Royal Holloway University of London not only won this year’s Europe Region Imperial Barrel Award competition, in June it also won the IBA grand prize – the first European school to capture the prize in several years.
For those unfamiliar, the AAPG/AAPG Foundation’s Imperial Barrel Award program is an annual prospective basin evaluation competition for geoscience graduate students from universities around the world.
In it, teams are asked to analyze a set (geology, geophysics, land, production infrastructure and other relevant materials) in the two months prior to their local competition. Each team then delivers its results in a 25-minute presentation to a panel of local industry experts.
Winners then move on to the IBA finals, (this year, held during the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Denver) to compete for the $20,000 first prize.
For Royal Holloway, according to Wan Ching Low, one of the students on the winning team from the school’s department of earth sciences, it was an arduous process.
“After finishing classes at 5 p.m.,” Ching said of a normal day, “we would head straight to the computer lab to start interpretation work.”
And they would stay there until the wee hours of the night.
“The last few weeks, closer to the competition, the work got more intense as we put our presentation results together and did dry runs,” she said.
They were working specifically on a dataset that from the Taranaki Basin, offshore New Zealand.
“The challenging part for this project,” Ching said, “is time management, where we have to juggle attending classes, the weekly course assignments and to do IBA work, all at the same time.”
That work, he added, consisted of 215 2-D seismic lines from 11 different seismic surveys from the dataset to start off analyzing and interpreting.
You work that closely with anyone, even friends, of which the team was made, and there is bound to be tension.
“Since IBA competition emphasizes teamwork, the high intensity of workload would often result in different opinions among the team members,” Ching said.
There were debates and disagreements – some heated – but the team always managed to muddle through it.
Or, as Ching put it, where they could “sit down as a team and discuss together whether the ideas proposed are reasonable and fit well within the story of our presentation.”
There comes a time in any competition, whether it’s the IBA or the NBA, when the team knows it’s on to something special. Ching said there were two things working in Royal Holloway’s favor – two moments that stood out.
“The strongest point of our team,” she said, “was our incredible bond together and being able to build confidence to speak in front of the crowd. From the start, we worked really well together as a team, although we come from different backgrounds.
“When we started off the project, different tasks were assigned, according to the individual’s strength,” she continued. “However, we rotated around for the tasks so everyone knew a bit of the others’ work and had a bird’s-eye view of the whole project.”
There was something else, as well, something that any championship team talks about: Experience.
“Also, having presented twice in the Europe Region finals (in Prague, Czech Republic) in front of a full crowd helped to build up our confidence in public speaking, too.”
Talking to Ching, you sense that the team placed extra emphasis on its presentation skills.
“The full adrenaline rush of presenting live in front of a full crowd of students and judges does make a huge difference,” she said, “and was very helpful in preparing us for the finals in Denver.”
In addition to Ching, the winning team members are Arran Waterman, Stuart Munro, Kimberley Dunn and Benjamin Said. Nicola Scarselli is the faculty adviser, and the team received strong emotional support from AAPG Europe Region president Keith Gerdes and the late Vlastimila Dvorakova, past Region president.
As for the award, Ching said the geology department will most likely use the winning funds as a foundation to improve the course for future graduate students.
It comes at a special time, too, because the department is celebrating a birthday of sorts: this year is the 30th anniversary of earth sciences at Royal Holloway and the 30th anniversary of the Master of Science program, which first started as sedimentary basin dynamics by Derek Blundell in 1985.
Ching said the winnings also would be allocated for some of the essentials of any geology department.