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Martin Haefele

Manager, Whitehorse Designated Office
Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

While Martin Haefele was completing his military service in Germany, he read an article on a geographer's work of mapping the effects of acid rain on European forests. The application of geography and the relevance of the subject sparked Haefele's interest in geography; it was work that he could see himself doing. After completing his first degree in geography at the Universitaet des Saarlandes, Haefele entered the workforce as a GIS technician. Not long after, motivated by the desire to grow and learn more, Haefele moved to Canada and began his doctorate studies in geography at Simon Fraser University. Now, years later, Haefele proudly serves with the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?

My first job was in a little place called Fort Good Hope in the Northwest Territories. It is a fly-in only community. There, I was working for the Sahtu Land and Water Board, performing preliminary environmental screenings and administering land use permits. After that, I worked with the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board as an environmental assessment officer and eventually was promoted to be the manager of a team. Ten years later, I decided that it was time for a change. I moved to a consulting company in Whitehorse,

Yukon, though they soon exited the market. Following that, I chanced upon an opportunity with a mining company and worked with them through the permitting process for a mine expansion. Now, I serve as a manager for one of the Offices of the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board. 

2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?

My career has been mostly in the area of environmental assessment. We complete environmental assessments on anything from oil and gas exploration projects, to infrastructures such as power lines and roads. Having a non-specialized background in geography provided me with a functional knowledge base in many subjects and domains. It allowed me to ask the right questions in my professional interactions and certainly helped me at the beginning of my career.

3. What skills do you wish you learned during your education that would have helped you in the job market today?

It was a learning curve to transition out of an academic writing style. At my current workplace, we make recommendations on project proposals. Sometimes, if we reject a company's project, the company may be unhappy and take us to court. When that happens, any of our past correspondences can be used as evidence in a court case. It was essential to develop a clear writing style that anyone could understand, not just people who have a specific academic background.

4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?

Do not worry too much about future employment at the beginning of your studies. In geography, it is probably best if you do not know where you will end up. I find that if you genuinely enjoy something and are good at it, you will find a good job. But if you study something because it has good job prospects and you dislike it, you still may not be satisfied – because you do not enjoy the work you do. Chances are, you will not become very good at it. Success is both about being at the right place at the right time as well as being prepared for those opportunities. Studying and exploring your interests is the preparation part, and opportunities will come.

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