But Seriously, What is Engineering?

What's all this about the mine?

September 03, 2020 EAIT Marketing Season 1 Episode 2
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
What's all this about the mine?
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
What's all this about the mine?
Sep 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
EAIT Marketing

Join mining engineers Martyn Robotham and Negin Beaton as they share their engineering journeys and dig deep into their rewarding careers in the resources industry.

Together they share insights into a day in the life of an operational mine, the challenges they have overcome in their careers, and the value of support networks and mentors in this global, yet small, industry.

With technological advances and scope for further innovation to create even safer and more efficient operations, the future of mining is exciting for prospective engineers looking to consider a career in resources.

Get set to explore the possibilities available through a career in mining engineering.

To learn more about studying engineering visit UQ's Future Students website.

Show Notes Transcript

Join mining engineers Martyn Robotham and Negin Beaton as they share their engineering journeys and dig deep into their rewarding careers in the resources industry.

Together they share insights into a day in the life of an operational mine, the challenges they have overcome in their careers, and the value of support networks and mentors in this global, yet small, industry.

With technological advances and scope for further innovation to create even safer and more efficient operations, the future of mining is exciting for prospective engineers looking to consider a career in resources.

Get set to explore the possibilities available through a career in mining engineering.

To learn more about studying engineering visit UQ's Future Students website.

1.  [Music plays]

2.  Kartikee   
Welcome. You’re listening to But Seriously What is Engineering, with me, Kartikee Gupta. This is a podcast series from the University of Queensland that explores all corners of engineering.
Today we talk to two mining engineers, Negin Beaton and Martyn Robotham, who tell us how a mining career can be your ticket to adventure in remote, rugged locations in Australia and abroad. Welcome to you both. So Martyn, you said you’ve got 35 years of experience in the mining industry. Tell us about your career journey through the mines.

3.  Martyn     
It’s been a long journey, starting off in the mines in South Africa. I moved around there, studying over there, and back in the U.K., consulting all over the world really in different industries before ultimately joining a mining house and getting involved in technical support and advice to a broad range of industries and a broad range of commodities. I’m currently with Rio Tinto, leading a surface mining team, looking at things like hydrogeology, geotechnical engineering, tailings engineering, and again all engineering, and including mining engineering. So, I guess the big thing for me with mining, it’s not just mining engineering, it’s all aspects of engineering which come together to deliver the metals and things that we use every day in our lives.

4.  Kartikee
So you mentioned globally, I’m keen to hear about how your career has taken you around the world.

5.  Martyn
Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I started off in the U.K., from Wales originally, studied in London, and there wasn’t a whole heap of work around initially. So having looked at opportunities, back then it was a case of well, in those days, go to Africa or become an accountant, and I’ve never really fancied numbers and accounting. So I started off my journey in, ooh it would have been 1985, moving to South Africa, worked there for a couple of years, and then went back to the U.K. to expand my horizons. So I started off in geology, and then went back into engineering.

Then I joined a consulting group and got involved in more and more overseas work. So I think once you get that bug and know you’re able to travel, it just bites and you keep on going. So after consulting in Venezuela, Indonesia, I met a bunch of international mining contacts, and funnily enough I was away travelling and I came back and my wife said, you’ve had two calls, one wants you in Canada, one wants you in Indonesia, what do you want to do?

So we ended up moving over to Australia, of all places, and then still with consulting moved around different places. So currently my portfolio is, covers Mongolia, Chile, Canada, the U.S., and parts of Australia. But obviously getting involved in other consulting projects internally or due diligence projects all over the world. So if you like to travel, you like adventure, it’s a good place to be in mining.

6.  Kartikee   
And you’ve done all this travelling with your family?

7.  Martyn
Started off just with me, and then my wife was also, she was in exploration, so it was quite nice to have somebody who understood and appreciated what you did and was also keen to travel. And then when we moved over to Australia we had kids, I kept travelling here, using this as a home base, so I didn’t get involved in fly in-fly out, although some people would argue I travel as much as most FIFO people do, and then we had the kids here. Then I was transferred to America for a period, and the kids had a great time over there and we really enjoyed ourselves in a large copper mine in Utah. And then I came back here for a global role based in Australia, which currently is interesting with COVID impacts being not travelling so much. A lot more use of Webex, teleconferencing facilities, Zoom, all sorts of things. The world’s change a little with travel, but hopefully it’ll come back to its old self or a semblance of it next year. We’ll see how we go.

