Over the next three months, the CSEG Recorder will be publishing a three-part series of articles sampling the progression of a few geophysicists throughout their careers - how they manage change and conflict, and perceive their future. We will interview young geophysicists under 30 years of age, established geophysicists between 30 to 50 years, and mature geophysicists over 50 years.
This first article addresses the young geophysicists - members of Generation X who have grown up with computers and technology at home, witnessed their parents go through involuntary job terminations and juggle careers, family and marriage. This generation's future comes with mixed feelings . Despite the volatility of the oil industry exhibited during the 1990's, the individuals interviewed for this article were undaunted. Some geophysicists were optimistic about their futures, even suggesting that their current jobs were intact for at least a decade. Others were equally enthusiastic but doubtful that they would have the privilege of keeping their job for more than two years, or be continuously employed in the petroleum sector at all.
Larry Lines, Geophysics Chair at the University of Calgary, sees a bright future for today's young geophysicists, "When you look at the demographics with Baby Boomers peaking at 40 to 50 years, there's going to be a shortage of geophysicists unless these older guys keep on working. Obviously, there's going to be demand for oil and gas for many years. People are still in love with their vehicles."
With present oil recovery rates of 40 to 50 per cent, Lines anticipates opportunities for geophysicists with the development of enhanced oil recovery, offshore work in Hibernia, the Arctic and possibly off the West Coast of North America. But he contends, "In such a cyclical industry, there will be disappointments for graduates, as there's a four year lag between the good times and the bad times. "
Three years ago, geophysics graduates were so hot that companies were offering them sign up bonuses during campus recruitment. U of C's geophysics grads of 1998 were also warmly welcomed by the petroleum industry, as budgets for new grads were set during 1997, before the downturn of 1998 and 1999. This year's geophysics class wasn't so lucky. According to Lines, two of the four SEG Best Student Paper Award recipients last year received job offers that were later withdrawn.
Upon receiving his pink slip from an oil company, Jitendra Gulati who won the Best Poster Paper Award, took his skills south and found employment in Silicon Valley. Another SEG Award recipient, Alana Schoepp filed her pink slip and banked her severance package and then found a job at Numac Energy.
Gratziella Grech, a co-winner of the Best Poster Paper Award, is toiling away at U of C on her Ph.D. She knows that the job market is tough. The Malta-born grad student says, "It's too early to predict what job opportunities await me when I graduate in two years." However, she remains committed to the Canadian oil patch, "I'm optimistic for the future. I wouldn't be in geophysics, unless I wasn't."
Corey Hooge is the cheerful 29 year-old geophysicist who put together this year's fabulous Grand Finale event for the CSEG Convention. This past summer, Corey was employed at Wintershall as a staff geophysicist. At this time, a decision had been made by Wintershall's parent company to put its western Canadian assets for sale, while re-directing its petroleum finding efforts for other international concerns. It's the second time since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1991 that Hooge's future is up in the air. His first permanent job working for Veritas was in the midst of the 1992 downturn and he was laid off. Like many geophysicists who graduated during the early 1990's, Corey headed back to grad school, completing his master's degree from the University of Saskatchewan in 1996 before working for CTC/Pulsonic Inc. and then Wintershall.
A prolific presenter and writer of technical papers, Corey has won numerous awards including SEG Award of Merit 1994 and CSEG scholarship 1995. He wholeheartedly accepts the industry's volatility and is betting that long-term career prospects will be good in the international arena, "You learn early in the your career the way the industry is. You are under no illusions. I have yet to become jaded."
Cindy Gosse, 29, enjoyed geophysics so much that she went directly into grad school after graduating in 1995 with her bachelor's degree from Memorial University. Today, she is special projects geophysicist for Hampson-Russell Software in Calgary. She couldn't be happier working for some of the best geophysicists in the industry: Dan Hampson, Keith Hirsche and Brian Russell.
It was two years ago that she was working on her Master's thesis from Denver where her engineer husband was employed. Cindy had her eyes only on one employer and she cold called Hampson, "I only wanted to work here because I really liked their software." Her husband quit his job after she was hired over a telephone call, and the couple moved to Calgary. Cindy is energetic and is also working on her graduate thesis at night. She laughs at the thought that maybe she's working too hard. She's having so much fun, that she doesn't feel the stress and even finds time for extra-curricular activities.
For recent geophysics grads, employment with major oil companies is attractive for mentoring and on-the-job training. Graduating during the last upturn of the mid-1990's certainly helps, too. Kevin Mullie, who hails from Snow Lake, a northern Manitoba mining town, was one of the lucky ones when he graduated with his geophysics degree from the University of Calgary in 1998. He accepted a job with Crestar Energy, hired on during campus recruitment. Jobs were plentiful, exceeding the number of graduates.
Kevin expects to be working at Crestar for at least 10 years. " I like everything about the job. It's exciting. It's going forward. We are using the latest technology...and I love the fact that you get to work with other people. We work with team of a geologist, an engineer and a land person. Every thing gets planned as a team. We get to work hand in hand, towards the full picture. When we are working an idea, you merge them on early in the process and you can come up with a much better product and quicker as well, because you' re not butting your heads if something's not working."
Sophie Parsons, a 1997 geophysical engineering grad from the University of Saskatchewan, readily landed a job with BP Amoco. Her resume had three summers of solid oil industry experience. Her first two years at a major oil company have enabled her to attend numerous courses and benefit from the company's in-house mentorship program. Her first two years at Amoco were part of the Devonian play team, focusing on deep sour gas wells; " It was a good place to be because I learned a lot. "
After two years, she switched into a Foothills team. She says that while structural interpretation in the Foothills region may be challenging, it is a valuable skill for the future . "My job is quite interesting. I enjoy the challenges and the fact that you can see immediate results. Currently, I'm not interested in the management aspects because the technical side changes so rapidly."
Vivek Shah, a U of C 1998 geophysics grad currently working for Mobil Oil in Calgary, also enjoys his job. He thrives on challenge. When he was in second year university, he was told to develop a secondary interest besides geophysics because of the cyclical nature of the oil industry. On computers since he was 10 years old, Vivek has combined his interests in computing science with geophysics, " Realistically, no one I know has told me that they plan to be a geophysicist for the rest of their lives. Most people have alternate interests."
Vivek contends the Internet will playa major role in developing geophysical technology. He wants progress in his career and is keen on embracing the trials and tribulations of working internationally.
Employers may balk at the training requirements of young geophysicists, but there's an upside to this story. Marc Hildebrand is a geophysicist with Wascana Energy Inc. and 1997 University of Saskatchewan grad. He notes that with the nearly equal numbers of women studying geophysics at university, his generation will make an impact, "As our generation starts to fill up industry, there will be a difference. We don't see a difference between people. For the first time, equality isn't a concern because we've been brought up believing it."
Like his peers, Marc shares a hunger for knowledge in his career and is concerned about his career before getting his personal life in order, "We know that we're going to be moved around, so we want to learn as much as we can where we are. We want to get good at our careers and respected on our jobs because we could be out on the streets tomorrow."
While the younger generation has embraced technology more than any other previous generation, he is aware of one pitfall, "We have to be careful that we don't overlook the fact that there's a lot of things to learn before we use those black boxes (computers). You have to contour by hand before contouring by computer."