Life in the field

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and as they also say, the end is just a new beginning (could my opening line be any more cliché?). My life as a student is over, and so is my 4-month post-graduation vacation! Is it weird not being back in school? A little.. but overall, I’m glad to be moving on with my life and starting something anew.

This past week, I’ve started my new job as a Field Supervisor with Mortenson Construction. It’s a field position, which means that I travel a lot, work in rugged environments, and live a nomadic lifestyle. It’s also a supervisory role, which means that I don’t actually do the work, but observe, question, and inspect it. Mortenson Construction is a well-known general contractor with an incredible reputation in the construction industry. Their growth is impressive, and they have recently ranked #19 on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors List. While they are based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, they have initiated their expansion into the Canadian market by opening an office in Toronto and taking on a number of renewable energy projects.

First day on the job site. My smurf boots help prevent mud from getting inside the parts I'm inspecting 😉

My first assignment is the Comber Wind Project, located in Comber, Ontario. While the project is nearing completion, there’s still a lot of work to be done as we complete the erection of the towers, and mount a nacelle (a fancy word for ‘enclosure’) and rotor on each one. So far, I’m enjoying field work immensely. Not only is it a break from being inside all the time, but it is my first opportunity to do some real-world engineering and see some incredible structures being built before my very eyes. I get a good balance in my work between office and field so that I don’t have to brave the elements all the time, and can go outdoors for a bit when I start to get stir-crazy in the office. I also have the benefit of not being too remote on this job so that I can still enjoy the comforts of civilization (like grocery stores, tim hortons, etc.). I found a nice house by Lake St. Clair to stay while I’m there and my home in Oakville is just under a 3 hour drive away.

People at work are generally quite social since they are all away from home, and this has made my time off from work quite fun! Every night there’s usually something happening, typically dinner and drinks. I’ve also found my co-workers to be really great people: a testament to Mortenson’s ability to attract great people to work with them!

Stay tuned for more updates and you can check out more pictures on my Picasa album below:

Some pictures of my new job and the house that I’m renting.


I’ve only just caught my breath after being submerged under a sea of changes in my life over the past 2 weeks following my return to Canada. In retrospect, arriving back on the same day that school started was not the greatest idea! I’ve been severely disconnected for the past few weeks as I’m still on the waitlist for an iPhone after one month of waiting, and the internet was out for a week at my downtown residence! It’s funny, actually, how far we, as the modern human civilization, have progressed in the past decade. I’m closing in on my 10th year anniversary of owning a cell phone and I’ve realized over the past few weeks just how dependant I have become on it! Without receiving calendar alerts in my pocket, beamed to me from Google Calendar, I’ve actually forgotten a few appointments and sheepishly walked in late after running across campus after suddenly remembering where I was supposed to be. Without being able to keep in touch with my friends when I’m out and about, it has been impossible to make spur-of-the-moment plans: I’ve had to start arranging to meet people in set places and set times again. Without being able to check my e-mail on-the-go I often miss important emails. Nowadays, people send you emails with the expectation that you’ll receive and read them instantly, and this is no longer the case for me (especially since I didn’t even have internet access at home!).

We, as a culture, have gotten so accustomed to getting things instantly that when we have to wait, it drives us crazy. One of my professors was talking about how people lose their mental sanity when they are sensually deprived (sensually NOT sexually, although that perhaps, is another theory worth considering). He talked of an experiment whereby a healthy human being would be rendered crazy after just 24 hours in a dark, quiet room, after of course, they had caught up on sleep. I’ve therefore gone through somewhat of a rehabilitation process and have now discovered new ways to keep in touch with people. For example, when I used to come home to Oakville in off-peak hours, I usually called my parents from the train to pick me up. Now that I don’t have a phone, and it costs 50 cents to make a call from a public phone, I take a bus for 65 cents and get home just fine. When I need to call my girlfriend, I just go to her apartment building and use the front-door buzzer, which conveniently is routed to her cell phone (although it’s a little hard to have a private conversation when there are people impatiently waiting to get into the building).

