PREPARING FOR A CAREER IN PETROLEUM GEOLOGY

  • Table 2
  • Thesis
  • Contacts in Industry
  • Continuing Education

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    CHOOSING A COLLEGE

    With any task, good preparation is essential to its successful completion. This is true in finding employment. The sooner that you begin, and the more thought you give to making yourself employable as you progress through your university studies, the more likely you are to have job offers when you graduate.

    It's never too early to begin your preparation. If you are still in high school and enjoy physical sciences and math courses, you may want to take geology courses in college. If you major in geology, your employment opportunities may be influenced, perhaps greatly, by your choice of schools.

    If you ask a college recruiter of a major oil company what he is looking for in a prospective employee, he likely will tell you that he wants a person with above-average grades (particularly in geology, math, and other science courses), an M.S. or M.A. degree (which includes completion of a thesis) from a well-regarded school, good recommendations from the faculty, and some record of work experience. Anyone who has those credentials usually can get at least an interview appointment. During boom periods when the supply of geologists lags the demand, companies may become less restrictive in applying these criteria. Nowadays, graduates receiving job offers generally fit this profile.

    Major oil companies traditionally interview, recruit and hire from a rather limited number of colleges. When the supply of available candidates is low, companies may expand their recruiting efforts to include a larger number of schools. But even in times of an oversupply of qualified graduates, as now, most companies will continue to send recruiters to a few of their "farm club" schools to selectively hire the better students and maintain their visibility with the geoscience departments.

    Thus, when choosing a college, you should talk with the department chairman or geoscience advisor to learn how the graduates typically fare in the job market. If the department's graduates are not finding work, or if your advisor appears unable or unwilling to discuss the department's role in helping students and graduates to locate jobs, be cautious. It may be that the school's contact with industry is weak or non-existent, and that it has little interest in assisting you to find employment when you graduate.

    In general, consider attending school in an oil-producing rather than a non-oil-producing state, and at a larger rather than a smaller institution. There are obvious exceptions, but the larger schools are more likely to offer a breadth of instruction that smaller schools cannot. The larger schools are better known to the companies, and they have more graduates working in the industry. The choice of undergraduate school is less significant if graduate work is completed at a larger one.

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    CURRICULUM

    I am often asked what courses should be taken in undergraduate and graduate programs that will be useful later.

    The Committee on Academic Liaison of the AAPG. (currently chaired by Dr. Charles F. Dodge, III) is charged with serving as a liaison between the Association and academic institutions. One of its activities is advising geology departments on matters of curriculum for students interested in petroleum geology. It is currently compiling a list of suggested courses, and when completed sometime in 1985, its recommendations will be published and made available to geology departments through the AAPG.

    Dr. A. V. Lewis, a member of the committee and the Manager of Special Projects of Union Oil Company of California, asked his colleagues for their opinions regarding a suggested geologic curriculum. Results summarizing the opinions of eighteen Regional and District Managers who are responsible for Union Oil's exploration in the Gulf coast, East coast, Permian basin, Mid-continent, Rocky Mountains, West coast, and Alaska are provided as Table 1 and Table 2, for undergraduate and graduate students, respectively. The respondents ranged in age from 35 to 65 and almost all graduated with M.S. degrees in geology. You may find this opinion survey useful in considering your course selection. It is the most comprehensive survey that I have seen on the utility of specific courses to the industry.

    There are several college courses which are normally not required of geology majors, but which will be helpful to you in your career. Economics, statistics, petroleum and reservoir engineering, computer programming, and oil property valuation are subjects of which you should have some understanding. If you don't have sufficient time to take these courses for credit, perhaps you can audit them to attain familiarity with the terms and concepts. Even if you don't have time to do all the assigned homework, you will learn much by just attending the lecture sessions.

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    ADVANCED DEGREES

    Several questions are often asked by students about advanced degrees, and I include my thoughts about them:

    Q.Is graduate work really necessary to get a job?

    A.In boom times probably not. But most of the larger employers of geologists, particularly these days, like to know that a prospective employee or associate is capable of doing graduate-level work and capable of completing a project that is presented in written form (like a thesis). The M.S. degree has become the required degree of companies now, to the same extent that a B.S. degree once was. When hired, a qualified M.S.-degreed geologist will probably be retained in preference to an equally experienced B.S. recipient if the company faces retrenchment.

