In this issue of the RECORDER we are introducing a new section titled ‘Expert Answers’. Under this section we are going to pose questions of both general and technical interest to our members, to well-known geophysicists and also who are considered authorities in a certain area within the geophysical domain and get their answers. As these answers could have an individualistic tone we decided to request the answers from more than one expert in any area. To begin with, we have selected the following general question and include the answers given by six well-known geophysicists. We thank them for encouraging us with their responses. The next issue will have some expert answers to questions from the field of seismic data acquisition. Readers are encouraged to send us their feedback and even questions they would like to get answered by experts.
What does it take to be a successful exploration geophysicist?
Well, as we all know, many factors contribute to successes on one’s career. But the critical ones are passion, learning and creativity, and networking and communication.
Have passion, and a lot of it: in order to succeed, you must have passion in what you do. When I started learning English in college, one of the first sentences I learned was “do what you like, and like what you do”. When you chose exploration geophysics as your career, you have started “doing what you like”. Now you need passion to succeed. I feel strongly that when you have passion in something, you are willing to put a lot of effort into it. When you put a lot of effort into it, you are very likely to succeed.
Learn, create, apply, and share: exploration geophysics today and tomorrow is very different from what it was 20 years ago. You must keep learning to be on top of new developments and technologies; you must be creative; you must apply and practice your learning and knowledge to create value; and you must share your knowledge and experience to create more value. One measure of success is how much value you have generated for society (and for yourself, of course).
Network and communicate: The world seems to get smaller and smaller. Everyone seems to know everyone else in the exploration industry. No matter how intelligent you are, you will need help from others to succeed. No matter how great the ideas you have and how great the products you create, they have no value to others if others do not know their existence or do not use them. Another measure of success is how much you are helping others succeed.
Zhijing (Zee) Wang
Chevron Texaco E&P Technology Co.
This is a non-trivial question. One could get into many areas, beginning with a definition of “successful”. Does it refer to a sense of career satisfaction and/or contributing to the discovery of additional hydrocarbon reserves?
Clearly the requirements involve a fundamental understanding of the basics and pitfalls in seismic data as well as the geological nature of the depositional environment, structural deformation and the habitat of hydrocarbons. Michael Enachescu always advocated keeping the GEO(logy) in GEOphysics.
However, perhaps the most important attributes, as in any scientific discipline involve the following characteristics as suggested by Michael T. Gelb (1998) in his fascinating book “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci”:
- Test knowledge through experience
- Refine the sense, especially sight
- Embrace uncertainty, paradox
- Balance logic and imagination
- Systems thinking, integration
- Cultivate fitness, poise and grace
In answering the question “what does it take to be a successful exploration geophysicist?” we first have to answer a few other basic questions. First, what do we mean by the term “exploration geophysicist” and, second, what do we mean by “successful”? I will answer the first question by defining an exploration geophysicist as someone who applies geophysical techniques in the search for new mineral resources in areas of the earth that have not been extensively explored (note that I am excluding the development geophysicist, who simply “steps out” from a known play). The answer to the second question is that a successful exploration geophysicist is one who actually finds these mineral resources!
Now that I have clarified the original question, let me provide an answer. A successful exploration geophysicist is an individual who combines four essential qualities. First, they have an understanding of the geophysical techniques that they are using, which requires a reasonable aptitude for physics and mathematics. Second, they understand the exploration play that they are looking for, which requires an understanding of geology. Third, they have a creative imagination, which allows them to “think outside the box” and not be constrained by what others have previously done. Finally, they have a gambler’s instinct, which allows them to take risks that would deter others. That is, they are not afraid to fail.
I should point out that the person I have just described is very rare indeed!
Hampson Russell Software
First Satinder, thank you for including me with this distinguished group of highly respected and admired exploration geophysicists. It is a great honor.
Exploration Geophysics is a borderline science that requires a very high amount of multi-disciplinary learning, permanent updating, experimenting and field ground truthing. The field is populated with many dedicated individuals that have great careers and contribute tremendously to their communities.
I find that discovering your professional call early in student years is a very important step in someone’s career. Being taught and mentored in university and in your first working years by other successful geophysicists with strong technical skills and personalities is extremely important. As a young aspiring professional, you want to be like them, and build upon their knowledge and experiences. Besides geophysics, some of the main qualities needed to become a successful practitioner are good background knowledge in other geosciences, physics, mathematics, and computer science. Curiosity, imagination and original and positive thinking are foremost qualities of an explorationist persona. Resilience, endurance, ability to adapt, and everlasting enthusiasm are also personality traits required. During your professional life, you will encounter lots of adversity due to the fluctuation of resource prices and ever changing industry. Budget cuts, personnel change, bad management, permanent change of focus, sheep mentality in exploration, re-organizations, re-engineering of the work place, mergers, acquisitions, under-capitalization, and bankruptcies, personal life tribulations and doubts, are just some of the challenges facing professionals today.
In my case, all this was complicated by political difficulties in my home country, and a strong impulse to speak my not always “exploration-oriented” mind. Therefore, I was obliged to change countries, cities and work places a few times. Fortunately, everywhere I left or went, I have encountered successful geophysicists and met quality explorationists (and dreamers) that helped me to set on a new course and discover new challenges.
