Matchmaker. Innovator. Entrepreneur.
These were words used to describe geoscientists at the Young Professional (YP) seminar held during the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Calgary.
Susan Nash, AAPG’s director of innovation, emerging science and technology, led the session, “How to Build Your Own Business Opportunities,” which taught participants to think creatively, learn continuously and find opportunities to work for themselves. To provide attendees with the tools to put ideas into action, the presentation also included sources of free or almost-free oil and gas data and software.
Citing examples of her experience selling oil and gas prospects and acquiring oil and gas leases as a 22-year-old in Oklahoma, Nash provided concrete tips for starting businesses or working independently.
“Traditionally, geologists are very entrepreneurial. They are good at starting companies. The problem now is that many geologists allow themselves to become compartmentalized, and they no longer can become change agents,” she said.
Reconfigured Role for the Geologist
Participants discussed how the current price environment has accelerated a move toward blended roles and interdisciplinary teams. Geoscientists across the world must be prepared to adapt and think creatively in order to succeed.
“We are seeing a reconfigured role for the geologist that moves beyond prospects,” Nash said. This role allows geoscientists to identify candidate wells or fields, propose new studies using big data, or to focus on recompletions, reservoir engineering and geophysics.
Meredith Faber, AAPG YP committee co-chair and geologist at Noble Energy, shared how her role in unconventional exploration has changed as a result of the downturn.
“I’m now one of two geologists in my business unit, so I’m doing tasks I never knew anything about,” she said. “I’m working with IT, marketing and legal departments.”
Workshop participants discussed how YPs might be more prepared than their older counterparts to respond to this dynamic environment. Millennials are known for their ability to use technology, learn quickly and apply newfound technical expertise on the job. This perception works to the professional’s advantage when seeking employment or offering their services to others.
Workshop participants discussed a fundamental component of entrepreneurial success: creativity. They examined the differences between convergent thinking, which focuses on rules and categories, and divergent thinking, which deliberately breaks a model or paradigm and tries to put it back together.
“You can live with just convergent thinking, but if that’s all you have, you won’t be able to change careers easily,” Nash said. “Divergent thinking enables individuals to ask questions, find new patterns, uncover beliefs shaping assumptions and challenge them.”
Participants practiced divergent thinking by looking at a photo of two burros and a Mickey Mouse balloon and identifying what the items had in common.
Faber shared how taking a theater class for fun indirectly helped her at work.
”I started taking long-form improv comedy classes a few years ago and still regularly perform with a troupe in Houston. My habit of advertising our shows to co-workers at Noble attracted the attention of my business unit manager. He asked me to help his leadership program advisees (a group which included my team supervisor) create a video demonstrating the right and wrong ways to deliver difficult feedback and diffuse difficult people in the workplace.”
Faber’s experience illustrated how following one’s personal passion may lead to unexpected opportunities.
Identifying Interests and Opportunities
Nash encouraged participants to think about their ideal job and to take steps to develop their skills in that area. She also advised participants to work in a variety of areas to find out what they like and what they do well.
“Launch more than one personal initiative,” she said. “Have two or more going at the same time.”
Another key to entrepreneurial success is taking advantage of available opportunities.
Workshop participant James Lindsay shared his experience of working with a startup company providing lease and drilling appraisals.
“I went in managing the rig,” he said. “Two weeks into it, we were into mid-stream negotiations, and there was no one else but me to take care of it.”
Lindsay said the level of responsibility in a startup company is exciting and uncomfortable at times.
“The weirdest thing was firing contractors. It was hard, but we had to do it,” he said.
Lindsay’s company sold in June, so he joined other attendees looking for the next opportunity.
Jane Cancel, a recent University of Calgary in Alberta graduate and first-time ACE delegate said she attended the workshop to gain knowledge, improve her skills and learn how to take advantage of opportunities during the downturn.
“This seminar was helpful in relaying the information on how young professionals can reinvent themselves for quickly changing times through proactive learning,” she said.
An opportunity discussed at the workshop was working with the large amount of data collected during previous industry booms.
“There’s a lot of data out there,” Nash said. “Companies did so much drilling earlier; people now have time to analyze it.”
Nash noted that proactive geoscientists can use the data to make recommendations for bypassed pays, revitalization or new production.
She encouraged participants to develop strategies and approach companies even during the downturn.
“You may not have the price point to do anything now, but you will be ready when the situation changes,” she said. “Your job is that of a matchmaker. It gives you the charge to be entrepreneurial.”
Nash reminded participants that they do not have to work at a large company to get access to software. ArcGIS for personal use costs approximately $100 per year. Orange, a product from Slovenia providing data mining and data analysis, is available for free.
She also encouraged participants to seek information from state information sources and geological surveys.
Faber shared how free data sources helped her on a contract position she took in graduate school. She worked for a three-person geothermal company identifying areas with abundant water and high temperatures.
“The job didn’t have anything to do with my dissertation, but it gave me experience with Texas Railroad Commission data, and that helped me later on in my career,” she said.
Nash encouraged participants to market themselves continuously, regardless of their employment situation.
She encouraged them to keep resumes updated with concrete achievements, not just job tasks, and to use technology both to learn and to feature their work.
“Use LinkedIn for mini blogs, to post your work or to share things that interest you. Make two-minute videos and post them on YouTube. Use proactive sharing; it will draw mentors,” she said. “Doing so may help you find an opportunity in industry or elsewhere. Keep your options open and be bold.”
Nash reminded participants to make short-, mid- and long-term plans and to evaluate progress continually.
Advice was well received by participants like Cancel, who admitted that her short-term goal is “to find employment,” while mid- to long-term goals include continuous learning and skill development.
“The phrase ‘reconfiguring your role’ really stuck with me, and I think it is something that can be applied for my future,” she said. “Simply focusing on just geology isn’t enough. Blending various roles such as geophysics, engineering, etc. allows us to reinvent ourselves and change our way of thinking.”