the nuclear power industry, I know that we are helping in the fight against climate change.
I really enjoy getting to go out in the field! We are far away from most roads and surrounded by lakes and forest. As a result, we have to travel by snowmobile or ATV most of the time.
One of the best parts of my job is the variety. I do everything from collecting samples in the field, to developing different kinds of programs, to training people, and writing reports. I have a great team who I love working with. I also enjoy the responsibility of managing my team and of making sure that our environmental programs meet requirements. We are always looking for better ways to protect the environment. I get excited when the company agrees to implement one of my ideas.
How I affect peoples’ lives
The main purpose of my job is to make sure that the mine does not cause harm the surrounding area. Our mine site is in a remote part of the country. It is surrounded by lakes and forests. The nearest neighbours are First Nations communities. The communities use, and depend on, wild foods such as caribou, moose, fish, berries, and other plants. My job ensures that the water, air, plants, and animals all remain healthy, and safe for people to use.
Outside of work I
In my free time I love to travel all over the world. I love hiking in the mountains. I scuba dive whenever I go somewhere tropical with warm water. I also run regularly, love bike riding, and I’m a big reader.
My advice to others
It’s definitely worth taking a program at a tech school or university that is focused on environmental science or technology. Lots of people start out as a field technician. There are lots of courses available that would qualify you for that. If you want to move up and have more responsibility for planning, and develop programs, a degree is very helpful. Finding a program with an internship or field placement will give you great experience and a leg up when it comes to finding a job.