I get so many questions from every experience level of Petroleum Geoscientist (and parallel skill sets) about what their career options are, so I put some thought into it…interviewed some who took a different path…and came up with this. I hope it is useful.

This article mostly addresses the issue when a newly graduated petroleum geoscientist hits the market with unfortunate timing. Likewise, when one with very lighter experience (~1-3 years) is laid off, what can be done?

In my experience, there is a very narrow window of time to make the transition from university to the petroleum industry. What saddens me is for those who have a passion for petroleum and have the door shut on that dream due to no fault of their own.

Why the narrow window? I am sure there is more than one reason, but in one or two years a lot can change with technology and overall increase in knowledge for exploration and production. It used to perplex me when my clients rejected an excellent Exploration Geologist/Geophysicist who had four solid years of work deep water GOM, three years prior to that time. In other words, he had not done deepwater GOM exploration for three years.

My clients wanted recent experience deepwater GOM. Over the years, I have asked many senior petroleum geoscientists about this. Most say that geology takes millions of years to change, so what could possibly change within the subsurface in three years? Sounds reasonable, but….

I finally ran into one who had a different take. He explained that with the advancement of 3D seismic, new attributes were revealed that could significantly change the interpretation of the subsurface. He suggested that my clients probably wanted those who had already been using these models for their interpretations and not the old models. The attributes revealed by each model can differ significantly, and they probably want geoscientists who had been doing interpretations with the latest revelations available. I can see that. I am sure this applies to other emerging technologies too. It is still frustrating, though.

The point is…things change…rapidly.

So, I am not saying to give up on one’s dream, because folks DO crack that barrier years after graduating …albeit occasionally, but what other options are available that can be rewarding both financially and technically?

There is more than one option for those coming out of school with a geoscience degree.

Geoscience Application Support Analyst

Ok, so I am starting off with the one close to my heart, since it is an area in which I heavily recruit.

Subsurface Applications + E&P workflows + IT knowledge (mostly database and scripting) = Huge Value

One can build a solid career supporting the applications and systems used for Exploration and Production. I know of one Geophysicist who moved to this field 20+ years ago kept the same base salary he had as an E&P Geophysicist (~$185k base plus bonuses totaling ~$220k), but I see most top out after 10+ years of experience at ~$150k plus bonuses in the range of 10-20% of base salary. That’s a nice living.

One nice aspect of this niche is that it is critical to operations. For this reason it often cohabitates with, and reports to, the Operations side of the house. For those of you who don’t know enough about this subject to appreciate it, reporting to the operations side is always the most desirable option. Operations understands and respects what these folks do so much more than corporate IT can, and pay is ~20% higher because of it. No joke. When a company moves these guys under corporate IT, I always get calls asking me to get them out to a company that will have them reporting to operations, because they feel that their work is so much more respected within operations.

Here I have to quote a contact of mine who is on the IT side of geosciences. He is a Geologist by education and had a similar experience to many now when the bottom dropped out on him in the 80’s. It think he says it better than I can.

“Why I would encourage geo’s with some experience and without a job to look at IT is because they have likely learned where the inefficiencies are for geoscientists working with G&G software! To me, it’s crazy to watch how much time is spent by people with geology degrees copy-pasting, re-formatting tabular data, importing/exporting… that’s when you realize the power of scripting, automation, integration, and I think that’s where a cross-over Business-IT background becomes really valuable. Realizing what should be the true goals of information technology – empowering the business to work faster, more effectively and more efficiently. Explaining to business users how small changes in their operating procedures could eliminate duplication, repetition, and loss of data… you have me on a rant now.” – current Analyst at a Major Oil & Gas company.

The key here is that he understands the workflows around the geoscience applications. You can’t get a degree in IT and know this. You have to be educated as a geoscientist. To learn these workflows on the job is extremely difficult, although some have….but only after several years. You and I both know that companies no longer have the patience to wait that long for someone to get up to speed.

Get your PhD and weather the storm

If you are hell-bent on becoming a petroleum Exploration or Production Geologist, then good for you. Get your PhD and weather this storm. You will learn cool things and likely do what you want in the end. Just get good counseling on what subject to do your thesis. We should be on more solid footing the second half of 2016.

