Water Design Specialist
Jacobs Engineering in Vancouver, British Columbia
Aaron Buckley recalls an influential high school teacher who inspired in him a love for geography and the environment. Clear-minded and focused (and thanks to the co-op program at the University of Waterloo), Buckley completed his Bachelor of Environmental Studies with already two years of work experience in the engineering industry. During his undergraduate studies, Buckley devoted himself to numerous research projects in both academic and non-academic settings. His desire to produce measurable and tangible solutions to environmental issues led him to specialize in GIS, and later in water resources, water infrastructure, and contaminated sites. He now works as a Water Design Specialist with Jacobs Engineering Firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he occasionally lends a hand to their transportation team and enjoys a healthy work-life balance.
1. What resources offered by your university helped you to find a job?
It is hard to define when I started seeing myself as someone in the industry rather than as a student. At the University of Waterloo, about seventy percent of incoming students enroll in co-op programs. These students generally alternate between four-month periods of school and work until the completion of their degree. Apart from the co-op program, students can access professional development courses that cover topics such as
project management, professional communication, and other soft skills that students need beyond the skills specific to their discipline. At the co-op building, students can book appointments for resume critiques, career counseling, and mock interviews.
2. What skills do you wish you learned during your education that would have helped you in the job market today?
When I began working in engineering, I initially worried that I had not studied math and physics at great enough depth to be successful in the industry. However, I quickly found that my education’s focus on understanding processes and applying scientific principles to real-world problems made up for my lack of pure theoretical background in these subjects. While engineers generally specialize in technical design, complex projects like providing a sustainable water supply for a rapidly growing population require a lot more than just technical expertise. We must also consider the social, environmental and economic impacts of these critical projects. Geography taught me the multidisciplinary and holistic approach that is required to ensure these kinds of projects are beneficial to people and the environment for years to come.
3. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would encourage myself to step out of my comfort zone earlier. I had so many opportunities to work in different places during the co-op program, but I did not do so until I moved to Vancouver and then Australia for my final two internships. There is value in gaining new perspectives and in seeing how differently people think about things and approach different tasks across the world. Working abroad provoked questions that allowed me to both reevaluate and reinforce my views; it allowed me to stand on firmer grounds with certain beliefs and to learn different ways of thinking about other beliefs that I held.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Get involved in different aspects of the field. Geography is such a wide-ranging field that it can be hard to know what you want to do without gaining first-hand experiences. Involvement can be as simple as doing volunteer GIS work for your local municipality, helping local not-for-profits with field work, or contributing to open-source projects. You can use these projects to build a professional network and to demonstrate your abilities and dedication to potential employers. Students are such valuable resources for public organizations and private firms – you bring new energy and ideas. Getting involved will be helpful to the community, the industry, as well as to your career development.