There was a time when a university degree in a specialized field such as geophysics was a bridge that helped young graduates cross over from the world of
academia and secure a job in the industry. Today’s reality, however, is that geophysics graduates can step out of university with a degree in hand and
still plunge into an unemployment abyss between the two worlds.
“There’s the cycle where the graduates don’t have a job because they don’t have experience, but they don’t have experience because they don’t have a job,”
says Daniel Loas, a University of Calgary fourth-year geophysics student.
It is especially tough for Loas and his geophysics peers to get that first-hand industry experience. Geology students “will often do summer jobs in field
work or they’ll do field schools and look at rocks and things,” explains Tiffany Piercey from Cold Lake Geoscience at Imperial Oil Resources, “but for
geophysical students, because it involves a lot of high-tech equipment, the exposure they get can be limited.”
So with this in mind, five years ago, a handful of University of Calgary geophysics students, who were also Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists
(CSEG) outreach volunteers, decided it was time to develop a way to get that exposure. “They wanted a field trip that would expand their technical
knowledge and bridge the gap between academia and industry as well as introduce them to industry professionals so they could network and begin to build
relationships that could hopefully lead to a job one day,” says Loas.
With the support of the CSEG Foundation, the Geophysical Industry Field Trip (GIFT) was born. In its first year, in 2009, the field trip was a small,
one-day event with just a few Calgary students. Within a few years, it had grown more intensive, covering every aspect of geophysics on the ground. Major
industry leaders such as Canadian Natural Resources, Osum, Petrobakken, Talisman, Imperial Oil, Bonavista and Jason a CGG Company have joined in as
industry sponsors and, in some cases, as venue hosts that prepare presentations for participants.
“You’re able to see from the field where they are gathering the data to the final product where they say this is a good prospect for drilling,” says Loas,
who took the trip last year and was the chair of its planning committee this year. “You get to see the big picture.”
2013: GIFT gets bigger
When Loas was handed the baton to organize the 2013 field trip, he was determined to work with his teammates to build it bigger and stronger. “I think I
can contribute something nice to GIFT and make it better,” he said in the leadup to the trip, which occurred June 6 to 8. “The committee and I have put a
lot of hours into it because there are so many people coming that we know and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them. I want them to learn as much as I learned
last year, so I’d like to share the same opportunities and same knowledge. The better GIFT becomes, the better for future students.”
The biggest change for 2013 was that the field trip was extended to three days that included technical presentations in seismic survey design, acquisition,
processing, and interpretation, as well as a tour of the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre. The tour included a history of the museum and explanation of
significant local geological features from the museum’s president, Rick Green, and a geology hike in Canmore was led by award-winning author, geologist and
Rocky Mountains expert Ben Gadd. “He’s quite well known in the geological world and having him lead us on the hike was great,” says Meaghan Wright, who
studies geophysics at the University of Calgary. “There were lots of opportunities for networking too. The first night, they had a sponsor event in the
pub, so we were able to talk to people from the different companies that help fund this. It was a huge opportunity for all of us.”
Loas and his fellow student organizers – with the support of Piercey and Stephen Kotkas as the CSEG Foundation and industry reps – reached out to more
students than ever from across the country to attend GIFT. The field trip cost each student $150, and the CSEG Foundation also offered travel subsidies to
out-of-province students. The trip provided an opportunity for students from other parts of Canada to experience Alberta’s oil and mining industries and
the Rocky Mountains, and that was particularly rewarding for Loas and fellow participants from Calgary.
It was also rewarding for the sponsors, particularly Imperial Oil, which was a venue host. “We actually look at GIFT as one of our main geophysical
recruiting opportunities,” says Piercey. “This year especially, since we had a very broad reach of students from Canadian universities attend. And being a
venue host was also a great opportunity for us to showcase Imperial and what we do and hopefully show the students that we are an employer of choice.”
In all, GIFT hosted 42 participants, from B.C. to New Brunswick, and included not just undergrads but also students working on their doctorates. “There are
lot of graduate students in geophysics who have a math or physics background and they come in to do very specific research in their graduate programs, so
bringing them back to basics and showing them the progression of how the geophysical industry works – from planning to acquisition, to processing to
interpretation – shows them the big picture,” Piercey says.
From classroom to world-class high tech
Piercey helped plan Imperial’s presentations: “We wanted to show them something really interesting, so what we did was choose two different heavy oil
assets: one that’s been producing for a long time and one in the exploration development phase. We split the group in two, and sent one group to see the
exploratory work and all that goes into defining where the oil is and the work that goes into that, then the other group looked at how we do surveillance
on an oil field that’s been producing for a long time. Then we swapped the groups.”
Students were able to see world-class 3D seismic data technology at use. “We showed them a seismic cube, where you’re able to pick out different geological
features really well,” she explained. “There’s such high definition, so they are able to see the slices and what the data looks like and how we scientists
go about interpreting the data and what we see when we look at it. Then we took the data and interpretations and built a 3D geological model. When we
showed the students the model, they were quite in awe. We also brought them into our visualization room, which has a big panorama screen. Students can
probably do interpreting in the schools, but in order to do the kind of high-end geological modelling [that] we do, you need really high-performing
computers. We also have global experts on modelling who have worked on this project, so without their expertise and the high computing power we have, it
would be impossible for the students to see something like this.”
At Jason, one of the four corporate venues, students were given an interactive presentation of technology used to accurately tie wells and seismic
information – an important step in reservoir characterization.
“They showed us some seismic and said ‘We’d like you to pick the horizon and interpret it for us’ and ‘do you see something that stands out?’” says Wright.
“I really liked that. They explained a theory, and then let us try it.”
While Dennis Ellison, a geophysicist who attended GIFT last year before graduating from the University of Calgary, does not credit GIFT directly with
helping him land a job at Calgary-based Thrust Belt Imaging, he says it gave him a better idea of how the industry works. “It definitely gave me the
experience and built on the knowledge I had,” he says. “I also met some new people there and reinforced relationships I’d already made.”