Interests, experiences, and people can influence one's career path profoundly. Math and physics were Jacob Bilous's favourite subjects in high school. He liked the idea of applying theory to solve problems and build things, and engineering seemed like a good fit. Jacob's godfather was a mining engineer who always had exciting travel stories to tell. A snowboarding trip to Whistler with him and his friends from all over the world that he had met through mining got Jacob hooked on the idea of working overseas.

Jacob initially intended to enter mechanical engineering and get into designing electric vehicles or systems for renewable energy, but his interests changed after learning of the large amount of raw materials needed for the energy transition, and the need to source them responsibly.

Today Jacob Bilous is a mining engineering student in his final year.

In this Q&A, Jacobs shares more about his career journey and internship experience.


Where did you do your internship, and what was your role?

I did my internship at Impala Canada's Lac des Iles mine, 1.5 hours north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was a camp job and accommodation was similar to living in residence; you have a little room to yourself and there is a gym and cafeteria. I was a Mining Engineering Co-op student, my primary responsibility was tracking and auditing production data, and assisting the ground control engineer. As long as I stayed on top of the production data, I had  autonomy to offer to help others with their work, pick up small projects I was interested in, and go in the field with different people from technical services. I went underground  and got broad exposure to the logistics of operating a mine.


Why did you pick Queens Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science?

The year I was applying for college, Queen's had one of the top-ranked mining programs globally. I also had two friends from my track and field team who were older than me that were in engineering at Queen's. They loved it, had great stories about orientation week and the engineering traditions, and it felt like the right place to be. Queen's had a reputation for being a tight-knit community with outstanding professors and I wanted to be a part of that.

 Jacob Bilous

Why did you decide to do an internship?

Almost everyone in mining does an internship, it helps a lot with getting a job after school. The top tier positions are competitive and site experience is a must have. I had a summer job at a mine after second year and the 4 months was just enough time to get up to speed on things. I had heard from upper years that a 12 or 16-month internship is valuable because you have time to gain responsibility and typically get to work on bigger more exciting projects by the end of it.

I also wanted to step back from my school routine. Internship was an opportunity to do that, gain valuable work experience, get hours towards my P Eng, and make some money.


What did a day in your role look like?

My role involved working with people throughout technical services and operations. Things were very different day to day depending on what needed to get done and what projects I was working on in my spare time. I was up at 5 am and at the office by 6 am via the daily shuttle. Mornings were mainly data entry until the 7 am safety meeting where we would find out what everyone else had planned for the day. After the meeting, I would typically continue tracking and auditing production data or go underground with one of the engineers to help them out with their work. Once I was done with my daily routine tasks, I would do work other engineers had requested and I would - regularly assist the short-term planner, ventilation technician, surveyor, and ground control engineer.


When students think of going away on internship for 12-16 months, they do not really know what to expect. What was it like for you?

I had a great work-life balance. I was on a two-weeks on two-weeks off rotation, and really enjoyed the schedule. My two weeks at work would fly by because I was learning so much, then the two weeks off I relaxed and visited with family and friends. I worked with some great people that made being on site a lot of fun. Everyone was very friendly, and it was just a good environment to be in.


What skills would you say are most important for engineers? Did any of the skills required to be successful in your role surprise you?

I found communication, teamwork and, and not being afraid to ask questions, to be very practical skills. The importance of communication didn’t come as a surprise. I had heard from recruiters that when they hire candidates, they put emphasis on soft skills more than technical skills because they are interested in someone who is able to work with others and also fit in with the team. Technical skills can be taught later if need be. After this internship I really understand why they focus on that.

Communication in the workplace is huge. It is important to understand what is expected of you and be able to work well with others. Understanding other people's viewpoints, and being aware of different languages, cultures, and communication styles was critical to effective collaboration and project success.

Not being afraid to ask questions is a critical piece to understanding the scope and expectations of the work. It is also very important to ask questions in the field when you are unsure about the task at hand to ensure you are working safely.

Asking questions about things you are interested in opens doors to doing a lot of cool stuff. If you show enthusiasm and work hard people are happy to show and explain things to you, and let you get exposure to things outside of your role or your comfort zone. I also learned a lot about different career paths by starting conversations with company employees and with contractors and consultants that came to the site.

 Jacob Bilous at work site

Were your job description and the projects you worked on directly connected to your discipline or were you involved in a variety of interdisciplinary work? Are there any conclusions you can draw from these findings?

Everything was directly connected to my discipline, but the work involved concepts and interacting with people from many disciplines (mechanical, civil, electrical, geological, electrical). I was thankful for the exposure I got to other disciplines through my general courses in first and second year. I learned it is good to have knowledge outside of your specialty because you will always be interacting with other disciplines throughout your career.  


How did your Queen’s Engineering education and related experiences prepare you to be successful in the workforce?

I worked in a machine shop in high school and at the pulp mill in my hometown for one summer break. Having experience in an industrial environment helped me get up to speed quickly on the hazards in the workplace and on staying safe when in the field.

The Engineering Applied Science courses, APSC 100 & 200 gave me experience with the engineering design process and enhanced my technical writing, critical thinking, presentation and time management, skills. Now I keep daily weekly and monthly schedules to help prioritize work.

Through my courses, I also learned how to work in a team and meet tight deadlines. Being able to effectively define a scope and set goals, gather information, plan, and re-assess as you go along was critical to the projects I worked on.


Now that you are back and in the process of completing your final year, how has your internship experience influenced your academics?

After internship I am more engaged in my classes; I feel like I am getting a lot more out of them because now I have background knowledge in the subjects and have seen how they are applied in industry. I have many specific experiences I can relate to, and it helps me to visualize concepts and put them into context.

Getting exposure to different roles within a mining operation and within the industry has changed my interests - I now know what kind of work I like to do, what I don’t, and the direction I want to take with my career. Because of this I and can focus my efforts and time better in school.

Another great experience from my internship was taking on a project to better understand the in-situ stress regime at the mine. I was able to use that project for my undergraduate thesis, and it was great to do a thesis directly related to industry that had a tangible outcome. I collected real data from multiple types of instrumentation, performed modelling of the rock mass behaviour, then correlated trends in the model with the data to evaluate the stress regime. It was a great exercise of defining a scope, making a plan, and putting theory I had learned in school to use.


What would you say to a student who is not decided about doing an internship based on your experience?

Internship is well worth the time; the commitment you put in now can put you a year or two ahead in your career. The experience you get on internship will make you stand out when trying to find work after school. Instead of taking any job you can find, you will be able to get the jobs you want. You will also find out what is out there and what you want to do with career a lot sooner.

Students can often worry about leaving friends behind while taking a year away from academics. However, a lot of people do internship or take an extra year, and since I’ve been back I’ve re-connected with many friends I hadn’t seen since 1st and 2nd year.

The pay is nice too! Being able to put some money away took a lot of pressure off from worrying about money during the school year, and about and paying off student loans once I graduate.


What do you  plan to do after graduation?

I'm excited about the possibility of travelling the world, working at different mines and projects. I plan to head to Australia and find work with a contracting company doing project engineering. Through that I hope to travel across Australia, Africa and Asia with work. After getting that hands-on experience I'd like to move into consulting and project management.