In the last article on the progression of the geophysicist's career, The Recorder interviewed geophysicists under 30 years of age. In this article, geophysicists between 30 to 50 years of age were interviewed. Their careers have developed, while they have managed their private lives with work and play. Most of the geophysicists profiled in this article demonstrate how and why job changes were necessary throughout their careers. Towards the latter years of this age group, geophysicists find their careers peaking and scrambling as what to do next. To help readers assess their own situations, recruiters and human resources consultants were consulted for some career management advice and strategy.
Ian Noble – Embracing Teaching and Geophysics
Ian Noble, 43, is a geophysicist working for Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. in Calgary. His career to-date has been unique in that he has been able to intertwine a teaching career with career in the oil patch. After he graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics, he continued his schooling for a year to obtain an education certificate in physics and math. Ian became a teacher because of the thrill he got in helping fellow university students solve problems and do their homework. After two years of teaching physics, mathematics and general science in a small school, he returned to university to get his master's degree in geophysics." I wanted a more direct discovery experience," explains Noble. " In teaching, there's discovery but it's on the other side of the table. It's guiding the student to discover things for himself."
He finished his M.Sc. degree in 1983. That was a tough time to graduate Ian says. Many companies were withdrawing job offers to new graduates. "I consider myself lucky. I received job offers from some very good companies."
Noble accepted a job offer by Texaco and worked there until he got "rightsized " in 1992, "It wasn't a total shock because of the acquisition of Texaco by Imperial." An enviable teaching opportunity became available at Queen Elizabeth High School in Calgary to teach in the Gifted and Talented Education Program. "I have no regrets about the lay-off. Teaching gifted children was an amazing experience."
After a year of teaching, Noble returned to the oil patch in 1993 to work as a geophysicist for Canadian Natural Resources Limited. Married to a teacher, and having two young children, he contends that balancing home life with work is an ongoing concern, when he starts work by 7:00 am and tries his best to be home by 6:00 p.m. As for his future, he's not about to take anything for granted, "I don't think anybody can see themselves working in one job for the long-term. I will stick with it while conditions permit. You have to be realistic and flexible when opportunities present themselves, whether it's in your current job, or an alternate job, or even an alternate career."
Jocelyn Bradley – Switching from Technical Work into Sales
Jocelyn Bradley, 37, is Earth Signal Processing's sales representative. When adverse workplace conditions presented themselves in the oil patch, she made the best of the situations and persevered. In 1984, Jocelyn graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor's degree in astrophysics, "Back then, I was going to get a Ph.D., hide-out and study cosmology."
Instead the avid figure skater taught figure skating and waited on tables for the next two years . Then Jocelyn enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Regina. A year later, she transferred to the University of Calgary to continue her grad studies.
In 1988, she was hired on as a seismic processor for Gale Horizon and trained under Allan Feir. She was laid off in March 1991, but was working a month later for Seismic Data Processors. In the midst of an industry downturn, Jocelyn requested to be laid off in August 1991. Seismic Data Processors asked Jocelyn to return to work for the winter 1992.
Times were tough. In October 1992, she stepped into the financial services industry and became a mutual fund sales representative. The switch was easier said than done. The following summer, she helped manage a golf-pro shop with her then husband, Dennis. Then in March 1993, Allan Feir who was then working for Genesis Seismic asked Jocelyn to return to work as a processor. When Genesis folded, she worked temporarily for Isau Odie at Affinity Geophysical, prior to joining Integra as a processor. Still, she had a strong desire to get into sales, "I like building relationships. I like technical sales because you get to deal with intelligent people...Sales is a different cycle. When you process a line, you get the information in, you process the information, then you deliver a product. With sales, the results are not as immediate."
In August 1995, Jocelyn started as a sales representative for Integra. " It was like I was thrown in head first to see if I could swim. I was like a duck in water, calm on the outside and paddling like crazy underneath."
Between February 1998 to December 1998, Jocelyn worked for Schlumberger, 'That was a chance to learn a new technology, deal with a more varied client base – geologists, engineers and geophysicists. I was in a different corporate environment. It was a great experience."
Since January 1999, Jocelyn has been working for Earth Signal. Here at this relatively young company, she hopes is a chance to prove herself. The former Recorder Editor is very happy working in the sales side of the business. Working with people presents challenges because of their uniqueness. But for Jocelyn with her strengths of tenacity and perseverance, she couldn't be happier.
Andrew Wiacek – Dealing with Adversity
Andrew Wiacek, 34 is a staff geophysicist with Renaissance Energy. Resilience is a characteristic trait that he picked up early in his career. During his undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, he was primarily interested in geology. "That was disastrous, you know – earthquakes and volcanoes. I realized geology wasn't the way to go, so I switched into geophysics," recalls Wiacek.
He graduated in 1987 with his bachelor's of science degree in geology and geophysics. The oil industry was lousy, but the mining industry in Ontario was worse. He returned to university. Two years later, he graduated with his Master's degree in geophysics.
In late 1989, Wiacek arrived in Calgary and found work at Mobil. Two years later, Mobil laid him off. "That was not fun. It's hard especially at that stage in your career. Only two years and not having drilled any wells."
