Michael McCulloch (Year 4 MinE) is a recipient of Canadian Mineral Industry Education Foundation (CMIEF) scholarship. We chatted with him about the award, his experience in the Lassonde Mineral Engineering program and his view towards the future.
You’re in your fourth year of Lassonde Mineral Engineering and a recipient of the Canadian Mineral Industry Education Foundation (CMIEF) scholarship. What made you a particularly worthy recipient?
I don’t know if I am a particularly worthy recipient, to be honest. One thing that perhaps makes me different, though, is that I’m 14 years older than most of the other students in my program and pursuing a second bachelor’s degree. When I apply for scholarships, I try to make clear that being an older student has allowed me to approach the mining industry with greater maturity and perspective than I would have had when I was younger. Also, having previously worked in policy and conservation, I see both the industry’s ability to harm as well as its power to enact positive change.
Graduation is looming. Do you know what you’re going to do? What does the future hold for you?
My hope is to find a job at an engineering consulting company and then begin learning about life and work as a mining engineer.
Is there a particular area of Engineering you discovered while at U of T that you didn’t know too much about, but wound up, perhaps unexpectedly, really enjoying?
Everything I know about engineering, and mining in particular, I’ve learned here. In fact, if it weren’t for U of T, I don’t think I ever would have stumbled on the possibility of building a new career in the mining industry. There are many things about mining engineering I find interesting and exciting. Probably nothing more so than the challenge of mine development. This semester, for instance, I’m taking a course in mine optimization, which, among other things, considers the advantages of probabilistic ore body modelling. For the time being, the industry has been slow to adopt this practice, but it is one of many innovations that could help to make mining more efficient and less damaging to the environment.
You mentioned returning to university for the second time, this time for Engineering. Have you found you approach it differently than most of your younger classmates, who are perhaps arriving directly from high school?
I think so, yes. Being an older student, though, is part blessing and part curse. On one hand, I don’t have the same youthful vitality as my classmates and can no longer pull all-nighters or grind-out assignments at the last minute. On the other hand, being older means that I’m a little more organized than I was previously and certainly more motivated. Because I’m now married and a father, I understand the importance of transforming this opportunity into a sustainable career.
You’re part of the U of T team going to Vancouver for the 2023 Canadian Mining Games. It’s the first in-person Games since 2020, with the last two years online, because of the pandemic. Are you looking forward to this chance to engage in some in-person networking with your future industry colleagues?
Yes, I think meeting the other participants in person will definitely be one of the highlights of the competition.
Has the Lassonde Mineral Engineering program provided you with everything you need to succeed professionally? To equip you to be an engineer in the field?
Yes, I feel that I’ve been very supported by the program and am extremely grateful to all of the Lassonde staff and professors for all of their help and encouragement of the last four years. Nearly everyone has bent over backward to accommodate and include me as an older student and a student with a family. Additionally, from a financial perspective, a large percentage of my education was free. The Fields Institute supported my part-time studies in the early years of my degree and a Lassonde Scholarship has paid for much of my last two years of the program.
It’s often said that Toronto is the world’s mining capital, especially for generating the working capital – the funds needed – for the business of mining. Have you found that to be the case? And have you made any connections or taken advantage of big events? Something like PDAC, for instance?
I went to PDAC for the first time last year. It was a great opportunity to meet people from every corner of the mining industry as well as to realize just how small it is in terms of active participants. It often seems that nearly everyone in mining is connected by at most two degrees of separation.
As for Toronto as a capital of mining finance, yes, I think that’s true. Our capstone class this semester has featured a number of guest speakers from Bay St. and many have described Toronto as ‘ground zero’ for raising capital for junior and mid-size mining companies.
This is more personal. Did you ever have a go-to spot to study, or just visit, on campus or off campus?
I’ve found two good ones over the years. One is the third floor of the Fields Institute, which is always quiet and normally features some ‘Good Will Hunting’ style math problems on the blackboards. The second is the Newman Centre, on the northeast corner of Harbord and St. George, which I’ve always found charmingly monastic and a perfect place to prepare for exams.
Do you have any kind of hidden or unusual talent? Something we wouldn’t know about other than asking here?
One hidden element of my personality is that I’m dyslexic. When I was younger, I had great difficulty learning to read and write and, to this day, still need extra time for writing exams. For these reasons, I always considered my dyslexia to be a learning ‘disability’. Interestingly, though, I’ve recently found some studies that suggest that dyslexics may also benefit from certain neurological advantages, particularly in terms of spatial reasoning. While dyslexics are under-represented in text-heavy fields like law, medicine and accounting, they seem to be over-represented in more spatially oriented fields like architecture and engineering.
My own theory is that though dyslexics’ neurology makes processing information in two dimensions more difficult, it may somehow facilitate processing in three dimensions. Obviously, this makes reading and writing for dyslexics more challenging, but potentially gives them a leg-up in working with 3D representations of material structures or even ore bodies.
I would say this is a great advantage in being able to visualize spaces, particularly underground in the mining industry, where so much is hidden. Thank you.
By Phill Snel
APPLY FOR A CMIEF SCHOLARSHIP
Lassonde Mineral Engineering students received
a message on the CivMin Hub January 30
encouraging applications to the
Canadian Mineral Industry Education Foundation (CMIEF) scholarship.
Links for PDF documents: