California Dreaming

I can’t believe I have been here for a week already. It’s completely surreal and I am still coming to terms with the fact that I now live in Los Angeles. Last I left off on our road trip adventure, I was headed to Arkansas. I was definitely right about the sun being hot, but I also learned that it was a stretch of road plagued with construction and people with “interesting” driving techniques. After Arkansas I had the pleasure of visiting the University of Oklahoma at my stop in the state. From there it was off to Albuquerque, New Mexico! As the road continued toward the west coast, it became increasingly dry, flat, and desert-like. In order to get to Albuquerque from Norman, OK you must cross the Texas panhandle. Here, in this small snippet of Texas, is where I – wait for it – witnessed a high speed police chase on the highway literally go right by me! Only in Texas… That day was also the day that my car’s air conditioner decided that it was taking a break, which was super fun! Just kidding… it was terrible. In Albuquerque I got the chance to take the tram up to Sandia Peak, a 10 000 foot mountain that overlooks the city. That definitely made up for the lackof air conditioning. 

The next stop was likely the coolest place to stop on the whole trip: The Grand Canyon. Neither words or pictures can really describe how awesome and huge it is. This is definitely something to go and see if you haven’t already done it, I highly recommend! After camping two nights in the Canyon it was FINALLY time to get to LA! I arrived at my apartment and unloaded the contents of my car into my bedroom. Which, might I add, looked significantly more impressive when packed into my vehicle. I had no furniture, basically no food, and a nice leaky air mattress. It was safe to say that I desperately needed to remedy that situation. For future notice, if you do decide to make the cross-country trek, make sure you have enough food with you at the end for a nice supper and breakfast because there is no way you are getting back in that car once you’ve gotten out for good!

However, since my arrival in LA last weekend, you will all be happy to know that I am now the proud owner of a bed frame AND a mattress, yipee! I also did a bit of grocery shopping, so no worries there either. My most recent purchase includes a solid wood dining room table that my roommate and I found at a consignment store in Korea town (score!). We are in the process of refinishing the table to make it good as new (seriously, I spent almost the entire day yesterday sanding that baby down). 

So I would have to say that, so far, things are going well. I can’t comment on whether or not I like Los Angeles, but I will say that it is extremely different. Just the fact that this city has around two thirds the population of Canada is kind of scary. But maybe it is scary in a good way? Who knows, heck! I’ve only been here for a week! 

Plenty of New Roads

Well, you guys guessed it… I didn’t win a Rhodes scholarship, but I did find a way to my own roads (see what I did there!). I made it through the rest of my last year as an undergraduate student, which became a legitimate struggle near the end. Of course I had plenty of great friends who struggled right along with me, and in the end we made it. We sat together through the stifling heat in the gymnasium to receive our diplomas with smiles plastered to our faces (ignore the sweat ‘staches… it was so hot in there). So what’s next for this gal? If you didn’t get to read my obnoxious facebook post about committing to grad school, then here’s the news: I will be attending USC for my PhD in Environmental Engineering! Yipee!

Now, here’s where the roads come in… road trip! That is right folks, since I live in the beautiful Canadian province of Quebec and USC happens to be located in the bustling town of Los Angeles, what better way to get there than with my own personal wheels!? So that is where I left off on July 2nd, beginning my journey to the far off mystical land of California. Today, I find myself in Columbus, Ohio. Nowhere near California yet, but hey! I’m taking my time. 

I have an arsenal of audiobooks, my favourite songs to sing loudly and awesomely out of tune, popcorn, water bottles, and m&m’s. What more could a girl ask for? Amazingly, I managed to fit basically my entire life into my car (and I can still see out the back window!) thanks to the marvellous invention of space bags and the person who suggested I use them (ahem… thanks mom). Seriously, there is nothing quite like seeing your entire wardrobe vacuum-packed into a little cube. I recommend everyone to try this, not only is it entertaining to watch your massive plastic bag shrink to less than half the size, it will also cause you to have an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Or maybe that is just me… 

But enough about vacuum bags (what is my life coming to!?), back to the voyage! That’s the exciting stuff. The next leg brings me to Arkansas, where the sun is hot and… well gee I don’t really know because I’ve never been! I guess I we will all find out together. Stay tuned friends and family for more information on what is sure to be one crazy road trip! 

 

 

Interview

Well, now the second part of the selection process is over: the interview. Words cannot express the relief I am feeling now that I have finished my interview. Granted, the committee mentioned that I would hear results “within a few days,” which could mean any time from today to the middle of next week. Thankfully, this last part of the selection process has nothing to do with me and until that time I can breathe a little easier. For now, I am thankful that the interview is over and done with and that I have done all that I could to paint an accurate portrait of myself for the committee members. Let me review how this interview process went over…

I spent the majority of yesterday in my tiny hotel room, researching. Researching the committee members, of which there are seven, the other finalists, and researching my own application with incredible scrutiny. I took a three hour adventure in down town Montreal to get some fresh air, some food, and do some shopping. After this, I returned to researching, taking periodic breaks to focus on some schoolwork (it has to get done at some point…) and to get some more food. I decided to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep, attempting to feel refreshed in the morning.

I did not sleep great at all. I was annoyed at my hotel hall mates, who seemed to think having conversations in the resonating corridor was a fantastic idea at 3 am. I did manage to stay in bed until 7, and then gave up trying to sit still. I took an extremely long time getting breakfast, getting dressed, and packing this morning. All the while, I would interrupt my routine to look over the notes I had made for myself in an attempt to prepare myself for the interview. Despite all of this, I still spent too little time getting ready and resigned to leaving my room early, once I was all packed. I checked out of the hotel and began my walk to Power Corporation Canada, suitcase in hand. even though I tried to walk slowly, I arrived a whopping 40 minutes before my interview – quite a bit more early than the 20 minutes they had suggested. I sat outside the building and played solitaire on my ipod in an attempt to calm myself down and make some of the time pass.

At 10:50, I entered the building, where I was once again directed to the coat room. Here, I left all of my belongings, including anything that would give me an indication of the time. I was then instructed to sit on the first floor in a small waiting area until the committee called for me to come upstairs. I have no idea how long I waited there, but I remember watching people pass in the window and allowing my nerves to build up. Finally, the phone rang and I was instructed to take the elevator to the 8th floor, same as on Thursday. Instead of going directly into the interview room, I was instructed to sit once again in a waiting room. Luckily, this room did not have a window with a street view! Instead, I was distracted by the large, half nude, wooden sculpture positioned directly beside me. For whatever reason, this statue made me feel much more relaxed. My heart rate was only mildly deafening at this point.

Eventually, the secretary came down the hallway with the previous interviewee, the African History girl I had made friends with. She gave me a kind smile and wished me luck (a VERY small comfort at this point!). I was told by the secretary to wait a little while longer while the committee prepared itself and that he would come back and get me. Once he did so, we walked down the white marble hallway together, my heels making an excess of noise, to a fancy boardroom at the very end of the hall.

I entered and took my seat at the head of the table. The committee members were seated three on the right, three on the left and the president directly in front of me. They asked me questions about my application, about my reference letters, about the Rhodes scholarship, and some questions that came entirely from left field; such as which artist (art, music, theater etc.) would I  choose, as a scientist, to nominate for a prestigious award for their artistic contribution to Canada since our constitution (boy was that one hard…).

In all, the entire interview flew by in a flash. I remember sitting down and then shortly after standing up and thanking the committee. The secretary walked me back down the hallway, just as he had done with the previous interviewee. As we walked he asked “so, how was it?!” and smiled. I remember laughing and saying “not too bad, but I’m glad its over!” He laughed some more and then thanked me for coming, wishing me the best. I left my contact information with the security guard at the entrance to the 8th floor before taking the elevator back down.

There you have it! Over just as quickly as it began. Now, all I have to do is wait for my train to Toronto to visit my wonderful sister and brother in law and hope for the phone call that could change my entire life. Win or lose, this entire experience has enabled me to learn about myself and meet fantastic new friends. Stay tuned for one more post about the final results!

Rhodes

Well here I am. The first part of this crazy process is over, what is there to say?! Earlier on this year, I completed an application to the Canadian Rhodes Trust for the province of Quebec to win a Rhodes Scholarship for two years, possibly three, of fully funded study at University of Oxford, in England. I had been introduced to the idea by my dad (thanks!) and after a lot of research, decided to apply (the application was free, after all!). After jumping through all of the hoops this application set out, I submitted for the October 18th deadline.

At first, I was distracted from the application by school work and applications to other grad schools. However, I became increasingly less hopeful that I would proceed to the next stage as the time since I submitted my application approached 4 weeks. Luckily, I received news of my finalist position just around this time, two weeks ago on Friday. I was so shocked, I remember sitting on the floor in my dorm room and crying because I didn’t know what better to do.

So, here I am, less than two weeks later, in Montreal. Earlier this evening, I attended a cocktail reception for all of the finalists and the selection committee. This reception was held at the Power Corporation of Canada in downtown Montreal. Words cannot even describe what this building was like. I felt that I had exited the real world and entered somewhere magical. The decor was extravagant to the point of excess. Everything in the building oozed grandiose, I sat in a 350 year old chair!

We were told to arrive at the building at 5:30. Naturally, I arrived a bit early and was happy to see that there was another young and well-dressed girl wandering near the door. We entered together and quickly introduced ourselves. She is an African History major from McGill and also quite young, like me. From the coatroom, we traveled to the top floor of the building, where we were held in the corridor to wait for some of the other contestants. There are 12 of us in all, 9 girls and 3 boys. I can’t say I wasn’t surprised about this! We quickly introduced each other and I wasn’t surprised to meet fantastic scholars, athletes, and generally well-rounded candidates. The secretary of the committee informed us that they had already had a hard time selecting the 12 of us and that the next few days would be difficult for all. For the next three hours, I entertained conversations with all of the committee members and some of the wives and husbands who were attending as a +1.

I cannot possibly comment on the cocktail reception as the selection process is not over. On the bright side, I don’t think I said anything too embarrassing or extremely offensive. In general, I enjoyed the atmosphere. The committee and their guests were all very friendly and welcoming, not to mention the food and snacks were beyond delicious. After the reception was over, I decided to accompany a few of the other finalists, including the girl majoring in African History, to china town for soup and tea. We chatted amicably about the other candidates and our hopes for winning this prestigious award. I will be sure to update once more after the interview is over, but for now, I think this is about all my nerves can handle!

IMWA 2013

The International Mine Water Association Conference; that is where I have been for the past week. From Northern Canada, I traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend this conference. During my last semester at school, one of the professors at my school coaxed me into agreeing to attend this conference over the summer. I presented a poster at this conference on my undergraduate research. My poster involved information concerning the effect on less commonly addressed metals in an experimental passive co-treatment system for acid mine drainage and waste water. But let’s begin at the beginning of the trip…

 

I had to take several airplanes in order to get myself to Denver, as there is no direct flights. I don’t mind traveling, however I have now made a vow to avoid the Los Angeles Airport at all costs: that place is an absolute jungle! I finally made it to Denver last Sunday, around 7:20 pm Denver time and was so excited to be here that I promptly forgot my laptop at the payphone station where I had set it down to make a phone call! Needless to say this was a big oops on my part and the unknown fate of my precious laptop with all of my school documents hidden inside caused some moments of hysterical panic. I felt so silly for forgetting something like this, how could I have done this, now surely my laptop has suffered a fate worse than death and was most likely in the hands of person who knows nothing about the care and love I have for the inanimate object. I mean, this thing has been with me through good and bad, has helped me through many many frustrating engineering homework assignments and has served as a very good object to throw, when absolutely beyond frustration. My school laptop had been so good to me. Evidently, my momentary depression quickly dissolved when I called the lost and found at the Denver Airport and heard news that they had safely recovered my laptop, yahoo! At this moment I had to commend the Denver Security team for their efforts in recovering the laptop that is so crucial to my undergraduate career! And now, after I have safely recovered my laptop, this is merely another funny travel story.

 

Now to talk about the conference itself! I spent some time visiting around Denver, Golden, and Boulder on Monday as there was not many conference activities this day. I even got to visit the Red Rocks near Golden, where there is not only lovely geological anomalies (that produce these huge red rocks), but also the famous amphitheater where many famous bands such as the Beatles have played. On Tuesday, I got to listen to Keynote speeches and an expert round table discussion centered around reliable mine water treatment. The afternoon was full of oral presentations, where I learned a lot about mine water treatment research and geochemical findings. That night, we were shuttled to the Boettcher Mansion, located in a place called Lookout Mountain (absolutely beautiful!). At this mansion we were treated to a western barbeque meal and a real western band. This band was so awesome that I absolutely had to get a picture with them.

