Jenn Sabean

Growing up in Ontario, I loved the family summer road trip to the east coast where I could explore new places and play in the ocean. After high school, I wanted to be closer to the coast, so I began my undergrad at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS. I took a first year geology class and it was great to learn in the classroom, the laboratory, and outside on all kinds of field trips. Some of the best trips included spelunking through caves in West Virginia, clambering the rocky coasts of Newfoundland, & tracking the entire east coast of North America. I took 4 years of courses to obtain my Bachelor of Science Degree in Earth Science, with a minor in Oceanography by 2001. I did an honors thesis, studying how coastal oil spills affect marsh environments using microfossils.

In 2001, I packed my skis and headed west to begin my Master's Degree in Earth Science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. It was great to discover a whole new part of Canada, especially the Coastal Mountains. I met some amazing people, and found that geologists are some of the most outgoing and interesting friends and colleagues you can have. My thesis research focused on the use of microfossils as indicators of coastal movement relative to the sea during earthquakes on the west coast of North America. It was rewarding to know this research was contributing to a better understanding of how earthquakes and tsunamis could impact people living along the west coast, and that our work might someday help save lives. During my degree, I got to explore a range of amazing places all over BC, the States, and even overseas as a student, a field assistant, and a teaching assistant. I took advantage of attending and even presenting at conferences and outreach events to meet more people and learned the valuable skill of communicating your research to a wide range of audiences.

After graduating, I wanted to travel the world, and spent two years overseas. I traveled to New Zealand, then Australia, then throughout southeast Asia, meeting up with other researchers when I could to join in on field trips and even paid work, getting to see and do things the average tourist couldn't imagine! It was a very strange feeling to be overseas when the massive Boxing Day tsunami devastated many of the countries I was near by. I did what I could to get involved and met up with some of the world's leading natural hazard experts whom had never seen such devastation. I brought these experiences home with me and settled in Nelson, BC where I now work as a geotechnical consultant, building skills as an environmental geologist and studying things like slope stability, landslides, road design and construction, and resource exploration. As I learn more about the surrounding area and how development is a challenge in mountainous regions I also get to know the best spots to ski and how great life can be as an Earth scientist!

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

A: Project Geoscientist; I am a Professional Geoscientist registered with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC). I investigate natural hazards such as landslides and debris flows, and how they impact development in mountainous and often remote areas. I explore and develop aggregate (sand and gravel) deposits, which are in high demand as our roads and communities grow. I help identify and map terrain that is potentially unstable and how it can be developed without risking the safety of the public and the integrity of the land. I provide terrain stability and soil erosion assessments for proposed forestry and mining developments in the surrounding forests and mountains, and much more.

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

A: I work for a small but successful geotechnical consulting group out of Nelson, BC.

Q: What kind of hours/shifts do you work?

A: I usually work five days a week, 8am to 5pm. However, when we are out in the field, I can easily put in a 10-12 hour day, and sometimes we camp out for a week at a time in a remote area to avoid having to drive too much.

Q: Where do you work?

A: I work in an office as well as in the field. Field work can take me anywhere from a gravel pit to a landslide site, a thick forest on a steep mountain face to a logging road with multiple creek crossings. I also sometimes attend (and even host) public meetings regarding land use zoning or development applications.

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: In the office, I work on a computer with a huge screen that allows me to look at maps while I work on an assignment. I use 3 different printers, including a large plotter that can print off huge colour maps. In the field, I use a GPS as well as a compass, clinometer (to measure slopes), an altimeter (to measure your altitude above sea level), a digital camera, and various measuring instruments, as well as a good old pencil and notebook. My favourite new tool is Google Earth, especially when you can upload your GPS points from the day right into the program and see what part of Earth you covered that day! We now use iPhones and iPads in the field with georeferenced maps and interactive navigation & photography apps that make things easier for us between the desk and the field.

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

A: At least one degree in university is essential for this work, and it can be from either an engineering geology or geological engineering background. There are all kinds of professional development courses offered through colleges and APEGBC that you can take (even from your own home through correspondence) to keep learning new skills and to stay current with new developments and techniques. It's wonderful if you have an interest in the overall environment, as you can pick up on biology, ecology, chemistry and more while working in the field. They are all connected, so you may as well develop the skills to connect the dots yourself!