8. Kartikee
We are living the new norm aren’t we.

9. Martyn

10. Kartikee
How do you feel not travelling, seeing that you’ve travelled so much around the world and you’ve kind of had to stay put for a little while?

11. Martyn
It’s interesting, because you do make a lot of good connections with people, and I think most industries is all around the people you meet and what you can learn from them, what they can learn from you. But I think when you’ve been forced to do something, like with COVID, you just can’t travel, I haven’t really thought too much. Even today I’ve been on calls for four or fives hours with various, with Canada, with the U.S. Yeah, it’s different, but it’s not a bad different either. Like getting back on a plane might be hard. We’ll see how we go.

12.  Kartikee
It’s nice to hear that your career has taken you around the world and you’ve been able to see so many different places with your family.

13. Martyn

14. Kartikee
Negin, I’m keen to hear from you. Why mining, and who or what really was your inspiration? 

15. Negin
Yeah, I do get that question a lot as a female in mining and resources industry. So firstly, a huge family influence. My father’s an engineer, a lot of males in particular in my family are engineers, so I’ve always had that aptitude for, in my upbringing for the maths, the applied science, and problem solving, logical thinking. So engineering was always a path for me, but mining was introduced to me as a year 10 student in high school. So I grew up in Wollongong, which is dotted with underground coal mines, the steel works, like you grow up knowing this is your main industry, and so it was pretty exciting to be able to contribute to something that was huge to our, where I grew up.

And it was actually a high school outreach visit in year 10 to my school by a fourth year mining engineering student from the local university who just opened up my eyes to the world of mining. And it was also a tour of an underground coal mine in Wollongong that really cemented that decision, that it was just appreciating the enormity of the operation, you know debunking the pick and axe myths of what an underground coal mine would be, would be like. It’s, you know there’s roads and traffic lights, and huge vehicles down there, and knowing that you’re mining this resource to send to the steelworks and then get it ready for like shipping to overseas to make steel and other everyday products.

So just fully appreciating that full cycle and knowing that it could take me travelling, like Martyn touched on. Even though I haven’t been too global yet, I have seen a lot of Australia that I would never have seen in any other career. And just the diversity of engineering career options, so from site work, which I absolutely loved getting my hands dirty and seeing my designs implemented in the pit, to consulting in the city, and now running a diversity program through the University Women in Engineering Program to really bring it full circle of my passion for engineering and getting more females in the industry.

16.  Kartikee
Fantastic. So it sounds like you made your decision in year 10 that you were going to be a mining engineer, and that’s great to hear. When you started your career, Negin, you would have been one of the few females, or may I say one of the only females in the industry. Tell us a bit more about that. 

17.  Negin
I did go in knowing that it, there wouldn’t be many females you know in, considering mining and the resources industry, and I was one of two females in my university cohort that started through back in 2006. And then it was my, in second year I did a work placement in Biloela, Central Queensland, and that really brought to light that I was one of the only female engineers. There was a lot of other females, there was female operators, there was geologists, there was you know admin, HR roles, there was a lot of females on site, which was great to see, but in terms of the tech services core engineering roles, yes, I was the only one.

It was never an issue. I was always supported, treated like everyone else, and respected as an Engineer, which was great. I have had a very positive experience. But, yes, it was very interesting to see that, and a lot of people aren’t prepared to be, like don’t know that, that they might be one of a few females. But, you know, I followed my passion, I knew I was capable and loved that site work and could contribute with my engineering skills in the mines. 

Yeah, it definitely changed over the years, so about 10 years of site work experience, and slowly seeing more and more females come through, more and more come through to university. So by the time I was in my final year I was mentoring first year students, and there was sort of 5, 5 to 10 students by then, not you know just being one of two. So that was good to see, slow changes, but definitely in the positive. And now, you know, in this role as well through Women in Engineering I get to share these stories of very successful women in the resources industry, and that’s just great to showcase that, and for other people in resources to know that we’ve got each other and there is a fantastic female network of connections so to support you. 