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My personal favourite was the Bass player, because he had the most awesome mustache.

 

On Wednesday, we took a mid-conference tour to Leadville, Colorado, a town that used to be located in the heart of a collection of mine sites. On this tour, we visited the town of Leadville, the majority of which still remained intact from its construction during the rush of mining development. We also visited the Leadville mining museum and mining hall of fame, took a tour around the reclaimed areas around Leadville, learned about the reclamation efforts around Leadville, and visited the Climax mine, a Molybdenum mine. This tour was very interesting and informative, it certainly was interesting to learn about this issues in a location I was unfamiliar with!

 

On Thursday, there were many more oral presentations, where I was again exposed to international views on mine water treatment. There were presenters from all over the world, presenting on issues that were both common and unheard of in North America. In the evening, we traveled to the Brown Palace, the oldest hotel in Denver. This beautiful hotel was the host for our banquet dinner, where we ate fancy food and drank fancy drinks. I was so dumbfounded by how high class this place was, I was taking pictures of the chandeliers… At the banquet, I was lucky enough to sit with researchers, students, professors and contractors from Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Sweden, UK, and Australia. I met so many interesting people in such a short amount of time! To give you an idea of the beauty of the palace, here’s a snap looking above the main lobby (the hotel also happens to be a grand feat in civil engineering):

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After this very late night, we were privy to some more oral presentations this morning at the conference. Overall, I had a wonderful experience and I learned many new things about the innovative research in my field of study. I also received many business cards and free pens, as one can never have too many free pens! I had so much fun at this conference and met so many interesting people. I would have to say that I am almost feeling inspired to continue wholeheartedly into graduate studies! Now I am sitting in the Denver Airport, holding tight to my laptop, and awaiting my flight back up north. Needless to say I am slightly conference-d out. I am currently reminiscing about my poster presentation and the many interesting people that came to visit, I mean who wouldn’t want to know more about this exciting topic and beautifully made poster?!

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Take Two

I know what you are thinking… I have been a big fat slacker when it comes to blog posts. I promise that the majority of my tardiness was caused my severely poor internet at the minesite. The internet didn’t even want me to check my emails, I swear. However, another turnaround has come and gone; three more weeks of awesome work at the mine is complete! So what did I learn this time? 

As this promises to be a lengthy blog post, let’s begin with the task that presented itself immediately upon my arrival at the mine site. For once, I was able to meet my cross-shift (person who does my job when I’m not there) who had the joyous (he really was happy, although I’m sure this was more to do with the fact that he was going home) task of explaining our Waste Audit. The waste audit is the student project for the summer, something we get to design and implement and control and all of that good stuff. I know what you are thinking, “that’s so awesome, they’re letting you do something completely on your own!” Although I cannot deny that being granted this amount of freedom by my employers was gratifying, I assure that a waste audit is nothing more than glorified dumpster diving. Our task consists of collecting the waste from a selected location each week, sorting it into separate waste streams (paper, plastic, organic, metal etc.), estimating the volume of each waste, weighing it, and depositing of it in the proper location. I’m sure that sorting garbage is on the top of your to-do list too. I was lulled into a false sense of security when my first week consisted of sorting water bottles and paper towels from the rec center. But fear not! My notorious bad luck did not fail me, as I spent my second week sorting the waste from the accommodations, yipee! Let me tell you, you sure do learn a lot about your co-workers by going through their garbage (people are gross). For example, the preferred soap is undeniably “Irish Springs,” people really dislike fish sandwiches (why would you choose this in the first place?), and most workers seem to share a common love for microwave popcorn and candy bars. I assure you there were many more gruesome discoveries, but I will spare you all along with myself, as I certainly do not want to relive those horrors twice. As if that wasn’t nauseating enough, my last week at the mine I got to audit the Kitchen garbage! Admittedly, I did not have to sort the garbage as this was already done for me, but I did have to venture into the oh-so-smelly garbage room. In this room, the food waste tumbles down the magical garbage chute and lands in an oversized plastic bin. I then get to lift the mystery food waste out of the bin, weigh it and lift it into the truck for transport to the incinerator. I do not think my work jeans will ever forgive me for the abuse they received during this part of the audit… RIP!

