By Virginia Heffernan
Alice Simmons, P.Geol, is a consultant who has supported her family for several years by working as a well site geologist for the oil industry throughout western Canada. While her two daughters were growing up, Alice (pictured left) had a live-in nanny and a husband with flexibility. I caught up with Alice as she was driving from her home in Calgary to a site in northern BC, and asked her what it’s like to be a woman and a parent working 100-250 days a year in remote drill camps.
How did you choose your career?
I studied art, but as I was getting close to the end of my studies, I realized that what I was doing was not commercially viable. My dad had a drilling company and I had been around rigs all my life so he suggested I try geology. I found geology fascinating because so much of it is similar to how human bodies work but on a much grander and slower scale.
What do you like about your job?
When I go to work, I drive long distances and I get to see a lot of really cool things. I get to see and live in places you’d never see or live in otherwise. I get to go into a world that is so different from my normal life that it’s mind expanding. It’s a holiday from my real life. When I turn around, I get to do it all over again and then arrive at a house that is mine, that feels good and feels comfortable. So I’m kind of always on holiday. I get paid well and I have a lot of freedom. When I’m home, I get to spend 24 hours with my kids. That’s a real gift.
What is challenging about being a woman on the rigs?
I've never had any really serious problems. I joke with the guys and they joke with me and I don’t get offended by anything they do. Because I don’t get flipped out, there’s never an opening for them to pick on me. I’ve only had one consultant who really shut me out because he thought women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, not logging well samples, but that was an isolated incident.
What about being a parent?
I've learned a couple of monumental truths. First, it doesn't matter how busy or stressed about your job you are. When your kid calls and she’s upset, you drop everything and talk. You learn to parent by telephone. Also, I've learned that nothing can derail you faster than fighting with your spouse or children, or handling family battles, over the phone. It's very disruptive. As a mother, you have to deal with all the emotional stuff, whether you are there or not.
What advice do you have for parents new to the FIFO lifestyle?
You have to be able to discern the note in your child's voice when they need you to stop. That can be very hard. My kids are older now, but there’s still that curdle that happens when I hear this sound (Alice begins to choke up with emotion at this point, and we end the call).
More gems from Virginia:
- When you're a FIFO couple, carefully considering how many children to have, is one really the loneliest number?
- Keeping the fears at bay when your partner works away
Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit www.geopen.com