18. Kartikee
That’s great to hear, Negin, and you’re right, you’re absolutely right, the industry is evolving, and there are more and more females entering the industry, especially mining industry as well. 

So over to you, Martyn, now. As Negin mentioned there has been a shift in the last 10 years even, there’s more and more female engineers now. You’ve got 35 years of experience. What changes have you seen in the industry in terms of diversity, I guess both engineering and mining specifically?

19.  Martyn
Yeah, it’s interesting to hear Negin speak, because her career start was a little different to mine. I started off in university in London, and I think we had, oh, maybe 4 or 5% cent females at best. My first vacation job was in a tin mine in Cornwall in south west England, where it was deemed unlucky for women to be underground, so a lot of the male operators just didn’t want females around at all. I moved then to South Africa, underground, when it was illegal for women to be underground. So, times have changed a little.

So I guess being involved with Women in Engineering and catching up with you guys, it’s quite tremendous, and it’s my focus is that diversity of thinking which females and other nationalities bring to solve a problem, and I think that’s, that that richness of experience and experiences is what makes mining so interesting, because the challenges are everywhere, and as we keep saying it’s not only, I think many people think mining engineers that just run around with a pick and a shovel and blowing things up. 

But any form of engineering comes through to contribute to a much greater good in terms of not only doing the right mining, but doing the right rehabilitation and closure afterwards as well. I’ve had 35 years of fun so far; we’ll see where it goes next. 

20. Kartikee
Okay, so let’s talk smart mines and artificial intelligence. So I read an article the other day which stated that machines now will work autonomously to a predetermined plan, and they’ll be able to process data themselves and really be connected to the end user. So here’s a question for you both, what does the future of mining look like?

21. Martyn
Well I think from a safety perspective a lot less people, and I think a lot of what’s driving innovation in a lot of mining areas is that removing of people from the coalface or from the working face. So many mines in Sweden, underground mines, are almost completely autonomous. Many of the major mining houses, including Rio, are running autonomous trucking at the moment. So I think, and also data centres, for our processing centres, we can now look at and analyse data from multiple businesses all over the world for the benefit of other businesses.

So, I think it’ll be a lot less people, very technologically driven. Again, it’ll require a mindset change because the engineer of now that’s important in terms of a mine might be the same engineer you need in the future. Maybe you know it’s more mechatronics, electrical, computational than your more hands-on physical mechanical engineer so I think it is changing now, but there’s still a long way to go.

22. Kartikee
So, you say a lot less people. Does that mean fewer mining engineers in the workplace, or?

23.  Martyn
I think a lot less people at the face. It’s difficult. I started off in geology and engineering, so geologists are passionate about being at the wall, looking at the rocks and collecting data, and that remains important, but now about using sensing techniques, can we get the same quality of information from remote, because unfortunately there still are injuries and fatalities in the mining industry. Whether you’re working near a large coal rock face or an underground mine face, you have some exposure, so I think not so much less people, it’ll be similar amounts of people doing different styles of work. 

24. Kartikee
And I guess studying engineering will give you the skills to have that diversity in the work.

25. Martyn
I’d agree. And I think we talked before about, you know, the dirty mining environment, this, that, and the other, that’s also going to change, and hopefully that’ll help attract more engineers from all sorts of areas to what is a really challenging, interesting, problem solving career.

26. Kartikee   
Negin when, just before we started this conversation you mentioned mentor-mentee relationships. Have you had a mentor who has helped you progress through your career in mining?

 27. Negin 
Yeah, I think mentors are a definitely valuable part of what has been part of my professional and personal development through my mining career journey. I’ve had a few. You know circumstances change in your life, I have moved around different mine sites, which is you know encouraged and you know helps build up your skill set, but probably my longest mentor, and the one that’s been through a few of those changes with me, is a male mining engineer mentor, which I think it’s really important to have that perspective as well, especially from him being so supportive of me being a female in this industry and wanting the best for me. 

