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A Day in the Life of Kathryn Dompierre, P.Eng.

Kathryn Dompierre's engineering career has been full of surprises. Even though her dad was an engineer and Kathryn enjoyed math and science in high school, she wasn't sure it was the fit for her until her first year of university. She enrolled in Civil Engineering at the University of Manitoba to try it out, and everything clicked.

From there, she completed a Bachelor Of Science in Civil Engineering, travelled to the UK to complete a M.Sc at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and even earned a Ph.D in geo-environmental engineering with a focus on oil sands reclamation. While completing her research as a Ph.D candidate, Kathryn used GeoStudio software, a program that provides geotechnical and environmental engineers with a tool to improve the safety and security of their projects. Next surprise? Kathryn now works at GEOSLOPE as a research and development engineer.

While she didn't imagine herself as a software engineer, Kathryn loves that her current role lets her travel to conferences and workshops, piques her technical curiosity, and has a real impact on creating a safer, more sustainable world. Best of all, she gets to use her problem-solving skills to help engineers build models that make their work better.

Kathryn shows that an interest in solving problems can take you all sorts of different places, especially in a field that's as vast as engineering. "Even if you aren't sure if engineering is right for you, I suggest you try it out. It is such a diverse field; you are bound to find some aspect that interests you!"

What's your name and what do you do?

Kathryn Dompierre, Research and Development Engineer at GEOSLOPE

What does a typical workday look like for you?

As an engineer working at a software company, I assist with technical aspects related to our software products, like testing new features or products before release, providing customer support by responding to technical support questions, giving workshops, and creating example files for our website. In addition to this, I am involved in the marketing team and am in charge of our learning content (i.e., tutorial videos, webinars).

What made you decide to be an engineer?

I really wasn't sure what an engineer did even though my dad was an engineer, but I enjoyed math and science in high school and figured that I would try out engineering for my first year of university to see if I liked it. In the end, it was the right fit for me!

What did the journey to your current role look like?

After graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Manitoba, I decided to study environmental policy. I completed a M.Sc. at the London School of Economics and Political Science where my dissertation focused on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of oil sands development on Indigenous communities in northern Alberta. After this, I worked for a year at a large consulting company in their environmental engineering department before deciding to go back to school to obtain a Ph.D. in geo-environmental engineering (with a focus on oil sands reclamation). While completing my Ph.D. research at the University of Saskatchewan, I used GeoStudio, the software suite that I now help to develop! Though working for a software company is not exactly what I thought I would be doing after completing my Ph.D., my job is technically challenging, it allows me to travel to conferences/workshops to teach people about the software, and my work provides geotechnical and environmental engineers with a tool to improve the safety and sustainability of their projects.

What's the most rewarding part of your career?

I love helping people to learn how to use our software, by teaching them the background theory or information they need to know to use the software and by outlining the typical steps for building numerical models.

Is there a particular project you've worked on that you're really proud of?

I really am proud of the great suite of learning tools we have to support our software users. As a part of this learning suite, I created multiple series of tutorial videos to guide users through various aspects of setting up their modeling projects.

What do you get out of engineering that you feel you couldn't get out of any other line of work?

I really like that engineers are known as problem solvers - I didn't really understand what this meant until going through engineering. Ultimately, we provide solutions (e.g., tools, designs) to address a huge range of 'problems.' These solutions can answer questions like: How can I design this bridge safely, for a reasonable cost, while dealing with this complex section of riverbank? How can I ensure that mining/industrial processes have minimal or no impact on the surrounding natural environment? How can I improve the properties of this material so that it makes a better prosthetic? How can I design this software so it is easy to use and provides the functionality my customers are looking for?

Who are your role models in your field?

My father was my first engineering role model. He taught me that engineering was not just about the technical aspects, but also communication and relationship building. More recently I've met an amazing group of women on a committee that are working hard to increase diversity in our profession - these women inspire me to get involved and continue to promote greater representation in engineering (of not just women, but other underrepresented groups).

What do you wish people knew about the work that you do?

An engineer is often seen as a person on a job site wearing a hard hat. Yes, there are engineers that do that type of work and I have in the past; however, the majority of engineers do not fit that characterization! Engineering is a very diverse field with so many different job paths. This is why it is so difficult to describe what an engineer does - because we do so many different things and work in so many different settings!

When you're not working, you can be found...

Outside (walking, running or biking), volunteering for environmental groups, drawing choo-choos (trains) with my son.