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

A: Because the Earth Sciences have so many different layers to them, you have to be good at multi-tasking and be organized (I am working on up to 20 different projects at any given time!). If you are outgoing and enjoy working with others, you can really enjoy the work and make some great relationships. Often, you need to work with the public so it's important to be able to communicate your work to others in a clear and concise manner. Never be afraid to ask questions, and always take notes and pictures and sketches of things that you don't necessarily understand at the time, but can put together later.

Q: What is the salary range of your job?

A: As a Geoscientist-in-Training, you start out around $20 to $30/hour (~$50,000 salary). When you become a Professional Geoscientist, you can make anywhere from $50 to $150/hour and up ($100,000 to $300,000+)

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I like the diversity of my work. If I had to sit in the office all day long and never got a chance to get out in the field, I'd probably go a little crazy. So it's nice to have a mix of field and office work, and to work on many different contracts with different clients.

Q: What are the advantages?

A: When the snow starts to fly, the field work stops, so often I have long stretches of time off in the winter to do other things (ski, travel, etc.). I also enjoy being able to work from home on some of the jobs I do. I get to work with a range of people with different backgrounds, so I'm constantly learning. Also, being a member of APEG, you get invites and deals on travel and special events, as well as discounts on insurance and medical coverage (stuff you have to deal with as you get older).

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: Lots. The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists requires a "Geoscientist in Training" such as myself to work for 4 years under the supervision of a Professional Geoscientist before I can become one myself. In that time, there are all kinds of courses, trips, conferences, etc. that I can take to build my skills and become more valuable to my employer. Everything you put into this work and professional development pays off in the long run. You can never learn it all, so you are always advancing and developing, and earning more along the way.

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: It depends on the work and the job. Sitting at a computer all day requires a good deal of mental strength to stay focused. When I am out in the field, my work can be very strenuous, especially working in steep, mountainous areas. So I find it very important to keep fit and to stay strong all year long which helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle, and makes the ski season even more fun!

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: Because I couldn't imagine doing anything else! It took me a while to finally land a full time job as a geoscientist. Although I was in university for 7 years, I didn't go straight into a career after graduating with all my qualifications. Instead, I wanted to travel, and this meant making some sacrifices. I found what work I could to get by, and developed an appreciation and respect for people that work in the service industry and administration roles that are so often overlooked. I always sought out chances to volunteer through universities and outreach organizations so I could share my passion for Earth Science and get involved in trips and events that were amazing opportunities to learn and meet others. When it came to securing the job I now have, I had to work hard to prove myself, especially as a woman and in the bush but with determination and a good sense of self (and humor), I made it!

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

A: There are so many, it's hard to choose one! One of the most memorable moments was sleeping at the toe of Berendon Glacier in northern BC. I joined some other students and our professor on a trip to take samples of a lake that had been dammed by a glacier, and it was mind-blowing to see some of Canada's largest glaciers that are capable of shaping mountains and valleys. We drove through huge mountains, an abandoned mining town, and past a raging river where grizzly bears were catching salmon and then set up camp for a week on an old terrace. It was weird at night when the cool winds would blown down off the glacier carrying silt, and the fact that it never got totally dark at night. You felt pretty small out there - and it was amazing to see a glacier up close and personal - I never realized how strong ice is and how much sediment it can carry!

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: I truly believe there is a job for everyone within the Earth Sciences. Our place on this Earth as human beings has never been more precarious, and it is a time of change, growing awareness, and taking responsibility for our impact on the planet. It is you, the high school student, who will in a few years time be essential to helping solve the biggest challenges we have ever faced, and so whether you want hands-on field work to gather the raw data from the very environment we need to preserve, or to be a city-based powerhouse dealing with politics and mergers there is a place and a need for you within the Earth Sciences. So take all the courses you can to get the education that will earn you the respect and the wisdom you need to go the distance! Go on all the trips you can to learn the secrets this planet has to share! Talk to as many people as you can to share ideas and create change! We have all the tools we need to make a brighter future; it will take the young, strong people like you to actually put them to use.

back to map