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Interview with a geoscientist

SophiaDonaldson23 March 2015

James photoDr James Scotchman gained his PhD in Geology from UCL, and now works as a Geoscientist at Neftex Petroleum Consultants Ltd, a consultancy company that helps clients in natural resource exploration.

How did you move from your PhD into your current role?

Prior to leaving academia in 2012 I studied at UCL, gaining an MSci and a PhD in geology. My postgraduate research focussed on the study of Eocene climate and its influence on the geological record. During my PhD I was lucky enough to be offered an internship with ExxonMobil at their research centre in Houston, Texas. Whilst there I gained an insight into the role research has within hydrocarbon exploration.

With my PhD completed I was confronted the choice of either continuing in research or entering into industry. I decided to apply for both.

Post doctoral applications – In the time between interviews I began to write up chapters from my PhD for publication as this would help toward post doctoral positions I was applying for. By the time I was invited for interview I had two draft manuscripts ready for submission to peer-reviewed journals. For me the upside of continuing within research was the ability to focus on my interests and possibly hang on to the student lifestyle! The large down side I could foresee was the need for periodical re-application for funding so that I could continue research and potentially move institutions. Such uncertainty did not sound like fun to me.

Industry applications – I applied for several graduate programs including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Statoil. With my focus on completing my PhD in the autumn/winter of 2012 I neglected to apply in time for many of the graduate programs, resulting in many of them being full for that year. For those graduate programs I was offered an interview the process was gruelling. Despite this, the hope was to enter one of these graduate programs with longer term employment prospects compared with postdoctoral positions. With applications to the larger hydrocarbon exploration companies being unsuccessful I turned to the smaller independent and consulting companies. Overall the interviews for these positions were more fulfilling with many valuable lessons learned from each one. The most valuable lesson learnt toward the end of my search was to highlight to the employers how I could apply my skills to what the company did and help them make more money/sales etc. Up to this point I had mainly described what I had done previously. Once I had realised this rather obvious lesson I was offered two positions that includes where I am today.

What I like about working in my role

My current role enables me to apply the skills (both geological and transferrable) gained from my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to a range of problems. Overall the position is a great combination of research and industry.

What are my biggest challenges?

With the position being a combination of research and industry there is no real downside, except for having a fixed work day. The days of lazing around in bed are well and truly over!

To what extent do I use my specialist knowledge and/or higher level skills obtained from my PhD?

Within my role the specialist knowledge I gained from my PhD is used from time to time depending upon the project focus. General geological concepts along with transferrable skills developed during my research are used on a daily basis. These skills include the use of MATLAB and Excel for processing large datasets and general presentation skills.

My top tips

As I stated earlier the best tip is to sell yourself to the employer by stating how you can apply what you have learnt to their problem/business. Talk to your supervisor(s) about what you are interested in and chat to people at conferences. You never know what can happen through networking!