He lucked out. Through networking, a junior oil company approached Wiacek for his expertise in an area he had worked in at Mobil. Between late 1992 to 1995, he worked for Hillcrest Resources. When the company got taken over by Mark Resources, he accepted a position with Mark. At the end of 1995, Wiacek went to work for Crestar Energy. He wasn't looking for work, but in mid 1997, Renaissance made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Four years ago, Wiacek unexpectedly became a single father of a two-week old baby boy and a two and a half-year old son. With the help of his family and hired nannies, Wiacek has managed his career and family life. His situation has not affected his career. If anything, being a single parent has helped, explains Wiacek, "It changed my personality. I used to be shyer and introverted. People always ask you what's happening, so you've got to open up more. You reflect on yourself and take stock as to what's important and what's not. At the end of your day, your career isn't really that important. You tend to be more relaxed. Things don't bug you at the office as much. That helps with this kind of job where there's stress. You're under the gun for a lot of stuff. So you don't let it bug you and you can cope with it a lot easier." Employers he feels nowadays are accommodating to working parents. The key is being productive at the office. His after hours are filled with the joys of raising two great boys who candidly share their unsolicited thoughts at the most inopportune moments. Of course, that leaves little time for a social life. So for one week a year, Wiacek rewards himself with a holiday away from the children. Such a ritual he recommends for working parents of any circumstance.
Carol Laws – Balancing Work, Family and Play
Carol Laws, 43, is Chief Geophysicist at Elk Point Resources in Calgary. A 1978 Queen's University graduate, she started her career at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton. Then in early 1979, she went to work for Esso, hired on as a geologist for Northeast B.C. It was there that she proposed an exciting seismic program and after six months, she was transferred to the East Coast division, to learn seismic interpretation. Geophysics caught her fancy to the extent that she took university geophysics courses after working hours.
In early 1982, Carol was hired on as a geophysicist for Husky. For the next 15 years, her work at Husky kept her challenged. She worked in the East Coast and Beaufort Sea regions until 1986. Then for the next five years, she worked on deep basin plays in the western sedimentary basin. For her last six years at Husky, she was focused in exploration for the Northeast B.C. and Foothills regions, "I just loved it because it was like the good old Frontier days. In Frontier Exploration, during the PIP Grant regime, we're shooting so much seismic, and drilling more Frontier wells than people would drill during their entire careers." In 1997, Carol joined her present employer. Working for a small oil company was in the back of her mind when she approached headhunters for a job change. "I wouldn't want to go back working for a big oil company. You get so much variety in the job. You get to see everything. You're responsible for everything."
A mother of four children between the ages of 7 to 14 years of age, Carol worked three days a week after the birth of her third child . This work arrangement was the best compromise for the family, says Carol. "But it was not enough time for work. For me to really feel part of the work, the best compromise was to work four days a week."
At Elk Point, she works full-time with the exception of nine weeks during the summer months when she puts in a four-day work week. Maintaining life balance is essential for stress control. "When I'm happy with my job, I find the stress is manageable. I manage stress by doing something different. Work is a stress relief from home and home is a stress relief from work," says Carol who also plays squash three times weekly during her lunch breaks and indoor soccer after hours. Monitoring volunteer time prudently is also important. Still, Carol has squeezed in time to organize the Ski Spree races for the past three years.
Guerrilla Career Tactics for Aging Baby Boomers
Geophysicists with five to ten years of experience are hot enough to write their own meal ticket. This group is so rare that junior geophysicists with just two years of experience report being stalked by headhunters. But for the bulging aging Baby Boomers, employers can afford to be picky.
Companies became lean and mean during the last downturn, that many employers wrote off the wisdom of the mature geophysicists in favor of the cheaper and less experienced geophysicists. Jeff Webber, a compensation consultant for William Mercer Ltd. in Calgary, says companies benefit from the mentoring and leadership that comes with hiring mature individuals. He anticipates a worldwide shortage of skilled professionals, which has become critical enough that American companies are luring away some of Canada's best talent. While the immediate future may be tough on mature geophysicists, Webber is optimistic that the critical shortage of professionals will be apparent within ten years, if not five.
John MacKay, a recruiter with O'Callaghan Honey/Ray Berndtson Inc in Calgary, advises geophysicists who want to sustain their careers to continually expose themselves to various corporate cultures, "Employers are looking for flexibility. They look at the cultural fit. If you take someone who has worked only at a major, he or she is less attractive than somebody who has changed jobs several times. The cultural understanding is how other companies work, how leaders think, how decision making models are made, and demonstrated success in these environments."
He suggests that in addition to their technical skills, geophysicists require a business mindset to maintain their competitive edge. Delivering to the corporate bottom line also delivers to sustainability of one's career. With the perception that mature geophysicists are too expensive for hire, individuals who suddenly find themselves looking for work have to consider the consulting business, if they are entrepreneurial-inclined, or a change of careers. Opportunity 45 is one agency that offers free individual counseling and career-related programs for geophysicists in search of employment.
Peter Edwards, executive search consultant with Conroy Associates does not necessary agree that age is a barrier to employment. Attitude and personality are two intangible attributes, which often determine whether a person is hired for the job. In this industry, optimism is mandatory.