Every exploration subject, area, prospect, and research is different. Our individual mastering of the profession, let’s admit it, is quite limited, so we have to permanently rely on advice from trustworthy experts in the various domains of geophysics. Knowing these individuals and cultivating their friendship is a must, as often we build our success on their not always acknowledged contributions. Maintaining an active personal network of support is essential; I am very indebted to many outstanding professionals that have influenced my work and helped achieve my exploration tasks.
Sharing your team’s important results at meetings, conferences, and whenever possible, publishing papers on exploration subjects will help document the efforts, and maintain or improve the research and presentation skills demanded by this profession. Other requirements are participation to continuous geoscience education, full support and attachment for the local university or Alma mater and volunteering in the exploration community.
And lastly, the qualities that probably all my colleagues and friends are waiting for me to spell out: it takes tolerance for failure and absolute passion for the exploration game to succeed in the long run.
Memorial University of Newfoundland
In responding to this seemingly straight forward question, I realized how complex the response soon became. To place my thoughts into context, my background has been that of a seismic interpreter functioning as a prospect generator for over 20 years. While geophysics is a science, prospect generating is all about creating value from an idea and the subsequent blending of art and science. The exploration geophysicist often deals with mere tacits of information which must be woven into a plausible and scientifically defendable story about the potential value of an investment opportunity.
The successful exploration geophysicist possesses a high degree of technical competence which is honed to achieve a high level of technical excellence. This technical excellence is merely a price of admission criteria for the successful exploration geophysicist. Simply stated, the successful exploration geophysicist knows their craft. Often they possess several areas of technical expertise yet they perceive their technical knowledge as a necessary requirement to solving a practical exploration challenge. Recognizing the limits of their own knowledge, the successful exploration geophysicist knows who to consult in order to access the knowledge required to help solve their next technical problem or challenge. While always looking for a simple approach, they possess the capacitance to innovate new solutions to solve the next problem, if need be. All the while, the successful exploration geophysicist keeps his or her eye on the target.
The target in this case is to use the science to mitigate the drilling risk associated with the potential for value creation.
The successful exploration geophysicist is self motivating in this process. They possess an internal drive, desire, curiosity or determination to seek out these opportunities. Their business acumen permits them to ascertain the principle exploratory risks associated with any given opportunity. Their technical diagnostic skills permit them to identify what sub-technologies of their craft can best be deployed to image the sub-surface better. The most successful exploration geophysicists often know what the essence of the economics will look like before anyone sits down to run the economics. In the eyes of a thoroughbred exploration geophysicist, economics is merely an exercise to quantify and describe the value that they already perceive, such that others can identify with it and understand it. Their intuition and insight instinctively provide them the ability to ferret out opportunities that others cannot even identify. They are most comfortable functioning in the world of possibility where their creativity and insight offers them multiple possible explanations for an observed set of phenomena. The successful exploration geophysicist does not stop at the first plausible explanation! They seek out other possibilities to describe the phenomena observed. The successful exploration geophysicist is always driven to seek that which is different or anomalous.
The more successful exploration geophysicists consistently drill wells with a 10 – 15 percent chance of success and routinely achieve a drilling success ratio above 50 percent. They are masters at beating the odds. They apply the rules and rigor of the science to quantify the value of the investment opportunity and to mitigate the drilling risk associated with accessing the opportunity. These individuals also have to be totally comfortable with the possibility of failure through a dry hole. A dry hole however provides the successful exploration geophysicist with new information which is then used to further understand the exploration problem. It is within this process that the successful exploration geophysicist derives his or her motivation. The quest is the challenge. It is the root of their motivation!
Over the years, technology evolves but then again some things never change. The one thing that remains constant is that geophysicists are always using technology to draw ever m o re accurate pictures of the sub-surface of the Earth so as to mitigate the drilling risk associated with a new investment opportunity.
Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd.
Anyone who has the wisdom to select geophysics in the first place is, of course, on the road to success – exploration being one of the noblest of all human endeavors and harvesting the Earth’s subsurface bounty a requisite for human prosperity. That being said, I would offer that professional success includes that which creates wealth, elevates others, increases understanding, and is personally satisfying. So, what are the human qualities that can lead to this?
Geophysics is a “hard” science, so we must be analytic, persevering, and pretty dedicated. The most gifted geophysicists, who I’ve been fortunate to know, are also curious and conceptual (and frequently musicians). The laws of physics are international as are resources, so a breadth of view and openness are often part of a geophysicist’s character. An explorationist needs to be energetic and optimistic: a nay-saying nature is unlikely to be innovative or resource finding.
Much of our science and its practice is done with a team. Thus, it serves us well to have an appreciation for people and a certain level of patience (hopefully, they’ll return similar consideration!). Finally, those who are blessed with a desire and ability to manage, mentor, and communicate are instrumental in helping others realize their own successes.
Exploration geophysics is a wonderful combination of gambling and discovery, science and technology, nature and cultures, ideas and money. Fortunately, there’s room for many personalities and aptitudes.
University of Calgary