UH's Jack Kenning Wins AAPG Student Poster Competition

“I have only been working on the Gulf of Mexico for about three years, so when someone from industry or academia who has worked it for 30 years stops by your poster, you can often glean additional insights or information that are not necessarily common knowledge.”

That’s Jack Kenning, winner of the 2019 AAPG Poster Competition, held this year at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in San Antonio.

Making a splash in the competition, being in that arena, has been a goal ever since, well, last year, he said.

“I had previously placed fourth in the 2018 competition, so I was determined to do as well, if not better this year,” said Kenning.

Mission accomplished. And then some.

It was a victory largely his own, too, for when it comes to the poster competition, there’s not a lot of help or company along the way

“The student is the arena – alone,” said Paul Mann, professor at the University of Houston, who believes the poster competition – which is often over-shadowed by the Imperial Barrel Award, held the same weekend – is something in which the industry should take greater interest.

If Mann’s name sounds familiar, it should, for he, as one of the school’s faculty advisers, helped UH win the coveted 2019 IBA (see last month’s EXPLORER) – its second victory in three years.

“In the AAPG family,” Mann said, “the AAPG and (Society for Sedimentary Geology) SEPM student poster competitions are the little brother of the more publicized IBA program. But the effort to make posters and especially prize-winning is great, albeit more of an individual effort than the five-person IBA team.”

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“I have only been working on the Gulf of Mexico for about three years, so when someone from industry or academia who has worked it for 30 years stops by your poster, you can often glean additional insights or information that are not necessarily common knowledge.”

That’s Jack Kenning, winner of the 2019 AAPG Poster Competition, held this year at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in San Antonio.

Making a splash in the competition, being in that arena, has been a goal ever since, well, last year, he said.

“I had previously placed fourth in the 2018 competition, so I was determined to do as well, if not better this year,” said Kenning.

Mission accomplished. And then some.

It was a victory largely his own, too, for when it comes to the poster competition, there’s not a lot of help or company along the way

“The student is the arena – alone,” said Paul Mann, professor at the University of Houston, who believes the poster competition – which is often over-shadowed by the Imperial Barrel Award, held the same weekend – is something in which the industry should take greater interest.

If Mann’s name sounds familiar, it should, for he, as one of the school’s faculty advisers, helped UH win the coveted 2019 IBA (see last month’s EXPLORER) – its second victory in three years.

“In the AAPG family,” Mann said, “the AAPG and (Society for Sedimentary Geology) SEPM student poster competitions are the little brother of the more publicized IBA program. But the effort to make posters and especially prize-winning is great, albeit more of an individual effort than the five-person IBA team.”

The Competition

Kenning agreed and said the work provides the one thing every student of geology wants: a chance to prove he or she belongs in the big leagues.

“The AAPG poster session provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your work in front of a broad audience and to network with peers and experts in your specific area of research,” he said.

There’s also this: it’s a pretty good resume builder.

“I have found it has also been an excellent way to promote myself and form connections with potential employers in the petroleum industry,” said Kenning.

The AAPG Student Poster Competition began in 1996, when a single first-place award was given to Ian Robert Gordon of UT Austin for his poster. Since then, the program has expanded, soon including international schools, leading to 2019, when four awards were given, some to international students.

Kenning, a second-year doctoral student in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at UH, won with a poster entitled “Controls of Cenozoic Mass Transport Deposits on Hydrocarbon Prospectivity of the Mexican Ridges Fold-Belt, Western Gulf of Mexico.” He presented a three-panel summary of a chapter of his doctoral dissertation that included his interpretation of seismic reflection and well data to predict the presence of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the offshore area of Mexico.

During the competition, he said, just being around the community of participants was invaluable.

“As a result of discussions at AAPG ACE, I have gained vital ideas and recommendations that have allowed me to improve the quality of my work significantly ahead of final publication,” he said.

The poster competition has to be part steak, part sizzle. The student has only 10-15 minutes to present both the argument and solution of the poster, meaning his or her illustrations have to be correct and self-explanatory, while keeping the oral explanations to a minimum.

There’s also the matter of sight-lines. The posters have to be read and understood from a distance of between four-to-six feet. AAPG guidelines recommend title fonts at 72-point minimum, headers at 40-point minimum, text at 30-point minimum.

Mann said that, with all the major hurdles and headaches associated with such a presentation – like purpose, supporting the solution, giving the data – it is the details that often trip up a number of students.

“Typos at this scale are hard to miss,” he said.

What makes the poster competition so competitive is, quite simply, the nature of the beast – and the number of beasts, if you will. In Kenning’s case, out of hundreds of entries, the top 15 abstracts were chosen to compete in the student poster competition. Those 15 are put in the same poster session and from there, are judged, with the top four receiving awards this year.

Kenning said the winnowing process begins even before that.

“The first step is getting your poster accepted to the conference in the first place from God knows how many entries,” he said.

The competition just to get his poster out of UH was tough, where there were six submissions from students in his department alone (two made it out).

Once in the competition, each student was evaluated on technical content and organization of the poster – most encompassing three panels and including maps, photos and diagrams, and often life-sized dioramas of outcrop photos or seismic lines – as well as the student’s oral and presentation skills.

It’s not just the ability to make maps and cross sections that’s being evaluated, but the posters have to include quantitative analysis and show that the data has been completely explored and explained.

“A critical factor,” said Mann, is “how does the student present the work in a reasonable amount of time, and does the student demonstrate a depth of knowledge on what he or she is presenting? The downfall of some presenters is spending too much time on the introduction and background material and not enough on the original results. The student is in trouble when the judge looks at his watch and slips away.”

Kenning said, for him, putting together the award-winning poster meant soaking up information and perceptions from many in the field.

“For projects in progress, the range of feedback, questions, and advice you will receive from passersby is among the best you will get almost anywhere,” he said.

Both Kenning and Mann agree that the competition is a unique medium for scientific exploration.

Other winners at this year’s competition are as follow:

  • 2nd Place - Adriana Crisostomo-Figueroa, University of Leeds
  • 3rd Place - Jefferson Chukwuemeka Nwoko, University of Manchester
  • 4th Place - Daniel Bell, University of Manchester

The Spoils of Victory

“Winning the competition,” said Kenning, “has been one of the high points of my Ph.D. work so far. It has made it feel that all my hard work throughout the year has paid off!”

For winning, he will receive $2,000 from the AAPG Foundation along with $750 to the AAPG student organization in the EAS department.

Kenning appreciates and will use every last dime of it.

“The prize money and travel grant awarded to competition winners makes a massive difference to students on a budget, and provides the opportunity to attend additional conferences,” he said.

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