Nuclear Option – work for free. Doing anything to keep your hands in

When I say “for free”, I mean “for free”. Don’t approach potential experience and try to get any commitment (psychological contract) from them about what will happen if things turn around. Just be passionate and enthusiastic about the work and be committed. Work hard.

I have heard several accounts of young professionals offering to work for free, just to keep in the mix. About three weeks ago, I personally had a conversation with a proud father whose son got laid off after 5 years of good work. He had a lot of confidence in his own abilities and offered to work for free to prove himself. Instead, he got hired on the spot. To an employer, that kind of confidence and enthusiasm is a highly attractive quality. I would even say it is a bit rare these days.

I am sure we hear far more disappointments than success stories, but success stories are out there. If you are good at what you do, and they start hiring again, you will have the internal relationships and the knowledge. That is a huge advantage to getting hired.

This just in…

When I write articles, a Sr. Petroleum Geologist I know will look over it for grammatical errors and/or factual inconsistencies. It is funny, but he also has worked free of charge before, and I suspect a lot more of these stories are out there. See his experience below….

“I once worked for free back in 1990 after being laid off from Oxy. The independent guy that I worked for was not in a position to hire me, but I had an office to go to with fax, copy machine etc-and I got out of the house. Plus I could put that time period on my resume.”

He also had additional advice…..

“One avenue for recent grads would be to try to get on with a mud logging company, but set a two year limit, then re-assess.”

Put your time in, and trust in the profession. This goes back to an article I wrote about [“Why I Recruit Petroleum Geoscientists”][2]…in general, they like to help folks and will if they can. It is a pretty sure bet that the folks you put your time in for will try everything in their power to get you on board when things come back up.

Geological Engineers

Geological Engineers have a strong career path that can be used in many industries and will use the studies you have already completed.


This is a related area of passion for most geoscientists I know. I don’t know any geoscientist…petroleum or otherwise…who doesn’t have deep concerns for our environment. The only problem with this field is that is not nearly as lucrative financially as petroleum. Once you embark on this journey, it is my experience that E&P is not a future prospect for you, unless perhaps it is on the HSE (Health, Safety and Environmental) side. HSE can be a good living but is highly sensitive to oil price plunges too.

Data Management

This is an area that is getting more intense focus now that making a drilling mistake is more costly than ever. The other aspect is the time savings by the geoscientists digging for data when they should be doing interpretations. This should not be overlooked. It is a real, and significant, cost. I do have to be honest, though, every geoscience professional I talk to who is in Data Management is struggling to get back into the interpretation side of things. Data Management is a valuable skill set, but until now has not been greatly appreciated.

Ex: I know a CIO for a mid-sized (maybe a bit smaller ~12B market cap) E&P company who proposed $1mm to implement a data management strategy. The response he got was that they already hit 9 out of 10 wells, so it was unnecessary. Of course, oil was $130/barrel then, but you get the idea. You can find this apathy industry-wide, until just recently.

I hear that several of the major oil and gas companies right now are focusing on their data management strategy, so they can move quickly once the price of oil rises again. I think more geoscientists will gravitate to the field as it continues to gain more respect.

Business Related

Reserves Estimations – can be done with an Oil & Gas company or with an independent consultant. The government also needs these skill sets. Has a big impact on company stock price.

Asset Evaluation – consulting and every Oil & Gas company needs people who can interpret, map, and estimate hydrocarbon volumes, so as to give the economics guys numbers to do their calculations and choose wisely as to which asset they purchase. Since services and leases are relatively less expensive, companies are rapidly buying good deals. This has become a hot area.


A law degree combined with a geoscience degree can be useful in lawsuits over a variety of issues in Oil & Gas, including leases, royalties, contract disputes, etc… Environmental lawsuits are becoming more common than ever.

Let’s also be real here. Some folks aren’t cut out to be a Petroleum Geoscientist, even if they do love the subject. Actually, you may be decent at it, but there is so much money riding on your work that companies are going to be highly…overly…selective. Every profession has the good ones and the bad ones…lawyers, doctors, engineers…you name it.

As a friend of mine says, at some point you have to put your face in a mirror and ask yourself if this is really what you are cut out to do.

There is no shame in taking a different path. History is packed with game changers who started off their careers in related…or totally different…professions – who changed the world. Literally.


Whatever you decide, dive in and don’t let go. It is often not the most brilliant who make the biggest difference in the world, but the most persistent.