“We need to make sure all have equal opportunities”

(This is the second in a series of articles about the values of Atlantic Canadian science faculty)

Hands-on, real world experience is crucial for students in geology to understand Earth’s various materials and how they evolved. That experience had to be offered this fall too when post secondary courses were delivered virtually. One solution? Home lab kits. 

Dr. Mitchell Kerr, a technician in the Department of Geology at Saint Mary’s University, travelled throughout Nova Scotia this summer (photo above curtesy of Mitchell Kerr, Rainy Cove, NS) collecting an assortment of rocks and minerals that were prepared into kits to supplement his first-year geology lab course. Using these kits (photos below), his students could receive a similar hands-on experience at home as they would do in the classroom. 

When not teaching, Mitchell also engages in his own research related to gold mineralization, especially with respect to the gold systems in NS. His job as a technician involves managing analytical equipment, sample preparation and curation, lapidary work, and outreach to students of all ages. 

Mitchell was one of the participants in our interviews this summer with faculty across Atlantic Canadian post secondary institutions. The goal of these interviews was to find out what is important to faculty, what challenges they face, and what would help them in their careers and their work with students. We touched on job satisfaction, activities and service outside the job, and the one thing anyone in science would want – unlimited funding. Here are a few of his comments:

What aspects of your job bring you satisfaction?

I really enjoy the close collaboration with colleagues and the supportive work environment. I’m able to interact and collaborate with basically all of the faculty members…[I can] co-author research publications and co-supervise student projects with faculty members so that I still actively partake in research, which is my background essentially. It’s very dynamic…I often collect and process analytical data with faculty and student researchers, allowing me to get my hands on a multitude of data sets and get involved in a whole bunch of exciting research projects.

[Also], I would say reaching out to others and interacting with colleagues from both out and within the university, at least semi-regularly, is a good idea. It fosters scientific comradery.

What activities/services do you participate in outside of your main job?

As a technician, one of my responsibilities is coordinating outreach activities for high schools, or for university or elementary school students. But I also have a passion for providing science outreach in general. So, I go to high schools and elementary schools with samples, lab kits, and presentations, to kind of stir up interest in the earth sciences and show them some cool things. That’s one aspect of the service I provide.

The other outreach work I do is staying engaged in the scientific community, by reviewing academic papers, co-supervising student projects in collaboration with other faculty members, and just lending support to undergraduates and graduate student researchers in our department.

If an organization in our region had unlimited resources with a mission of supporting science faculty and students, what would you have them do?

We need to make sure that all individuals, no matter the colour, creed, gender, or background, have the resources that they need to feed their curiosity in the sciences. And so, [I would want them to provide] resources that would go into organizing accessible field trips, workshops, or virtual tours of the province, associated with all science fields, whether it be geology, geography, or ecology to name just a few. I would love to see more of that. We need to make sure that young people are encouraged to consider the STEM fields and that we are providing the supports they need for them to encourage themselves. If young people are interested in or curious about science, we need to ensure they have the opportunity, an entirely equal opportunity, to achieve their goals.

Next from Science Atlantic 

Collaboration, outreach, equal opportunities, and student engagement are only a few of the topics we discussed with Mitchell and other participants. There’s much more information to be shared! Stay tuned, and consider joining us for the full report and discussion at our Annual Meeting (online) Nov. 27.

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