Last month I had the privilege to attend the AAPG-SEG International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) in Barcelona, Spain.
It was the first ICE under a new joint venture with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists that they operated, and it accomplished our principal objective: to create an opportunity for AAPG and SEG members to gather together to learn and to network.
That’s more important than ever in the current industry downturn – improving skills, understanding and building the relationships our business is built on.
At ICE Barcelona we had several events dedicated to students. They have spent years studying, preparing to embark on a career, full of hope and anticipation of a bright future in petroleum geology. But after a crash in oil prices and massive layoffs across the industry, the prevailing feeling is one of uncertainty.
As someone who finished graduate school in the low oil-price environment of mid-1990s and then experienced the sickening slump of the late-‘90s, I can relate to these young people.
The traditional approach to career growth, of course, is to finish your degree and obtain either a job or internship with a major E&P company. You usually want to establish your professional pedigree by getting hired and trained by a super major or major, so you try to get into the biggest company you can. That may be where you stay your entire career or, more likely, at some point you move on to another firm, including perhaps the service industry or consulting, and eventually, retirement.
Widen Your Field of Vision
This linear approach has stood many AAPG members in good stead and served the industry well, but in the current economic climate it’s very difficult to get a toehold with that first job. There aren’t many positions and there are a lot of people competing for them.
As I spoke to students in Barcelona I told them it’s time to engage in some lateral thinking.
This isn’t a new concept, and lateral thinking is something we can all employ, whether freshly-minted graduates or seasoned veterans looking for the next career move.
In fact, it’s common in our cyclical industry that petroleum geoscientists have to pivot, change and reorient to launch and advance their careers.
How do you take the knowledge and skills you have, and perhaps gain additional skills, and then apply them to our industry? And what are some of the alternatives out there to consider?
If you’re just starting out, an obvious choice is to stay in school.
You might pursue an advanced degree in geosciences, or pivot and extend your skills by pursuing business or legal studies. I’m a firm believer that to be an oil and gas professional, you need to understand how your science and exploration skills fit into the bigger picture. After all, we don’t do science for its own sake; we do it to find and produce more petroleum, generating economic value for ourselves and society, and fueling the world.
A decade after completing my technical graduate studies, I returned to school to obtain graduate training in business while working full-time. These additional studies took up virtually all of my free time over the course of two years, but I have never regretted that investment of time and energy.
I’ve counseled several younger friends to do likewise in the years hence, and they, too, haven’t regretted the experience. If you continue doing technical work you’ll have a grasp of the administrative and financial side of the business. And if you want or need to pivot your career, you’ll be able to leverage your geoscience expertise in the business or financial sectors. I know people who have done both.
Public Sector Options
Another opportunity exists in the regulatory and policy side of the oil and gas industry.
Contrary to the perception conveyed by today’s media, the petroleum business is a highly regulated industry sector.
Producing the oil and natural gas the world needs is in everyone’s best interest, as is ensuring it is done safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.
That requires knowledgeable professionals, and who better than trained geoscientists to serve in these roles?
Even if you work in a regulatory agency for only a few years before transitioning into an industry position, you’ll understand how to effectively work with regulators, and that’s a valuable skill.
There are several senior U.S. government officials who are AAPG members, using their technical and policy expertise to develop good policy and ensure the safe production of the nation’s energy resources. The U.S. government is looking to hire more people like them - perhaps someone like you.
Work For Yourself
Perhaps the ultimate in lateral thinking is pursuing an entrepreneurial path. How can you take your geoscience knowledge and life experience to create value?
You might identify a need companies have that you can fill, becoming a part of the service sector that supports finding and producing hydrocarbons.
Or, you could assemble a team of geoscientists, engineers and equity to start your own oil company or partnership.
The entrepreneurial path takes unique skills and mindset, but who knows what you could create?
Here’s the point: If you’ve mapped out your career in your mind and you’re convinced it has to look a particular way, you’re falling into a linear-thinking trap. You have no options if things don’t work out the way you hope.
Lateral thinking, in contrast, forces you to broaden your field of view, looking left and right, up and down for all the ways you can leverage your unique skills and experience. It’s here you can see opportunities, and with a dash of courage you step into the unknown and into your future.