So, yeah, that network, that connection with him through the years has been very supportive of all the decisions I’ve made, including completely changing sort of career paths recently, moving to the city with my young family, working part-time between a mining consulting firm and the Women in Engineering Program. But, yeah, he was very integral, a critical part of my career was being at a mine site for about six years it was, which is quite a long time for where I was at in my career. I was a Mine Production Engineer, and it is a time where you do move around a bit and diversify your skill set, and I, I did, I got stuck a bit in that role.

I did get promoted to the senior role while I was there, which was great, but he also identified a ceiling above my head. He knew that if I stayed where I was I wouldn’t be able to move up or progress at that particular mine site. So even though we were at the same mine at the time, so even though I was obviously an invaluable member of the Tech Services Team, he actually encouraged me to spread my wings and move on. And it was a, it’s a scary step to move on, where you do become comfortable for a long time and you know you’re contributing to the mine, he encouraged that, and that completely changed the last few years of my career.

28. Martyn
I think it’s really nice with engineers, as you progress in your career, to be not that coal mining engineer, and not that person who knows iron ore mining really well, but the person who’s seen lots of different mines, different environments, whether it’s academia or operations, you just bring more to the party later on. And again, I think as engineers we all think of ourselves as problem solvers. If you see more problems, you’ll probably help solve more problems the same way. So I think that’s great what you’ve done. 

29. Negin
Thanks, Martyn. Yeah, I went from a, you know all I knew really was drill and blast engineering, so the whole blowing stuff up was my forte, but then got to move to a consulting role where one of my first projects was pit optimisation for a metals mine in Cambodia. I would never have thought that’s what I would be working on. So that’s really exciting for an engineer, so to be part of that.

30.  Kartikee
Yeah, fantastic, Negin. And that diversity of career paths that you’ve taken is just phenomenal. And I guess mentors really help you see the best in you. 

 31. Negin
I did want to add about the female connections I touched on before. Besides that really critical male mentor in my life, the network of women in mining and other females in the resources industry has also really been important throughout my career. Just to know there’s a lot of us out there, and we’re all there to support each other, and there’s some amazing women in leadership in mining that are doing great things, so quite inspiring to look up to, to know that, yes, you can have a fantastic work-life balance and still make a huge contribution to the resources industry. 

32. Kartikee
Thanks, Negin. So, let’s rewind back to when you were a high school student, what did you wish you had known about studying a mining engineering degree? I know you mentioned before that you had decided in year 10 you wanted to be a mining engineer, but is there anything else you wanted to know about the mining industry?

33. Negin
I think we do need to prepare students for the reality. Yes, I grew up with mining in my backyard, I grew up with a family of engineers, but for someone that might not have those influences or that exposure, but is possibly interested in resources after listening to this podcast, it would be more just that expectation, setting like a reality of what to expect. So, yes, you might be one of few females, you know hopefully you’re okay with that, but if we can share these rewarding stories, if I heard more rewarding stories about females that have done it ahead of me, just to know that, you know either positive and or negative experiences, so we can learn from that, and learn about the challenges and how we can make a change for the, for the better for everyone. 

So just that, more of that, not misleading them I guess, or not misleading a future student that it is still struggling with a gender balance in the industry, but there’s a lot of support and a lot of work going into improving that. I would have liked to have known that, so I wasn’t shocked that I was one of two females in a class of sort of 30 males in my first year of engineering. You will be very well supported. There hasn’t been too many instances where for any reason I’ve been singled out because I was a female in the Tech Services Team, that I was just one of the engineers, like everyone else.

So, having that mindset, that knowing what to expect, but sharing more rewarding, positive stories that should inspire and promote the industry in a better light.

34. Kartikee
You just mentioned that you were well supported in your Tech Services Team. Did you also feel well supported at university when you were one of just two females in your cohort?

35. Negin
I absolutely loved the mining community at university. I think it’s still there actually, I’m seeing it now through this current role, the mining society, they’re a great cohort, they’re well supported by industry. You know, the other girl in the class was first in the class, I was second, so we did really well in our class. And, yeah, I think the guys really enjoyed having some females. 

