Ecologist for a Canadian gold mine in Northeastern Russia

Friday, August 19, 2016

Carlie and her team by Kupol sign

Written by Carlie Stransky (BES ’15)

Six years ago, when I was moving into my first year residence, St. Paul’s University College, I got to share a floor with about nine other floor mates. I never thought that my education would lead me to one of the most isolated mines in the world, where I’d be living with 850 Russian floor mates. Nothing could have prepared me for that jump! Located in Northeastern Russia, above the Arctic Circle, is my second home where I work as an ecologist. It’s a long way to go for someone who grew up in Northern Ontario’s city of Timmins – three days of layovers and five plane rides to be exact.

My Environment and Resource Studies degree led me to a year of a once in a lifetime experience working in the arctic tundra. Some of the tasks I get to do include: helping in the establishment of a site-wide water management program by ensuring mining practice adhere to Russian and company environmental regulations, going on exploration site visits, collecting and analysing ecological samples, and taking part in the arctic tundra reclamation.

I work on a rotation schedule, meaning I work in Russia for six weeks every day, and then I get flown home to Canada for four weeks off. “Mondays” and “Fridays” do not exist here as we do not have weekends off, which definitely takes some getting used to.

My favourite time here is during the summer, when the sun never sets. Although it only lasts for a few weeks, it is absolutely wonderful to see the tundra spring to life with animals, insects, and flowers everywhere! Plus, going for a midnight walk with the sun blaring over you is incredible.

A couple of lessons I’ve learned throughout my time here include understanding the best way to get opportunities is to work hard and put yourself out there. Competition in the working world can be intense, so it is important to put in that extra work and effort to stand out.  Also, never be afraid to reach out for help! I can honestly say I’ve done my best to stay in touch with some of my professors who have been incredibly helpful in times when I needed advice.

Along the way, I’ve also gained some unexpected skills, such as:

  • Because of how isolated this mine is, I now am a master at airports, packing, and rationing essentials (like coffee and chocolate, obviously).
  • Waking up at 4am every single day.
  • How to sleep when the sun is ALWAYS shining (summer).
  • How to stay awake when the sun refuses to rise (winter).
  • Hanging out with a mammoth skull and trying my hardest not to cry out of excitement about it.

I know I probably would not be here if it wasn’t for UWaterloo’s co-op program. I was a co-op student when I first came to the mine three years ago, and was offered a position upon graduation. The field courses I took as an undergraduate student gave me the hands-on skills necessary for this job, and the report writing from other work terms helped immensely for my position.

I want any prospective or current students reading this to know just how important it is to take up the opportunities available to you.  Yes, things can seem challenging and daunting to take on, but it is the toughest tasks that can sometimes reap the best rewards.