As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Professor with Dr. Marcello Veiga from the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Marcello Veiga is a full-professor of the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering of the University of British Columbia. He has worked for 35 years as a metallurgical engineer and environmental geochemist for mining and consulting companies around the world. He has worked extensively on environmental, health and social issues related to mining. From 2002 to 2008, he worked as Chief Technical Advisor of the Global Mercury Project for UNIDO - United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Since 2008 he has been key consultant for a number of important health related projects globally. Read his full bio here.
What came first – a desire to go into mining, or the desire to become a professor?
I started my career as a Metallurgical engineer in Brazil working for the government in a research institute focusing on mineralogy and mineral processing and I found a passion for it.
I had the opportunity to work for Vale assessing the feasibility of exploration projects from a mineralogical/mineral processing perspective. At first I met the animosity of the geologists as it seemed like I was only coming to projects to shut them down. There was a lot of education and training to explain the importance of mineralogy to the exploration geologists and miners. It is still something we can work on today.
Has your job allowed you to travel? If so, where to?
I am a Canadian citizen now so my home is here but I have worked in South America, Africa, and Indonesia as well. I also lived for two years in Vienna while working for the United Nations. As a professor I am still travelling a lot. Last year I have been in 20 countries.
If you are away from home for extended periods, what makes you the type of person that can do this successfully
I get home sick. It is nice to travel but we cannot forget how good is our lives here in Canada. We have nature. We have space. We have education and justice. These things can be hard to come by in other parts of the world. My family was supportive and happy to move when they were younger. Now they love Vancouver and they would rather stay put.
What does your average day look like?
I come to UBC and play the role of a firefighter. It's very difficult to plan my day because I am responsible for so many different projects involving many graduate students. I see maybe 10 grad and undergrad students a day that come to my office to talk about life and ask about my opinion: ”Should I go this place or should I go to grad school?” I see myself more as a mentor, an educator, than a teacher.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
When I came back from Vienna and was nominated to be the head of the UN Global Mercury Project in 2005 based at UBC. We had a team of 56 professionals, grads and undergrads, a budget of nearly $6 million dollars and I was able to involve a lot of people a lot of different departments and I had the decision making in my hands.
What do you love most about this job?
What I like most is to have contact with the students. It seems like I am always young. I am teaching two courses at graduate level and two at undergrad level…we are always having fun playing guitar in the classrooms and having time to stay with students after classes. I love the ability to be a mentor and help inspire students. I always have my door open and students come into my office looking for life advice and my perspective on opportunities or decisions they face.
There must be aspects of the job which you don’t enjoy so much. What are they?
It’s unfortunate that I have to teach large classes where there I lose the personal connection and engagement. Some classes I have been asked to teach have had up to 120 students. I much prefer the graduate classes that are limited to 25 students. Also, in some classes, like Mineralogy, we don't have the resources (one microscope for 65 students). It's very frustrating.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter the industry?
The main advice from me is to be humble and listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth….listening is the main way to be wiser. Some new graduates have an attitude as if they know everything. We, professors cannot teach details of everything to the students. Instead we aim to deliver a broad base of knowledge including more understanding of the environmental, social and political aspects. Being flexible, humble and ready to learn after graduation is very important.
For more interviews with mining professionals in different jobs, have a look at our main Careers in Mining post.
Header photo: aerial seeding at Highland Valley Copper. Image courtesy of Teck Resources Ltd.