    Q. Is it better to do graduate work at a different school than where the undergraduate degree was received?

    A. My opinion is that it is better to transfer, particularly if he undergraduate degree is from a small school, or one outside of oil-producing areas. All schools develop their own objectives, styles and strengths. Exposure to a different group of students and faculty members and a new academic environment is a broadening and worthwhile experience.

    Q. Is it better to continue work for a M.S. immediately after receiving a B.S., or should one get out and work awhile?

    A. The answer depends on several factors: one's own financial situation, the availability of meaningful employment, and one's personal interest in and aptitude for more advanced work. Generally, I'd recommend remaining in school if possible. Once a job is found and one stops attending classes, it's usually difficult to break away from work and start back to school.

    If your financial situation simply will not allow you to stay in school on a full-time basis, I'd investigate the possibility of finding a job that would permit you to continue work on a graduate degree in night school or on a part- time basis. Several geoscience departments offer such programs and I believe your potential for full-time geological work is greatly enhanced by continuing your education.

    Q. Will it help my chances for employment to get a PhD?

    A. Again, an opinion. I would not, unless I was motivated by a strong desire to teach, work in a laboratory, or to do research in a specialized field.

    Several years ago I attended an AAPG convention during which employment interviews were being conducted. There was a long line of employment applicants awaiting their turn to visit with corporate recruiters. After a full day, interviewers left the room saying that most of the applicants

    were either under- or over-qualified. The graduates complained that the interviewers just seemed to be "tire-kicking" and did not really want to hire anyone. I believe that there were simply very few applicants who met the companies' screening profile. Many graduates seeking employment had PhD degrees and represented themselves as specialists. Most of the companies already had specialists who filled the small number of positions available. What the companies wanted were well-educated geologists who were ready and willing to do general geological work: construct contour maps, make electric- log cross sections, do wellsite evaluations, field-check data, conceive drilling prospects, and write recommendations and reports. The companies didn't need those candidates who expressed the interest to work solely as a specialist. Once one is hired however, being able to use a specialized skill in one's daily work is an asset, and can be rewarding when promotion time comes around.

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    THESIS

    One of the most valuable experiences in preparing for your professional career is writing a thesis. Selecting a topic, doing the research, organizing the material, writing, editing and rewriting are tasks that you will probably find as onerous and frustrating as they have been for thousands of students before you. However, as a professional geologist you will be doing many of the same activities as you do while working on your thesis, and there's no better time to learn than in graduate school.

    When employed, you will be required to write technical reports, project proposals, recommendations to management, and mountains of correspondence. The ability to write accurately and succinctly will be of great help to you in your career, and your future promotions may depend on how well you do at it. After completing work on your thesis you will find that you can express your thoughts more effectively and with greater confidence than you did before. You may find that the thesis is the single most useful requirement of graduate school.

    Work on a thesis can be an effective employment tool. Some universities encourage graduate students to contact exploration managers, geologists, and geophysicists of companies to suggest research topics suitable for graduate level investigation. Almost every active company will have a list of proposed research projects that it would like done, but hasn't had the time or budget to assign to a staff geologist. The company may welcome a graduate student to work on such projects. When faculty approval is secured on a selected topic, the student and faculty advisor can approach the company together to determine what cooperation and support may be available.

    Perhaps the company can't fund any part of the research effort directly, but is willing to provide office space, use of a geologic library, data from commercial sources, cores and samples, seismic data, reports and files, access to company geologists, typing help or other services. Such an association can be a beneficial one for both the company and the student. The company receives work at little or no direct cost and has an opportunity to evaluate the abilities of a geologist

    whom they may consider hiring upon graduation. The student does meaningful work in a "real world" situation, establishes contacts with a company and its geologists, and successfully completes requirements for a master's program.

    Even if the graduate is not hired by the company which sponsored the investigation, it is likely that a topic suggested by an industry representative will be of interest to other individuals and companies. A thesis is often the ticket to get by the secretary at the front desk to see the chief geologist or exploration manager of a company. It is a rare explorationist who isn't interested in looking at the work and visiting with a graduate who has just completed a geological investigation in the company's area of interest. Many a recent graduate has been hired on the spot by a company who realizes that he can "hit the ground running" if his thesis and the company's interests coincide.