Of course its not all fun and games at the mine, and I’m certainly not allowed to spend my entire day playing in garbage. In my first week I also learned how to take measurements from slope indicators and piezometers. These measurements are taken around the tailings pond areas and are used to measure seismic activity. These measurements are crucial since there is an underlying fault line, which could cause the tailings to liquify should an earthquake decide to occur. The fun part about taking these measurements is that for some of them, we got to scale down the side of the tailings pond with our gear to get measurements. I have to admit that I did feel slightly 007 while working this job… Sadly, the harness and security rope definitely give us away. The picture below shows the technician and I scaling the slopes:

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This turnaround I also got to do some work on the old tailings ponds, the area which is currently being used as the boneyard. There is a monitoring program in place for these tailings ponds (1&2) which I was lucky enough to be able to participate in. There is a series of 9 wells drilled around these two old tailings ponds which must be tested during the summer to ensure that the area is stable and there is no possibility of tailings leaching into the river, located downhill. All of these wells are around 20m deep and must be hand pumped. The glorious hand pump is nothing like what you are thinking, it does not look anything like the water pumps at the camping grounds. These “pumps” are basically a very very long piece of hard tubing, with a foot valve attached to the bottom, inserted into each one of the wells. In order to pump, one must repeatedly lift the hose up and down to coax the water up the hose. Thankfully, the wells need only be purged of three times their volume, which takes anywhere between 1 and 3 hours to accomplish. Needless to say, I did find that the song “Give it to me baby” worked very well while hand pumping, not to mention my singing and dance moves kept my supervisor very entertained throughout the process. In this sampling, we also had the interesting pleasure of sampling lisometers. The latter are little tiny wells inserted only a small way into the ground that we pressurize with a bicycle pump, wait 24 hours, then take samples from. This task received more curse words than singing on my part, as pressurizing a tiny hose to 60 psi proved much more difficult that anticipated!

 

The next fun thing I have to boast about is my very recent experience with hydrology. One of my supervisors is completing her master’s degree in hydrology and is performing a practicum at our minesite. This means that I get to be a part of the new hydrology program and learn all about it! We did hydrology all along the river and some creeks that join to the river in order to get data in the daily flows and temperatures, water and river profiles, and the effects of runoff, rain etc. We have hydrology stations set up along the bridges at the mine site, where we set up an intricate winch on the back of our truck to perform the measurements on the river bed and the water level. We have stations along the bridge where we measure the water level, the depth, and the velocity of the water at 60% of the water column. All of these measurements are used to make a profile of the river at different locations. At the stations that are not on a bridge, we get to don our waders and use what my supervisor call a wading pole. This pole takes the same measurements as on the bridges but is intended for shallower waters (i.e. waters you can wade!). Here are some photos of bride and river hydrology:

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Along with all of these new things to learn, I also had an opportunity to see much more wildlife while at the mine. I even gained experience in warding off and chasing away grizzly bears from the camp site. I was even allowed to shoot the flare gun, which is loud and awesome (who thought letting me handle that was a good idea?). However, being in the chase I was not able to get any pictures of the beasts to show you. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could always google “grizzly bear” and click on the image tab, that would give you a pretty good general idea of what I got to see almost every day. For the most part, the bears don’t bother us or really come near the camp, but when they do, boy do they get scared good! 

 

Another awesome thing about being up at the mine is the weather. As we are very very high up in the mountains, the weather here is incredibly temperamental and there is absolutely no truth to weather forecasts (they are all lying, really). On July 12th, we received this lovely blizzard, and the temperatures ranged from -5 to 5 degrees celcius. To give you an idea of what that day was like: 

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Thankfully, the grass stayed somewhat green and the snow didn’t stick. In fact, the next day it was a balmy 17 degrees celcius, positively lovely as far as mountain weather goes!

Thats all I can think of for now folks, until next time!

 

The Wildest Life

Yahoo! I’m out of the mine and have some awesome wildlife pictures to share! Being up in the north, there are so many animals and plants around. The animals mostly like to hang around in the Hot Springs area, where the eco-system is  flushed with green and smells of fresh growing plants. I got pictures of bear tracks (no bears yet!), a moose (he’s smiling), a pregnant porcupine, a trumpeter swan, some ducks (including a harlequin!), arctic terns, and marmots. Enjoy the photos!

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