La Société canadienne
de géotechnique
The Canadian
Geotechnical Society
La Société canadienne de géotechnique
The Canadian Geotechnical Society
The Canadian
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International Women in Engineering Day 2022

June 2022

International Women in Engineering Day occurs on June 23rd where the work and achievements of women engineers is celebrated. It was initially launched in the United Kingdom by the Women’s Engineering Society as a national initiative. In its nineth year, it has grown to have global reach and UNESCO patronage. The Canadian Geotechnical Society (CGS) joins industry professionals in celebrating this event.

In 2022, the CGS has chosen to highlight four of our women members from across a diverse spectrum. Dr. Pooneh Maghoul is an Associate Professor at the Polytechnique Montréal in Montréal, Québec. Dr. Jennifer Day is an Assistant Professor with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Aditi Khurana is a geotechnical engineer-in-training with Stantec in Calgary, Alberta. Susanne Ouellet is geotechnical engineer at BGC Engineering and graduate student at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta.


1. What got you interested in geotechnical engineering?

Aditi: As a kid, solving small problems gave me a sense of accomplishment. Having grown up in a small town in India where there was not a lot of infrastructure, I was always fascinated by big cities and big civil engineering projects. My parents provided a very academic mindset at home primarily revolving around math and science. They fully supported me getting the best education and choosing what I wanted to do. Being mathematically inclined, pursuing a career in engineering was a natural choice so I studied civil engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra.

When I started as a first-year civil engineering student I was exposed to various subjects like building construction materials, surveying, soil mechanics, engineering, geology, etc. Soil mechanics in particular seemed pretty exciting to me as I thoroughly enjoyed conducting experiments on soil and getting familiar with all stages of design of structures, from concept to construction. I was one of the ten women out of 200 students in my undergraduate class. Many women may shy away from engineering due to societal pressures to choose a more conventional career choice so I’m grateful for the encouragement I’ve received and opportunity this career presents.

Jennifer: I became interested in geological engineering in my first year of undergrad at Queen’s University. The Earth Systems Engineering course captured my interest with the understanding of natural variability, deep geological time and history needed to work with Earth materials. Through my undergraduate program, my interest within geological engineering quickly focused on geotechnical (rock) engineering.

Pooneh: The chaotic nature of geomaterials! And their uncertainties. We engineer Mother Nature!


2. What are some of your notable achievements?

Aditi: One of the most noteworthy achievements for me has been my move to Canada. I moved to Canada to pursue my masters in Geotechnical engineering at the University of Calgary. And as a result, the amount of knowledge in real life experience I gained was priceless. I encountered situations I was not used to and they enabled me to intellectually grow and mature in tangible ways. I experienced immense personal growth, too, getting accustomed to a new culture and language.

Jennifer: I’ve had several notable achievements so far in my career related to all of research, teaching, and service – thanks in large part to amazing support from my mentors. I was the first female Canadian recipient of the Dr. NGW Cook PhD Dissertation Award from the American Rock Mechanics Association (ARMA) which was the first international recognition for my PhD research. Notably for teaching in the context of graduate supervision, my first M.A.Sc. student, Matthew Clark, received the M.Sc. Thesis Award from ARMA. Lastly, I am extremely proud of my work in Chairing RockEng22, the 22nd Canadian Rock Mechanics Symposium, being held in Kingston, Ontario this August 8-10, 2022. I have received fantastic response from the professional community in both registrations and sponsorships to be part of this long-awaited rejuvenation of this Symposium series.

Pooneh: Going to the Moon to stay! I have been working on interdisciplinary projects with several colleagues across Canada. In one of these projects, I am developing geophysical-geomechanical algorithms to detect and quantify the volume of water-ice within subsurface layers of the Moon, which will be an essential resource for establishing manned moon installations led by NASA. Canada has joined humanity’s return to the Moon to stay, as part of the NASA-led Artemis program intending to send the first woman and the next man to the south pole of the Moon by 2024, through the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP). The main goal of the 2024 lunar landing is to construct a sustainable, long‑term human base camp and lay the foundation for crewed trips to the ultimate human-spaceflight destination, Mars, sometime in the 2030s. I am also developing advanced models to detect lava tubes and underground cavities for future human settlement on the Moon using seismic waves generated by meteoroid impacts and moonquakes. In another project, I am working on developing guidelines for seismic-resilient infrastructure on the Moon and also a snake-like robotic system for subsurface investigation on the Moon. Recently, through a collaboration with Canadian Space Mining Corporation and Canadian Space Agency, we work on developing new paradigms for space mining. I am beyond exited to contribute to shaping this new industry, space mining, in Canada with a team of collaborators. It is a dream project! AD ASTRA!

