What led you to join SME? For how long have you been a member?
I joined SME as a student member in 2016, the first year I moved to the U.S. to pursue my doctorate at Colorado School of Mines. I remember I was very excited to join because my professors talked a lot about SME, and at the same time, I could enjoy the student membership perk of receiving discounts on the SME books for class. After I finished my program and started to work in the industry, I continued my membership a professional. It’s been 5 years for me to be a SME member.
What initially led you to pursue your profession? Why have you stayed in your profession for the past 1.5 years?
It all seems to be a natural course for me to pursue a career as an extractive metallurgist after school because I chose to study metallurgical engineering when I entered university and then made it all the way from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree finally to a doctorate. Ten years in school all about metallurgical engineering doesn’t sound long to me. We cannot live without metals in our daily life in practically every aspect. What differentiates them and how they connect among one another: it is fascinating to lead a career to tell the stories behind it.
I have been working for Hatch for about a year and a half and during this period I have got opportunities to work on multiple projects from different countries. The nature of my work requiring innovative and critical thinking has always hooked me. I enjoy what I do: being on the go solving technical problems for the industry and continuing learning from other professionals.
How has being an SME member enhanced or shaped your career?
Being an SME member has positively impacted my career in so many ways and at different stages of my career.
While in school, my advisor was very supportive and encouraging for graduate students to attend professional events and conferences, and I had the opportunities to attend the SME annual conference every year. I enjoyed the technical talks as well as the social events by SME. It was refreshing for me to get out of the lab once in a while and stay tuned about what my peers were doing in the industry and academia. In my second year, I got the invitation to present my research on rare earth molten salt electrolysis at the Colorado MPD conference, and I won the Top Student Paper award at the conference. This led to me getting a job offer from my current company. In addition to that, I received several scholarships from SME including the Rong Yu Wan PhD Dissertation scholarship.
Through the SME events, I have had the opportunities to interact with many knowledgeable professionals. I am inspired by the passion they demonstrate through devoting their time to promoting the industry and the community. They make good role models for my career and remind me of getting involved in the movement. I was fortunate to become part of the SME Young Leaders Committee (YLC) Class of 2020 and currently I serve as a Mineral Processing Division (MPD) Young Leaders representative.
Favorite SME member benefit(s) to take advantage of?
The networking opportunity SME presents to its members is massive. SME has formed an enormous pool of like-minded people with diversity as a community over its long-standing history, and I have learned a lot from the interactions with other SME members through multiple SME events in the past years. I consider every SME event I attend as a learning opportunity and I am very appreciative.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of your job?
Working as a process metallurgist at an engineering consulting firm gives me opportunities to be faced with different technical challenges. It requires us to take different approaches to address different aspects of a mining project and every project is unique. You cannot take a template and simply assume a successful practice in one project is completely suitable for another. It is important to have a critical and analytical mind to identify differences among the projects and develop strong knowledge on the subjects. We consistently need to gain new knowledge and update our experience, and in some cases when needed, we need to develop new knowledge or technologies to help clients with their problem solving. I get excited every time when I encounter those challenges as that would be a great learning opportunity.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding aspects of my job are the pleasant experience working with my colleagues and the constant drive to learn new knowledge and develop skills. I have not been in the workforce for very long, and I have received lots of help and support from my colleagues. They are very helpful, and I learn a lot from their experience on different projects. Like my professor always says, once you get to the professional job, that is when the real education begins. I feel fortunate to get trained on the job to learn more and understand the industry better. This prepares me to take more responsibilities on projects.
Who has been key in shaping your career, and how?
I always feel lucky to have many great mentors during my professional education and career. Dr. Patrick Taylor, my Ph.D. thesis advisor, is one of them and he has been key in shaping my career. From the very early stage of my PhD program, he believed in me and encouraged me to be creative in problem solving for my research. He likes to see his students learn to conduct research independently and innovatively instead of simply following his lead step by step. During my program, we met one-on-one every week and he would always be available when needed. Another important thing is that in his class he uses maths beautifully to illustrate complex metallurgical phenomena. That inspires me and I have applied this mindset to my research and even my current project. He has been a great advisor and mentor to me, and I am always grateful.
In what ways have you seen the industry change since you first began your career?
I moved to Canada and started my career not long before the breakout of the pandemic. I would say that inarguably, the world, let alone the mining industry, has changed drastically because of the pandemic since I first began my career as a process metallurgist. SME hosted its first virtual annual conference in its history like many other professional organizations this year. The mining industry has been incredibly resilient in spite of the challenges.
Where do you think the industry will take you in the next decade?
It should be process digitalization. Process optimization and management with digital tools and technologies can have a tremendous impact on performance and improve decision-making. Those technologies will allow operation management to become more effective and efficient.