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Advice for New Graduates in these Times of Low Oil Prices

Updated on Jan 27, 2016 3211 views
Hello guys, I found this article on and thought I should share. The article is one every fresh graduate should read even if you don’t intend working in an oil company.  Read on and drop your comments below.

While the article is not written for college graduates in Nigeria, the lessons resonate across boundaries and would prove useful for you anywhere you are.

This is obviously not the best time to be graduating in Geology, Geophysics or Engineering if you are planning a career in oil and gas. However this is not the first time that such a precipitous fall in prices has occurred, and many of us graduated when the price of oil previously hit low levels similar to the current situation. I chose 1985 to enter the job market, with a BSc. in Geology from Imperial College, London. Oil prices dipped to around $10 a barrel the following year, and there seemed no route into the oil industry. I applied for a technician`s position with a Supermajor only to find out that there were 178 applicants, and I was considered overqualified.

After a year of working in temporary jobs, including dish washing at a film studio and working in a fertilizer factory, I began a career in mining in South Africa. Then I worked as a marine geologist surveying cable routes, and did a Masters and a PhD before I was finally taken on by Shell in the late 90s. I would imagine that many of you new graduates will follow similarly tortuous routes before finally landing an oil job, if you don’t give up first.

So what should a new graduate be doing to try and position themselves for when prices finally begin to creep their way upwards towards “recovery” (the mythical upturn)? We addressed this question at the WIUGC (Western Inter-University Geoscience Conference, held in Western Canada) recently, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the suggestions.

Build your network:
Contact other geologists, get to conferences (taking advantage of student rates or see item 4. below, regarding volunteering), and ask to connect on Oilpro with as many relevant oil and gas professionals as you can. Face to face meetings will obviously be of most benefit. When you get to events, take the bull by the horns and go and introduce yourself. Read up on the speaker and his or her research field so that you have something intelligent to contribute. Ask questions (politely) and you will hopefully be remembered.

Keep your options open: You may have carefully tailored your degree to a career in oil and gas, but have you considered the following associated disciplines?

â—¦Mining (especially in remote or less politically desirable areas);
â—¦Environmental geology;
â—¦Interpreter in a National or Provincial Park (Yellowstone or Dinosaurn Provincial Park would be great, even if you start off by volunteering for a summer);
â—¦Provincial or city museum.

Almost any job will be be relevant in some way – it may boost your computer skills, give you practice in presenting, or at the very least expose you to other people and their experiences. This can later be parlayed into “relevant” experience on your CV, as well as providing you with a salary to keep the wolf from the door.

Consider travelling: First off this will almost certainly provide you with valuable life experience, and will be of interest to many employers as you demonstrate your independence. You could also visit areas like Perth, where your proximity to oil and gas operations may lead you into roles that would not be advertised, such as joining a seismic crew. I got to join a seismic crew for a few days in Rangely, Colorado after simply turning up while on a geology road trip, so it can happen. Yes, these operations have been scaled down currently, but never give up.

Volunteer: Join the relevant organisations, and attend the meetings and conferences. You can usually volunteer to man booths, receptions, etc. at conferences and you get to attend for free. You will get huge chances to network almost for free. Most organisations, like CSPG and AAPG, have reduced rates for students. You can also volunteer for many other organisations including National Parks. If so, try to choose ones with a geological theme to maximise experience.

Postgraduate studies: Many students have wisely signed up for Masters degrees. This is like entering a holding pattern while you wait for oil prices to rise, while gaining a valuable qualification. I cannot recommend either course- or thesis-based Masters programs, but both will provide you with valuable tools relevant to the industry. My personal favourites are thesis-based Masters, because completing one demonstrates resilience, an ability to close out a project, and an ability to collect, collate, evaluate, integrate and interpret data, and then to share the results with others. Of course you can leverage your project by presenting at technical conferences or for special interest groups, which will put you in the public eye and help to build your networks.

Regarding PhDs, my experience suggests that the key attributes are a project that is somewhat relevant to industry (preferably funded by a single or a consortium of oil companies). In addition it should be of interest to you, as you will spend an absolute minimum of three years working on it. If it is field based, so much the better.
Graduate students are also commonly looking for field assistants, and you might be able to pick up a cool travel opportunity with learning and field experience thrown in. Room and board are usually included. Visit the Geology department at your local university and put your name out there as being keen to help out. You may also get to help out with labs and as a demonstrator. I guarantee that you will learn a great deal if you take on this kind of role.

Be imaginative: There are many other ways to “keep your hand in”. Do some off the cuff fieldwork. Read some papers. Take free courses online. Learn oil field terminology. Go into schools and give presentations. Turn up at museums and ask what you can do to help. Set up a field trip looking at building stones in your community and advertise it online. Let your imagination run wild.

This list barely scratches the surface. I welcome comments and further suggestions from all those experienced and grizzled professionals who have weathered this particular storm in their past. Meanwhile good luck to every graduate and remember that fortune favours the brave. For those of us who graduated when oil prices were low, clawing our way into the industry has left us in a position where there is less competition because so many of our peers never made it into the industry. Many of them are instead now in IT or working as bank managers or in town planning. Is that what you want?

At the end of the day, history suggests that oil prices will rise again at some point, at which point you can start applying for all those new opportunities. The key thing is not to let this waiting period go to waste.

Thanks are owed to Don Weir and Ryan Lemiski for their excellent and thought provoking contributions to this article.

Staff Writer

This article was written and edited by a staff writer.

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