The Sidney Powers Memorial Award is, among everything else it represents, AAPG’s lifetime achievement award. But, more than the Association simply recognizing outstanding individuals who have contributed to the advancement of petroleum geology, the Powers medal also puts a marker by these award winners and says to future generations, “These people right here. They’re who you want to be. It’s who we as geologists are and strive to be.”
These winners are links between generations, even the generations not yet here.
This year’s recipient of AAPG’s highest honor, past AAPG President Paul Weimer, deserves his place on that chain for his extensive research and teaching activities in global deepwater plays, and for his public outreach activities, but also for his humility.
“I have worked in some capacity with nearly all of the past Powers medalists of the last 22 years and have spent the last 30 years teaching geologic concepts developed by many of them. To be included with such an august group is humbling,” said Weimer.
Weimer, who has co-authored three books, co-edited 11 volumes, and has published more than 180 papers on areas involving sequence stratigraphy, biostratigraphy, reservoir geology, petroleum systems, 3-D seismic interpretation, structural geology and tectonics, has been a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder since 1990. He is known, not just for his vast knowledge of the petroleum systems of deepwater settings, but in sharing that experience with others.
“During the first 25-27 years as a professor, I was heavily invested in teaching petroleum systems concepts in sedimentary basins, with emphasis on deepwater settings,” said Weimer.
Add it all up and he has taught public short courses in 35 countries for a variety of professional societies.
And those experiences, at times, have been adventurous.
“The oddest place I taught a short course was at the press room in the Western Australia Cricket Association Stadium in Perth,” said Weimer.
What made it so odd?
“It was adjacent to the men’s locker room, which meant it was not only memorable, but quite sterile,” he said.
More recently, his research and teaching focus have changed to creating scientifically accurate animations to illustrate geologic processes for K-12 education and public outreach. His motivation came from the challenges in teaching second-semester introductory geology.
“Nearly all of the students were simply not wired to think in 3-D or 4-D. As a result, they had great difficulties grasping spatial and temporal events in historical geology,” Weimer explained.
To help students visualize these abstract concepts, he began creating animations, which improved students’ understanding, especially for K-12 students. His group is now creating videos for all states to explain the geologic history of their area.
Keeping an Open Door
For all his work within the education sector, even when that takes to men’s locker rooms, Weimer knows there has to be an open-door policy between industry and academia for both to prosper.
“Success between the two entities happens will when you have an academic who understands how industry operates and knows how to provide meaningful information in a timely fashion from which the companies will benefit,” Weimer said.
Easier said than done, he believes, for those kinds of academics are relatively rare. Conversely, he said, industry must realize that those in academia work to a different metronome.
“People in the industry must have the patience to locate and cultivate the right academics,” Weimer said.
He said that when this happens, some very good outcomes evolve, even while adding, “It’s more the exception, rather than the rule.”
Part of the reason is that both industry and academia are in constant flux, especially now.
“The relationships are changing in three ways. First, many of the academics who have worked with industry are retiring and are not being replaced in kind. Second, a number of larger companies who have supported academic programs are disappearing due to buyouts and mergers. Third, the recent volatility in prices have caused the companies to decrease their support,” he explained.
Weimer, the Paul M. Rady endowed chair in geological sciences, and the director of the Energy and Minerals Applied Research Center, was president of AAPG in 2011-12, and said his success has been “almost entirely based on the fact that I have interacted with many people who supported me in any number of ways during my career,” in both industry and academia.
“My work with professional societies was necessary to my ongoing education, and key to my performance as an academic. I needed to stay abreast with new concepts, both for teaching and research, and the societies provided an important avenue. My work focused on the scientific aspects of the societies,” he recounted.
One of those interactions was with Ed Dolly, the 2017 Michel T. Halbouty Outstanding Leadership Award recipient, and together they were instrumental in producing “GeoLegends: Inside the Minds of Geoscientists,” a set of interviews with 53 key scientists who detail their thought process when tackling industry’s toughest challenges. It was a series developed as part of the 100th Anniversary Committee.
“I made a lot of new friends during these interviews,” Weimer said.
“Success was always the moments when I was connecting with people in some capacity, be it teaching or research,” he added.
The best times for him were those when he was assembled with a group of researchers who performed as a team. It not only motivated him. It propelled him.
“It is difficult to sustain teams in academia for very long because of the constant turnover in personnel. But there is no better feeling than when you are trying to solve an issue as a group – there is one heartbeat in the room, and the best solution is always reached,” he said.
A Matter of Timing
When asked about successes and failures, he said the answer often depends on when the question is asked.
“Failures are funny concepts, for they are often blessings in disguise. There’s much to be learned from failures, most importantly new paths always present themselves because of the failure,” Weimer said.
“To meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,” he added, paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling.
He had help along the way to remind him which is which, including working in detail with five former Powers medalists, four former Halbouty awardees and one Ewing medalist (an award given by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists).
“A pretty good crowd to have spent important parts of my career with. I am certainly fortunate,” he said.
The lessons that he has passed along to the students are simple.
“Be sure you have a true love for your profession, and then pursue it,” even when the purpose and rewards don’t come as quickly as hoped, for the “real magic” of the work, he said, may present itself when you’re not even looking.
“Learn as much as you can, stay current on technology, develop good networking abilities, and continue updating your education,” Weimer said.
For it never ends.
“I started working in industry in 1980, I was told that someone’s scientific half-life is eight years. This means that you need to reinvent yourself every eight years, and I think that is probably still a good rule of thumb,” he said.
He reminds people in the profession to be flexible.
“Recognize that industry works on business cycles of two to three years. We are in a pretty unfathomable cycle currently, and I think it’s difficult for anyone to anticipate what might happen in the short term. Be aware of them and learn to evolve with them. Be mindful that as you grow older, your interests are going to change, sometimes quite significantly,” he said.
Never lose sight of your intuition or your humility.
“Lastly, whenever you have a meeting with someone, approach it as if it is a job interview. Because you never know which conversation may be career-changing,” he said.
Sidney Powers Memorial Award recipients have great technological expertise, long resumes and a slew of citations and publications to their credit, but they also remember that the work begins with a spark – of imagination and wonder.
“The human element,” said Weimer, “is what is so essential.”