Meet Robert Marquis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Institute of Mining of Quebec/Institut National des Mines. Student volunteer Yevgen Nazarenko interviewed Dr. Marquis during the 2015 AGU Joint Assembly.
How would you describe your career path, your student life, and your opportunities as a student that led you to your choice of career?
I was a young adult and went traveling around the world for 3 – 4 years before I came back to Canada, went back to university, and did a B.Sc. degree, a M.Sc. degree, and a Ph.D. degree in geology. I had my first born, my second born, and my third born while at university – so, every time I got a degree, I had a child, and as they grew, so I grew more responsibilities and became more dedicated to start a career. I worked first as a government geologist, in the Quebec Department of Natural Resources, so my filed experience was mostly in regional mapping, and this was done in the Appalachian orogeny of Southeastern Quebec. I spent 15 years mapping mostly in the Eastern townships before I was promoted to a chief geologist position in Val-d’Or.
What got you interested in geology?
What brought me to geology were those years I took off from school. I went traveling around the world: I saw many things, natural phenomena which I could not explain or couldn’t get an explanation for, and I knew there were explanations somewhere – the explanations were in geology. That’s the science that gave me answers to these questions: I went through a severe earthquake once, and I started wondering what was the link between earthquakes, volcanoes, and the landscape? How do you explain the landscape? I liked the outdoors, and I wanted scientific answers to observations relative to landforms.
I also had one teacher in college, prior to going into university, who taught my first geological course, Introduction to Geology. I found it amazing, because prior to that, a rock was a rock, and all of a sudden there were all sorts of rocks out there that told different stories.
How did you prepare to go from Associate Deputy Minister of Mines to President and CEO?
I was Assistant Deputy Minister of Mines in Quebec City for close to two years, but then there were changes in the government, and, you know, a position of an Assistant Deputy Minister is really a political position. So when there’s a change in the government you can expect you will be offered another job sooner or later. So I went to the office as usual on a given Thursday and then got a phone call, “You are going back to Val d’Or, and are going to start a new job next Monday as President and Chief Executive Officer at Quebec Mining Institute,” which is a very small unit of five people. As a deputy minister, I was in charge of 200 people. I had 24 hours to say goodbye to everyone, which is something I wanted to do because I’d been working for this department for 30 years. I had held all of the positions, geologist, chief, director, director general, and assistant deputy minister, so I knew everyone personally.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect in my new job because the Quebec Mining Institute is a small unit, it’s far away in the countryside – I didn’t really know much about it, but I realized once I was there that the team was a good group of well-trained people and by focusing on innovation in the mining sector, we could really make a difference doing research-based team work and creating a network between the mining industry and the educational sector. So, it’s really a position where I can feel like I do something useful collecting relevant data and writing reports directly to the Minister of Education to advise the government what should be done to improve the existing mining training programs.
What opportunities for employment would you advise students at different levels to consider?
Career opportunities in geology are focused on three different sectors. In the mining sector, and that’s mostly within the exploration part of the mining sector, demand for geologists is strongly affected by the global economic situation. So, there are years when all mining exploration companies want to hire geologists at the same time, and then all of a sudden, they cannot pursue their exploration activities anymore for a lack of financial support and they let everybody go. Students should know that in advance and be able to live with that. During the bad years however, that’s a good time to get additional training or to enlarge one’s business network.
I’ve known geologists who, during these bad years, moved away from geology to something else and never got back, but others always found a way to stay in the business by developing a new expertise very focused, an expertise that they were the only ones to possess. When the economy slows down, since they control this expertise they still get jobs and contracts while others are fired. A geologist going into the mining sector should be able to take advantage of whatever opportunities appear and be ready to go back to school and train some more.
If they choose a career in the environment or related to construction, this is probably more stable, but less exciting as there is not the treasure hunt component closely associated with exploration geology. A geologist is a scientist, but he is also an artist. He likes to test different hypothesis, so doing exploration look like the perfect job for a geologist never knowing what to expect from the next drill hole and always convinced to be just about to make a major discovery.
What role did your friends and family play in your choice to become a geologist?
I was still in university when my children were born. However, my career choice was challenging for my family. At first, when my wife, my children, and I were all young it was fun and relatively easy to go together far away in the country side during the summertime while I was conducting geological field work. We were camping and we all enjoyed it. But after 15 years, the oldest one was a teenager and, though they all liked the outdoors, all three children were developing other personal interests, as well as my wife who had been a strong support all these years. There came a time when I considered doing something else. In the long term, I must admit it was really challenging with a family.
How did your training as a geoscientist translate into being able to function along your career?
I was trained as a geologist, a scientist with technical know-how. The training that I got was really focused on the first job I got after I finished school, regional geological mapping.
When I finished school, I was ready to do geological mapping, but when I moved from my first job to the next one all the technical stuff was not very useful anymore, and I had to learn by myself. My university training was still useful in a way because I knew the value of effort that you make to learn something, a discipline you learn when you go to school day after day, and this was still very useful.
So when I moved from a geologist job to management since I knew how to learn it had a positive impact to help me learn by myself and slowly go through the hard time I encompassed at first as a manager.