I am also humbled to have been recently selected as the Outstanding Young Geotechnical Engineer by the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE). I went through plenty of experiences, and have worked really, hard to gain acceptance establishing myself within the engineering community in Canada. Eleven years ago, I immigrated to Canada which is now a place that I finally call ‘home. I am grateful for all the privileges I have had, the wonderful and inspiring people I have met on my way, and the funding I have received from the Canadian funding agencies and industry to make a FEW of my dreams happen. I feel fulfilled that I was a good representative for Canada.


3. How have you been involved with CGS?

Aditi: A professor at the University of Calgary recommended that I joined CyGS (the Calgary local section) to expand my professional network and learn from peers and leaders in the industry. I started out as a member at large, then moving onto various communication roles, and currently serve as the Co-Chair of the section with the intention of being the next chair. I have also been a part of the local organizing committee for GeoVirtual 2020 and GeoCalgary 2022, while also leading sponsorship fundraising for the CGS young professionals (YP) conference 2022.

Being part of this community was an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas. I gained new insights by exchanging information with other community members on challenges, experiences and goals. Also, attending the events helped make my face known. It opened doors to new opportunities for me, which is how I landed my first job. I continue to establish my network further by meeting new people, and stepping outside of my comfort zone. As a result of which, I have built invaluable social skills and self-confidence. These skills have been recognized, which enabled me to take on more project management roles, for which I am very grateful.

Jennifer: I have been involved with the CGS in various positions for the last 10 years. My first exposure to the society was in 2011 when my capstone design team won the undergraduate design project award and we were invited to attend the national CGS conference. Since then, I have been on the 2013 cYGEGC Organizing Committee (now CGS Young Professionals Conference), the Technical Committee at GeoSt.John’s in 2019, and regularly contribute to technical paper reviews and session chair positions. Since January 2021, I have served as Chair of the CGS Rock Mechanics Division . As such, I also became part of Canadian Rock Mechanics Association’s (CARMA) Executive Committee and am currently serving as the Chair and Webmaster to CARMA.

My involvement in the CGS has helped me to grow my network and build relationships. It’s one of the main reasons why I enjoy being involved in these professional societies: to meet different people, see different perspectives, and work on projects with people across the whole country and internationally that otherwise we may not have had the opportunity to. It’s very rewarding. I now encourage my students to get involved with CGS and similar societies that best suit their interests, and that they are provided with many of the same opportunities that I was given as a student. My participation in conferences has also benefitted my research, which is largely meant to be useful for industry practitioners. The best way to share my research and transfer that knowledge to industry is at conferences, such as the CGS national conference.

Pooneh: I am the Chair of the Education Committee (EC). We have been organizing a brand new monthly CGS Education Committee webinar series 'Future of Geotechnical Education at the University Level' since February 2021. In this webinar series, we have invited speakers to give a seminar about different topics related to geotechnical education, professional development, and leadership as well as best strategies in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in geotechnical practice. These webinars are recorded and can be found on the EC YouTube Channel. Our webinar series have received lots of attentions. Our videos have been watched over 6500 times! I am super excited about this experience. Being involved with CGS helped me broaden my professional vision, and get to know many people to initiate several outreach activities within CGS.

Susanne: I’ve been involved since 2014 through attending technical talks at local sections (mainly the Vancouver Geotechnical Society and the Calgary Geotechnical Society). However, my involvement increased in 2020 when I took on a role in logistics for the CGS Young Professional’s 2022 conference (held in Banff this year) and also joined the Calgary Geotechnical Society (CyGS) committee. I started with the CyGS by taking on the role of Student Representative in the latter half of 2020 then transitioned into the role of Venue Coordinator in 2021. Being on both these committees has been a fulfilling experience by expanding my professional network (locally and across Canada) and by learning more about the inner workings of these organizations. This fall I’m looking forward to starting a new role as co-chair, supporting Aditi Khurana as chair for the Calgary Geotechnical Society. Please reach out at announce@cgygeosociety.org if you have any suggestions for great technical speakers at future talks!


4. What is the best piece of professional advice that you’ve received?

Aditi: Initially in my career, I felt quite intimidated being a woman in a male dominated field. And one of the best pieces of advice I received was to avoid being paralyzed by fear. I learned to stop competing and comparing myself to others.