Funnily, I went on exchange in third year to Canada, well there were a lot more females in the mining cohorts at UBC, University of British Columbia, compared to where I was at Wollongong, but even so they had two Australian exchange students that semester, that year, and both of us were females from Australia. So how lucky did they get? So that was great, and I think we really, you know, shared a, that true Aussie spirit and really made a, made a memorable semester for everyone. 

But, yeah, so it is what you make of it. You know, you become a society in your mining group, or other engineering societies, or other things you’re interested in at university, so it was never an issue that I was one of two females in my cohort at all. And if anything, I got to pass that on to, when I started to mentor the first years that came in when I was in my final year. So, yeah, it was a great way to pass on the support that I was, that I had received as well. 

36. Kartikee
And you mentioned going on exchange. Tell us a bit more about that. I mean you got to meet more females at UBC, so how did that feel?

 37. Negin
It was great. It was great to; it was my first time out of home. I lived at home through the four years of university, going to the local university, so thanks, mum and dad. But, yeah, it was, it was time to spread my wings and go overseas, I was 19 years old at the time, I you know got to travel, which is, that was that travel bug that I was excited about to get into engineering, and more so mining engineering, knowing that it is a global industry and it can take me places. 

So, seeing mines in Canada was great. Networking and connecting with people in Canada -that’s part of expanding your networks and having these connections for life, because it is a small world. The connections you make even as a first year engineering student, or on exchange in Canada, are with you for life. So, it was just great to see, to really put in practice I guess the global part of the mining that I wanted to be, and I want to be a part of, and I still have you know many years ahead of me to be part of it, so yeah.

38. Kartikee
Yeah. And do you still keep in touch with your friends from Canada?

39. Negin
Yeah, definitely. A few of them have come to Australia to work, so that was a great way to see each other again once we graduated from university. I travelled back a few years ago with my husband. He actually knew how special this place was to me, and this exchange, that he decided that was where he was going to propose, so that was amazing.

40. Kartikee

41. Negin
Yeah, so we’re still in touch, so some of them have come over here. When I travelled over there I met up with some of my friends again, and we just keep on connecting and just supporting each other through all these amazing careers we’ve all, we’ve all had post university.

42. Kartikee
Yeah, great to have those connections globally, and that support network. Really fantastic. Okay, so we’ve reached the end of the episode, but before we go we have a tiny segment called fast facts, in which we get to know you both a little better with some fast questions. Are you ready?

43. Martyn
Let’s do it.

44. Kartikee
What’s the one fact that listeners wouldn’t know about you

45. Martyn
I’m a martial arts black belt. 

46. Kartikee

47. Negin
My name actually means the gemstone Ruby in Iranian.

48. Martyn

49. Kartikee
Oh, wow.

50. Negin
Which is probably…

51. Kartikee
How fitting for the mining career, right.

52.  Negin
Which is probably where it all stemmed from.

53.  Martyn
A little gem.

54.  Negin

55.  Kartikee
What is one advice you would give to your younger self?

56. Martyn
Don’t be afraid of a challenge.

57. Negin
Yeah, similar, just endless possibilities, and those doors of opportunities, don’t ever be afraid to open that door and just see what’s next.

58.  Kartikee
And last one, if you had to choose a piece of music that would best describe you, what would that be?

59. Martyn
Tom Jones, The Green, Grass of Home, like because I come from Wales.

60. Negin
I have no idea who that is.

61. Kartikee
Mmm. I can see there’s a bit of a generation gap.

62.  Martyn
Just a touch.

63. Negin
I would like to say that, you know, I was an avid Triple J hottest 100 listener, did all my votes every year, and now I have a two-year-old, so a lot of my music is more like audio books.

64. Martyn
Give us a song, which song, though? 

65. Negin
At the moment it’s Thomas the Tank Engine’s theme song. No, but I am a big National fan with my husband, and Alt-J.

66. Kartikee
Thank you. Thanks for sharing those. 

67. [Music plays]

68. Kartikee
If you’re enjoying this podcast make sure you like and subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and don’t forget to leave a review, it’ll help others to find the series. My name is Kartikee Gupta.