A Column for You(th)

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

This month’s column is written specifically for the Student and young professional members of AAPG. If you’re older, your take-home message is at the end of the column.

AAPG will be 100 years old in 2017. We’d like to see it continue, but naturally, there are challenges.

One of the most critical challenges is cogently shown in this graph of AAPG membership by age. The central peak, ages 51 to 56, is the largest group, and where I reside. The peak to the left, ages 21-30, is the focus of this column. (And the small increase to the right indicates that the generation that trained my generation (ages >75) is slowly being silenced by the inexorable march of time.)

The peak to the left, ages 21-30, is the focus of this column.

Retaining and growing members like you is crucial to the future success of AAPG. All the programs we offer – services and science – are contingent on welcoming you into our Association. This fact has been recognized in the Strategic Plan, and I’ll keep discussing it in subsequent columns.

Let’s be frank – you’re probably not thinking too far into the future at this point in your career. You have finally graduated (or are about to), and hopefully you’re getting paid reasonably well for your efforts. Still, there may be student loans to pay. So you may be wondering ... Why should you spend money to join professional societies like AAPG? How can it possibly help your career?

About 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus stated that the only constant in life is change. For your careers, this means waves of changes that continuously intersect to form intriguing challenges – and opportunities.

The first wave is the rapid evolution in software and technology (drilling, well completions, stimulation, seismic interpretation and acquisition, and monitoring methods). With every passing year, new tools and techniques let us image the subsurface with details in which previous geoscientists could only dream. As a result, unconventional resources in the United States and Canada are being developed at an astounding rate. Another result is that the boundaries between disciplines – geology, geophysics, engineering – are continuing to blur. We need to rapidly absorb the basics of related fields, as needed.

The second wave is fluctuating business cycles. Worldwide, the oil and gas industry generally runs on business cycles of two or three years. For example, after the significant decrease in commodity prices with the global recession in late 2008, oil prices have largely recovered, whereas natural gas prices remain variable. To retain our value as experts, we need to predict what skills will be useful this year, and subsequent years. Statistically speaking, you will likely work for several companies in your career, whether it’s a major, an independent, or your own consultancy. (By the way, this is also true for those of you who currently work for National Oil Companies.) Plan accordingly.

Finally, the third wave is you. As you work on different projects, your interests may change. So you may need to learn new skills, and maybe even get a different job, to focus on what interests you.

What does all this mean?

My suggestion is that to ride these waves of change, approach your career as if you one day will work as a consultant. This means you should plan in terms of how you approach your work. Learn as much as you can, stay up on technology, develop good networking abilities, and continue updating your education all the time. When I started my career in 1978, I was told that our half-life in scientific knowledge is eight years. This means that every eight years you have to reinvent yourself, and I think that is still a good rule-of-thumb.

To succeed amidst these waves of change, you’ll need resources to call upon, resources that are greater than yourself. Consider professional societies such as AAPG as the only constant in your professional career. You’ll need up-to-date scientific knowledge to keep up with and ahead of trends. You’ll need to know people who can help you find jobs – and if you’re lucky, you’ll need to know who to hire.

AAPG is one of our best career resources. At a minimum, AAPG is a kind of professional insurance policy – some years you may use AAPG resources more than others, but the resources will always be there. Or you can take it a step further and become a leader, at the local, national or international level. My observation is that the more you engage the AAPG, the better chance you have for success in your career.

Now a message for those of you who are in the >40-year old category on the graph. Pick a colleague who is younger than you, and take him or her to lunch. Talk about how you are riding these waves of change in our profession; and while you’re at it, mention how professional societies have helped you. Treat this as a conversation between fellow travelers on the same path, not a monologue from an elder statesperson. As an educator, I am extremely fortunate to work with young geoscientists daily; they are passionate, well-informed, and assimilate large amounts of information quickly. You will learn an incredible amount from them.

It’s so simple for you to do this. But the interest you take in others will ultimately form your legacy and help AAPG enormously.

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