Eventually I realized that being a woman made it easier for people to remember me in a group setting which helped me build connections. I earned my team’s trust and they respected my decision making ability.

Jennifer: Building relationships is equally important to building technical knowledge. Being able to work with people, respect each other, recognize what other strengths are on your team, and integrate that into what you are doing will create a better solution at the end of the day.

Pooneh: Smell the roses! This was from Jim Graham regarding the academic job being indeed very stressful and demanding. We are always told that flexibility is one of the greatest advantages in academia. But the fact is it can sometimes become a 24/7 job! Work-life balance matters! The more ambitious we are, the more struggles we may have to keep this balance. Our time and resources are also limited. I take Jim’s advice with a great pleasure. Things take time and la vie est belle!


5. Is there a piece of advice you’d give to other women?

Pooneh: Have your own voice and speak up. Never doubt your capacities and skills and focus on your passion and dreams. You will see, you will rock! The more of an outsider you are to a place or a field because of your origin, gender/sex, language, values, thoughts, or beliefs, the more vulnerable you are. You need to be aware of your vulnerabilities and differences. You need to develop self-awareness and for the sake of your mental health avoid toxic environments. There is no red carpet! If you have a dream or a passion, you have to fight for it. Get focused on your dreams and keep going. You will be amazed how many wonderful people and allies you can find on your way, and how many inspiring great work ideas you can initiate. JUST NEVER GIVE UP!

Susanne: When I started out as a junior geotechnical engineer in 2014, I was largely unaware of the barriers that dissuade women and visible minorities from continuing their career in engineering. It was only as I continued in the profession that I began to notice the lack of women at more senior levels and also began to reflect on the circumstances that could affect my decision to stay in this profession. However, our engineering skillset is in high demand, and we can leverage this to help our workplaces create more inclusive environments. For example, during an interview, consider asking a potential employer whether they offer childcare benefits, maternity/paternity leave top-ups, unconscious bias training and/or flexible working hours. Factor in their answer to your final decision. I’d also encourage employers to share on their websites any initiatives they are taking to make their workspaces more inclusive, if they’re not doing so already. I hope that employee benefits and training such as these will become more commonplace in the years to come and help to reduce the number of women and visible minorities leaving the engineering workforce.


6. How can young professional maximize their opportunities?

Susanne: Keep an open mind. When I was starting out, my first real “project” was supporting with instrumentation monitoring at an oil sands site. Although this was not listed as number one on my dream project bucket list, it provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn and grow, and the skills I learned from that project I continue to apply today. I was surrounded by excellent mentors and the more I learned about the field of geotechnical instrumentation monitoring, the more I appreciated it! When we’re early in our career, we might be attracted to working on projects that appear to be more glamorous. However, it’s only by gaining the experience that we ultimately realize what we truly enjoy. I would encourage young people to gain experience in a variety of projects with different roles to find out what aspects of engineering they enjoy most.


7. What advice would you have for your younger self?

Aditi: I would say that soft skills are more important than technical skills. What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not work tomorrow if the competitive environment changes. Basic technical experience may not transfer over to a new setting with new people, yet if an individual knows how to communicate effectively, ask the right kind of questions, collaborate with the field experts, they can learn with help from others. And interestingly, individuals with high emotional intelligence (EQ) are less likely to experience stress and anxiety, which allows them to manage high pressure situations and make consistently good decisions.

Susanne: There were multiple times throughout my undergraduate degree and the first few years of my career that I considered changing professions. While at École Polytechnique de Montréal, I struggled to earn good grades despite my best efforts and scraped by with a D in soil mechanics. This led to questioning my decision in choosing Geological Engineering as a major, and these doubts continued for several years after graduating.

The 2019 tailings dam failure near Brumadinho, Brazil was a pivotal moment for me, as it occurred while I was working on assessing options for a tailings dam warning system. I followed with interest on the resulting impacts to the global mining industry, and it motivated my decision to pursue further research in tailings dam monitoring.

My main piece of advice would be to find the “why” first when learning and applying new concepts. Using my soil mechanics course as an example, I’d aim to understand how different concepts in soil mechanics played into major geotechnical failures, before diving into Terzaghi’s theory of effective stress. Although it may seem backwards, this approach helps me to appreciate the subjects I’m studying and better retain the information afterwards. I’d also remind my younger self that everyone learns and absorbs information differently, and that grades are not a good metric for overall intelligence or success.


8. How do you see our profession evolving?

Jennifer: Our future growth depends on breaking down silos and building interdisciplinary teams, such as between geoscientists and engineers, academia and industry, or men and women.