“I try to share with students that petroleum geology is real geology.”
That from Rebecca Dodge , an associate professor in the department of geosciences at the University of West Georgia, on what some university geology students think of the profession that many will eventually join.
To that end, Dodge has been sharing some of her experience and expertise as part of AAPG's Visiting Geoscientist Program, a program that brings professional geoscientists together with students from throughout the United States, Canada and 30 other countries.
In a sense, the goal of the program, which began in 1974, is to help prepare the industry and the students for each other by providing and opening better means of communication between each other.
Eduardo Berendson , an international reservoir geologist who specializes in reservoir geomodeling, stratigraphic problems and project management for the Hague-based Agip KCO CENI joint venture and still finds time to be a member of the program, says this aspect is perhaps the most important.
“The VGP is important,” he said, “because the AAPG is facing with the widest age- and knowledge-gap that ever existed in the history of the association.”
He goes on to say the industry as a whole and AAPG members in particular “have the spirit, the knowledge and ultimately the responsibility to pass on their wisdom to the future of the association.”
Valary Schulz , senior geologist at Wynn Crosby in Plano, Texas, and a frequent contributor to the program, agrees:
“In the big schools, with large petroleum geology departments, there are numerous opportunities for students to interact with successful graduates,” she said, “but we need a whole lot more geologists than will be graduated by those five or 10 universities.
“And there are many bright, curious, scientifically minded students who have never considered a ‘career’ in geology, but they like it,” she continued, “and need only a small amount of encouragement to spark that fire we all in this profession share.”
Dodge, who holds seminars on environmental and resource management applications and is also the director of GLOBE Partnership, sees another dynamic.
She notes that the program is especially valuable during this particularly volatile time in the petroleum industry “... because colleges and universities are finally starting to think about the possibility of reinvigorating, restarting or developing petroleum curricula and programs.”
More than 200 colleges and universities have participated in the VGP, and VGP committee chairChuck Caughey has a group of more than 90 speakers for the coming school term.
Those speakers, offer talks on a variety of subjects over the globe.
Some of the specific expertise includes sessions on coal, environmental, hydrogeology, petroleum exploration and producton, geochemistry, seismic stratigraphy, planning and administration, resource economics, and trends in employment, recruiting and careers, to name a few.
VGP speakers typically spend a half to a full day with the students, often tailoring their remarks and visits to those schools where they can do the most good – something Dodge, Berendson and Schulz, for example, have been doing for many years.
They, and others in the program, also visit with faculty members to discuss specific needs and problems within the department. They then meet with students to not only review career opportunities in the profession, but also to discuss specific technical topics, such as reservoir engineering, slope tectonics, 3-D reservoir modeling, putting together oil and gas prospects, environmental forensics, etc.
The strategy is that by exposing students to these “heavy hitters” in the field, both sides will benefit: Students will get a real-life look at what’s out there and industry gets a look at its future talent pool.
“I always tell the students that in the real world to be technically correct is not enough anymore, but equally important is to be aligned and in context with other disciplines, Berendson said.
“For a geologist to complete a geocellular model, for example, not addressing the petrophysicist concerns and the reservoir engineer uncertainties is unacceptable.
Schulz says the problem with many young geology students is even more fundamental.
“Most notably absent from most students’ courses of instruction is any sense of business,” she said. “Although some may have had exposure through their parents or prior summer jobs, the natural resource industry is highly insular, and the typical ‘man on the street’ has no comprehension of this market driven profession.
“Additionally, many academicians have stepped from student to professor,” she added, “and have had no industry experience or contact – and are therefore unqualified to prepare their students for the commercial aspects of their chosen field.
A Personal Touch
Dodge, too, believes this generation of students has been raised on the need for collaboration and the ability to master the increasingly complicated high tech aspect of the profession, but they are not as familiar with the specifics of how those in the field actually search for and develop oil today.
She has noticed, though, that while the sense of fieldwork still “sells well” with students, it is the high-tech aspect of the industry that is the more powerful attractant now.
“During a visit, I typically have about one hour with students to talk about careers,” Dodge said. “Often I’m speaking at an institution that does not have a petroleum focus or curriculum. I try to emphasize that exploration usually involves teamwork – with people from other disciplines – and that the industry uses the very highest levels of technology at all phases of exploration and production.”
For his part, Berendson says he also tries to let students know the relationship works both ways.
“When given a chance, I relate to students the opportunities and challenges this industry has given me and others,” he said, “such as international traveling, exposure to foreign cultures and many lessons on the importance of multicultural sensitivity.”
As to the exposure to global cultures, Schulz believes that what’s needed is more than just a cursory understanding.
“More important today than at any other time in history is the need to own another language,” she said. “In today’s global and mobile environment the individual who can speak, write and understand French, Russian, Chinese or Spanish will have a distinct advantage in the work force.”
The Right Stuff
In any profession, incoming students need to learn not only the basics, but the new technology skills – the ability to use software tools and computers. In the geosciences that also means, for example, becoming familiar with environmental aspects of petroleum exploration.
Dodge says part of her job is to bring that into each visit.
“That tends to melt a bit of cynicism about the industry,” she said, “underscoring the notion that many have – even geology students and faculty members – that the industry is non-friendly to the environment.”
Berendson believes that students entering the field need a professional dimension both outside of the classroom and beyond the laboratories.
“I tell students that professional geologists today navigate in a high-tech career, whether you are evaluating logs on a rig, generating prospects in an office or even performing fieldwork in remote areas (using GPS systems).
“I emphasized that information technology is a prerequisite in our professional work, he continued. “I let them know that acquiring more skills and broadening their knowledge are ultimately their responsibility, not the school they are attending or the company that they might work for.
Dodge, who is also the interim director of the AmericaView Consortium, says that a visiting campus call by an industry professional can help move things in the right direction and enhance efforts – along with student chapters and grants-in-aid – to get petroleum geology not only back in the curriculum of schools but back in the consciousness of the students.
For Berendson, who chaired AAPG’s student chapter in Indonesia in 2004-05, these visits provide an opportunity for him to both look forward and back.
“I always take the time to share some personal learning, like planning for success,” he said. “You cannot decide what to deal with today unless you know where you want to be tomorrow.”
“Most importantly,” Schulz said, “is to follow your interests, be absorbed and passionate about your specialty and the career will follow. Learn how to learn, and then be nimble.”
She then tells a story that perhaps best exemplifies the program’s goal of keeping alive the geologic link and health of the profession.
“I really enjoyed the chance to interact with the students,” she said, “and the highlight was speaking to my alma mater (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon campus), and having my dad attend the talk, as he was one of the early graduates from there in 1934.”