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    CONTACTS IN INDUSTRY

    It is important for you to know as many people in your business and professional life as you can. To a large degree, contacts are the key to your finding employment, to enjoying your professional career, and often to advancement in your company.

    One of the steps of preparing yourself for employment is to establish contacts with geologists in industry as soon as possible. If you are still in school, join and be active in your geology club, Sigma Gamma Epsilon, and/or an AAPG student chapter. If your department doesn't have one of these, help start one.

    Invite geologists to visit your clubs and chapters. Meet and talk with them. Find out as much as you can about them, their companies and the industry they represent. Establishing rapport with one or more of such professionals can greatly facilitate your efforts to initiate contact with industry representatives when you are ready to go to work.

    Become a member of such organizations as AAPG, GSA, SPE, and other organizations that provide for student affiliations. Go to the meetings and conventions of these groups whenever you can. If one of the conventions is conducted locally, ask if you can operate a projector, be a runner, or do any other job that will enable you to meet and work with employed geologists.

    Use every opportunity available to meet with people who might be contacts for you in your job search. I well remember the student reception scheduled at the AAPG Annual Meeting in Dallas in 1983. Seven exploration managers of Dallas companies were invited by the Reception Committee Chairman to attend the reception. They were present to visit any of the students who might want to talk about employment or other topics. Each of the companies represented employed at least a few geologists, and would doubtless hire others in the future. Approximately two hundred students attended. Many regarded the event as just a beer-bust, wore jeans and T-shirts, and spent their time visiting with school acquaintances and pouring beer in each others' pockets. Some, however, came in suits, brought a stack of resumés, and were ready for any opportunity to talk with prospective employers. They soon recognized their chance, and spent their time in useful discussions with the company representatives.

    Don't overlook the help that can be provided by faculty members. Company recruiters regularly solicit recommendations and evaluations of students from professors and instructors. You should work hard to keep your grades high while in school, and participate in those activities in which your abilities and contributions can be recognized. If you need financial help or other support while in school, visit with your faculty advisor about it at an early stage. An advisor may help find industry help for you, and be instrumental in getting interviews for you upon graduation.

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    CONTINUING EDUCATION

    Your future career in geology will require much knowledge and many techniques that you have not learned in school. Traditionally, major companies provided advanced training to young graduates through on-the-job training and company-run schools and short courses. Even if you are currently unemployed or underemployed, you should plan to acquire the skills needed by a geologist, because the greater your command of these skills, the more easily you can find employment and the greater value you will be to yourself and an employer. Thus you should look beyond your college curriculum to the information that will be useful to you later on.

    Fortunately, in the last few years there has been a veritable explosion in the educational opportunities and materials available to geologists. As an example, in 1976 the AAPG published only five new publications; in 1984 there were 21. In 1976, it sponsored only two educational schools; in 1983 there were 19. AAPG now produces slide tapes, course notes, and educational films; none of these were available a decade ago. It also sponsors single speaker programs, field seminars, short courses, distinguished lecturer tours, and visiting petroleum geologists.

    Other professional organizations and commercial firms run courses similar to those of the AAPG in cities and towns all over the country. Subject matter, quality of presentation, and costs vary greatly, but all courses offer the student an opportunity to increase knowledge and proficiency.

    The basic tool of the subsurface geologist is the electric log. If you have not yet attained some proficiency using electric logs, you should do so as soon as possible. Many logging companies offer one and two-day schools on new tools, and occasionally short courses in basic electric log evaluation. Contact the various electric logging companies to learn of course availability and schedules. In the meantime, pick up a copy of George Asquith's excellent new book Basic Well Log Analysis for Geologists, available from the AAPG

    Other useful skills include typing, drafting and geological graphics, and computer programming. If you don't already have a working ability with these, find some way to acquire it.

    Learn where geological data is available in your area. If there is a library of geological information or data nearby, learn what it contains and become familiar with its use. Your first job may be to gather data for a geologist's project and

    help him with the mapping. If you can respond immediately to someone's need for data retrieval, you may be able to start work on short notice.

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    Back to Table of Contents
    Preface | Attitudes | Employment Conditions In Industry
    Preparing for a Career in Petroleum Geology | Who are the Employers
    Contacting Employers Effectively | Alternative Strategies | References