I’ve also realized how ridiculous Bell Canada can be. Not only were they responsible for my 5-day internet deprevation, but they also wanted to charge me $50 to activate my old cellphone as a prepaid phone until my new phone arrives! In Spain, I could have bought a prepaid phone + a sim card + 2 euros of starting credit for just 19 euros! Perhaps they were afraid I would just stick with the prepaid plan and not end up buying the iPhone… who knows?

Anyways, now anyone following this blog can understand why I haven’t been able to update it in a while. There are many pictures that I’ve still got to post, and I wanted to write a little about Sweden and Norway, and my newfound love for Scandinavia (partly due to my newly furnished room with Ikea furniture and a few sumptuous meals in Ikea’s restaurant). There is also the big question as to what will happen to my blog now that I’m back. The blog used to be directed towards my travels in Europe and a means for keeping in touch with everyone back home. The blog now needs a new direction, but this I believe, will naturally evolve along with my inspiration. You can look forward to the same level of reflective insights and a new direction that will take you on a journey with me to bigger and better things.

Y para mis amig@s de España, ¡un abrazo muy fuerte! Ya os echo de menos. Estoy encontrando nuev@s amig@s aquí in Canadá del mundo español (la mayoría son de Sudamérica, pero bueno) y también voy a seguir con las clases de salsa 🙂

Ya he hablado con Geoff. Él está muy bien, todavía de buen humor y con el pelo largo. Nicole está bien también, estamos estudiando juntos y a veces, recordamos de todos las experiencias, viajes, y buena gente que conocimos durante nuestro tiempo en España. Seguiremos recordando durante toda la vida. Espero que estéis bien, y que nuestros caminos crucen en poco tiempo. Si aún no has hecho, añádeme a tu cuenta de Facebook para que podamos hablar (google: Raphael Sammut).

Preparing for a Professional Experience Year… in Spain!

A shot of Raphael in the Sicilian countryside.
Raphael in the Sicilian countryside.

It was two summers ago when visiting my family in Europe that I first got the travel bug. At the time, I had just finished my first year of Engineering Science and dreamed of working in Europe for a summer. The prospect of learning a new language, being immersed in another culture, and having the freedom to travel to many fascinating places has always excited me.

When it came time to decide if I was going to do a Professional Experience Year (PEY) term in third year, I came to the conclusion that I would either find a rewarding international experience to pursue or continue on to fourth year and complete my degree. As a student of the Infrastructure Engineering program, there were great opportunities to work in different countries and I applied to jobs in the both the United States and Europe.

Last December, I was hired to complete a 12-month work term in Alicante, Spain starting in September 2009. I’ll be working with a local Spanish engineering firm called CYPE Ingenieros, S.A.. My main focus will be on the expansion of a CAD software that can automatically verify if the designs for a structure meet the building code in the country where it will be constructed. I’ll be succeeding another Engineering Science Infrastructure student, Geoff Frost (0T9+PEY), who has worked at CYPE since September 2008. While I can’t share my PEY experiences yet, you can follow me on my journey by visiting my blog at

Raphael receiving his first place prize at the Canadian Engineering Competitions in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Raphael receiving his first place prize at the Canadian Engineering Competitions in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

In addition to finding work abroad, I was able to fulfill my appetite for travelling during the school year as well. This past winter, I competed in the University of Toronto Engineering Kompetitions (UTEK) and won first place in the Engineering Communication division for my presentation on emerging applications of RFID technology. This led me to compete in the Ontario Engineering Competitions (OEC) in Guelph where I won second place and qualified for the national level of competitions. At the Canadian Engineering Competitions (CEC), held in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I built upon all the feedback received from the earlier competitions and won first place along with a sponsorship to attend the first National Engineering Summit in Montreal held last May.

Currently, I am working with Professor Evan Bentz as a summer research student. My main projects have been related to the development of Augustus, a software suite that acts as a post-processor for the Finite Element Method (FEM) analysis of structural elements. Augustus has recently been expanded to allow easy modelling and simulation of entire structures.