Laura Thomas

Math and science have held my interest since high school. As I studied for my bachelor’s degree in engineering, my long time interest in the environment was also stimulated. In the third year of my program, I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand and participate in an environmental engineering work term. I loved the experience so much I decided to focus my master’s degree in international development work. With a focus on international development, I pursued elective courses such as Spanish language training outside of the engineering core program. After graduation, I immediately found a job conducting waste management research at the World Bank, where I was able to use my newly developed skills.

In Canada, companies that hire waste management specialists include all levels of government, industry and environmental consulting firms. In my relatively short career so far, I have gained experience in different cultures and diverse teams of people. I learned a great deal from these people and experiences. When I see the environmental situations in other countries, I realize how lucky we are here in Canada. I am a member of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA). In Alberta, to gain professional status as an engineer, membership in APEGGA is required. I am also a member of the International Solid Waste Management Association. Both of these associations are good sources of current information and provide excellent networking opportunities, especially at conferences. I also take courses and seminars and read extensively to expand my skill and knowledge base.

My interest areas are diverse and I try to retain a balance between the technical aspects of engineering and the human aspects of the environment. Waste management professionals will see good potential for advancement and salary increases in the next few years. There will be an increased emphasis on responsible environmental management from the private sector, government and international markets. The demand for people with a balance between technical and business skills will be strong as companies around the world adopt the responsibility for sound environmental management. Anyone who wants to work in waste management should know that the results of your work are evident in the short term. You do not have to wait years to see the effect of a solid waste clean up project. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of this type of work. If you want to work internationally, I suggest you follow your passion. “Do what you love and the work will follow” is some good advice I received from a university advisor.

In this occupation you truly can improve the lifestyles of people and at the same time clean up the environment. Although I often travel to other countries, my usual location is in an office for a typical forty-hour week. Throughout the day, I am involved in meetings with clients and colleagues, technical design, report writing and fieldwork. Fieldwork requires special skills and safety procedures for the transportation of dangerous goods, soil and water sampling, drilling and construction safety. When working in other countries, the company I work for establishes a long-term local partnership so the skills to maintain the systems we introduce can be imparted to the local people.

Communication skills are very important in this job to get information across to team members from other cultures who speak a different language. In a short period of time, I have accumulated a wide variety of experience in Canada and in international projects. What I have to offer the environment and the future of my profession is the determination and enthusiasm to achieve my goals. By continuing to work with highly skilled people in challenging projects around the world, I will be able to improve my skills and the living conditions of the people in developing nations.