Alumnus gives back with award for undergraduate research

Brian & Big Band

Playing guitar in an amateur big band is just one of Mills’ many activities.

A McGill degree in geological science was the start of a very successful career in the Canadian petroleum industry for Brian Mills. Three decades after graduation, Mills is giving back to McGill in a big way with a donation that helps support undergraduate science research here.

“When I was studying at McGill, you had the option to choose to do undergraduate research during your final year if you wanted to graduate with an honors degree,” he recalls.  “That option included doing an undergrad research thesis, and it was the option I chose.”

Brian started considering a career in the petroleum industry a year before graduation. After looking at several employment options, he ended up taking a position with Canada Cities Service, a small company of about 130-140 people.  The company was the precursor of Nexen, now a major player in the global petroleum industry. Ultimately, he rose to become the company’s Geoscience Manager, advising the corporation on geology and geophysics, first in the Yemen operations group, and subsequently in the heavy oil division.

Considering the best way to make a donation


Mills and Albert Lee, “an amazing guitar player” who he met at a workshop at the Calgary Folk Fest.

After a long and rewarding career in the petroleum industry, Brian moved on and started his own consulting company.  Around the same time he began talking to McGill about the best ways of making a donation to the school.  “I found myself with some available funds, and even though I didn’t live in Montreal, I really wanted to offer some meaningful support to the university where I had received my undergraduate education,” he recalls.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what the best way to go about this was, but by working with McGill’s Development Group and the Faculty of Science I was introduced to Science Undergraduate Research Awards (SURAs) – a category of awards that offer science undergraduates the chance to engage full-time research under the supervision of a McGill Science professor.  I concluded this would be the best way to make a donation.”

“High achieving students deserve the chance to experience research, but they can’t do so without the support of donors. I thought, ‘well, here’ s an opportunity to give some students a summer-long experience in the real world of research and give them an important leg up in their careers.“

Brian & Royalty

Mills poses with the Stampede Queen and Princesses at the Flood Aid Concert.

In 2010, Mills endowed the Robert H. Mills Science Undergraduate Research Award to support undergraduate research in science at McGill.  The award is named after his father, who worked for more than 25 years as a laboratory superintendent at McGill’s Foster Radiation Lab.

Mills believes it is essential for universities like McGill to receive support from graduates.  “In today’s world, universities can’t depend on governments alone to fund research and other important activities,” he says.  “I strongly encourage other graduates to give serious thought to supporting McGill in whatever way they can. It’s really worthwhile, and it does make a big difference.”

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