Laura Branscombe has taken a different route to preparing for graduate study and work following graduate studies. As an undergraduate student in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, she recently took a year off of studies to complete an internship at an environmental, geotechnical design consulting firm through the Queen's Undergraduate Internship Program. She has now returned to Queen's with the backing of the company to complete her two-year Master's program, expected to begin this fall. And she will have a job at the end of her program.
While on her internship at Golder Associates, an international company which provides civil/geotechnical and environmental consulting services to a wide range of industries, Branscombe did "everything and anything a junior engineer could do" this past summer. This included clerical work, field work, data analysis, working with numerical models, learning how to use new data analysis programs and participating in meetings. Her supervisor in the department, Professor Mark Diederichs, gave Branscombe a reference for the internship.
"Geological engineering is a very widespread field," says Branscombe. "For example, the fieldwork that I did involved extending a landfill." At the recent Inquiry@Queen's undergraduate research conference, Branscombe presented the work she had completed at Golder last summer in a talk entitled, "Evaluating the viability of extending landfill," and spoke on the ethical response to expanding a landfill. The main goal of her work was to avoid poisoning the drinking water of the local community north of Montreal as a result of extending the landfill.
"Golder Associates involves anything from designing structure stability and tailings dams for mines to environmental pursuits to physical/subsurface analysis," says Branscombe. "The company was perfect for what I was interested in - rock structure engineering and geotech work." Another major incentive for her to work at the company has been because of the "focus on work-life balance, rather than simply financial rewards." In addition, she was drawn to the ethical and environmentally friendly values of the company.
Dr. Diederichs, currently away on sabbatical, is expected to be her supervisor for graduate work at Queen's this fall, along with Professor Jean Hutchinson. The company is supporting her through an industrial post-graduate scholarship, a scholarship which stipulates she must work for a company that is registered with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The company contributes $6,000, and the government contributes $15,000 annually. In her graduate work she will work on a thesis that is required to be of interest to the company, and she plans to study mining and tunneling in anisotropic materials: problems and alternatives, or, in plain language, studying tunnels and properties of rocks. Her work will be case-study based and her field work will take place in the South of France.
Branscombe has enjoyed her time with the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering at Queen's, and is currently also a Residence Don and helps out with the engineering rugby team. "The profs in the department expect a great deal of you, but in return they give you everything they have-they give you their time and their resources and are completely there for you. The engineering group in geology is quite small compared to other engineering groups, so you always have a lot of support. All the profs know you and you know them by fourth year you have nearly everyone on a first-name basis. They're really supportive and really instructive, not just in the material they're teaching, but also by keeping track of what you're interested in and making you aware of what's out there. I wouldn't have ever heard of Golder if it wasn't for Mark."
From her internship, she says she has learned "why I was getting the education I was getting, as well as how to make better use of what I was learning." She has also learned the value of "soft skills" and "how to communicate with supervisors clearly and regularly. . . It also gave me an independence that I didn't have at school."
Branscombe has not made a decision whether to pursue a PhD and does not intend to make that decision yet. If she does continue with PhD work, she plans to study in England where she plans to eventually reside, and where there are also other Golder office locations.