PhD student and graduate profiles
My first degree is in Geophysical Engineering from Universidad Simon Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela. After I graduated as a Geophysical Engineer, I worked for Schlumberger for 4 years before I decided to pursue an MSc in 2006. My performance in Schlumberger was key to obtaining full sponsorship for the MSc degree, which I decided to undertake at Imperial College London. I chose the MSc in Petroleum Geoscience from Imperial College as it is very comprehensive and adapted to the needs of Exploration and Development teams in petroleum companies. During my MSc studies, I was able to significantly broaden my knowledge and experience as a Geoscientist. For example, during the Barrel Award competition, I had the opportunity to work to strict deadlines and to apply my passion for exploration geoscience. In a multidisciplinary team exploring the North Sea, I was the seismic interpreter, mapping and applying seismic attributes to identify potential prospects.
" I worked for 4 years at Schlumberger until in 2012 my love and curiosity for salt tectonics took me back to Imperial College London to undertake a PhD."
I started a job with Schlumberger UK after completing my MSc, where I welcomed the opportunity to further develop my seismic interpretation skills in a variety of sedimentary basins offshore east and west Africa. I worked for 4 years in the Multiclient team until in 2012 my love and curiosity for salt tectonics took me back to Imperial College London to undertake a PhD. I decided to return to Imperial College for the PhD because I was particularly interested in the groundbreaking research by the Basin Research Group. Therefore, I decided to get in contact with Professor Christopher Jackson, who gave me the opportunity to work on a PhD research in the Santos Basin, offshore Brazil.
I love the cultural diversity at Imperial College London, the variety of nationalities you can find even by walking down the hallways. During my MSc and PhD studies, I made friends from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France, Italy, Spain, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago. Imperial College’s location in South Kensington is particularly exciting as I was able to, occasionally, enjoy the nearby museums and Hyde Park.
During the MSc, I particularly enjoyed the fieldtrips to the Wessex Basin and to the Book Cliffs and Onion Creek in Utah, USA. The MSc was, at times, very demanding and challenging due to the significant workload; however my passion for geoscience helped me to stay focused and successfully finish it.
What I enjoyed the most about my PhD was unveiling the geology from the seismic data. Seismic interpretation allows you to understand the geological evolution of sedimentary basins and I have always found that really inspiring.
The PhD was extremely challenging since, when I started it, I was already a mother of 2 girls. It was difficult and it took some time until I found the right balance between my family and the research. To keep up with a very hard routine, I focused on being healthy, by maintaining good nutrition and taking up running.
The MSc and PhD degrees from Imperial College London positively influenced my career as a Geoscientist. The MSc in Petroleum Geoscience was key to be able to start a career as a seismic interpreter in Schlumberger. The lectures are designed to provide you with the necessary skills to properly understand the range of basin-to-reservoir scales, and incorporate geological knowledge when doing seismic interpretation.
During my PhD, I integrated high-quality 3D seismic and well data from the deep-water Santos Basin, offshore Brazil. I gained insights into the depositional evolution and stratigraphic architecture of so-called ‘salt giants’ (i.e. thick, laterally extensive bodies of evaporites), and documented how salt-related deformation controlled deep-water sediment dispersal. I challenged previous studies and improved our current knowledge of the tectonostratigraphic evolution of the Santos Basin, an economically important, highly petroliferous salt basin. The PhD research was challenging, but it fostered my analytical ability and communication skills through presentations and writing papers. For example, I presented my work at conferences such as the annual meetings by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the British Sedimentological Research Group and the Applied Geodynamics Laboratory at the University of Texas. I also wrote three scientific papers to international, peer-reviewed journals, and I contributed to other four papers as a co-author.
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Before I came to Imperial College for my PhD, I studied in Germany and did a Bachelor’s degree in Geology/Mineralogy and a MSc in Marine Geosciences. While my undergraduate studies were more of a broad introduction to geoscience, I specialised in applied and marine geophysics during the MSc. I worked as a student assistant in an applied geophysics group and through that work, had the chance to go on international research cruises to acquire, process and interpret 2D seismic reflection data.
A PhD in the Basins Research Group
This experience provided me with a solid background for my PhD project which, to a large extent, required the interpretation of 2D and 3D seismic reflection data. In my PhD project, I investigated the role of pre-existing structures within crystalline basement on the evolution of rift basins using the northern North Sea as a case study. In addition to seismic data, I used borehole, gravity and magnetic data, as well as simple synthetic seismogram and forward modelling of gravity and magnetic data to reveal and characterize intra-basement structures. The integration of these different data types and methods enabled me to establish a sound subsurface model of my study area and to assess different factors controlling the reactivation of pre-existing structures.
What I enjoyed most about studying at Imperial College was to be part of a big and vibrant research group (Basins Research Group), to learn lots of new technical skills, and to be able to design and manage my own project. Furthermore, I largely benefited from departmental events (e.g. invited talks from industry and academia), demonstrating on undergraduate, and postgraduate classes and field courses, and events organised by student societies such as the AAPG and EAGE student chapters. I strongly recommend new students to attend these events or to become a member of a student chapter and to use the opportunity to network with people from different universities and companies. In addition, I found the courses and events organized by the Imperial College Careers Service very useful for preparing for job applications and interviews.
Internships and career
During my PhD, I had the opportunity to do a 4 month internship with Shell in The Hague. This was a great experience and I learned a lot about hydrocarbon exploration and how companies operate. It was also then when I realised that I would like leave academia and work for a company.
After finishing my PhD, I started working as a Senior Geologist at Statoil ASA in Oslo. My current tasks mainly concern super-regional exploration in frontier areas. This work requires the integration of lots of different data sets (e.g. seismic, gravity, magnetic, borehole data, plate-tectonic reconstructions etc.), and forms the basis for our understanding of the subsurface geology in under-explored areas. Statoil has different departments within exploration that work at different scales and time lines. For example, 'Regional exploration' teams ultimately provide recommendations for areas that are most prospective for hydrocarbons, whereas 'Access teams' are responsible for acquiring new licenses and evaluating prospects. In turn, 'License or Asset teams' do very detailed work within an existing license, including the drilling of potential exploration wells. Apart from 'Exploration', geologists can also work in Research, Production and Field Development, Data management, or transition to the Renewable Energy department (wind energy).
In my first 2 months with Statoil I have been very busy with training courses, on-the-job-learning and presenting my work to management. However, it has been great fun and I enjoy working in a diverse team. Every day I am learning something new and there's a great network of people across the company that helped me to find my place within exploration very quickly.
My advice for students who are interested in an industry career is: network, network, network and get work experience through internships.
During my MSci in Geophysics at Imperial, I did an internship at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands in the Earth Observation department, and my final year project involved remote sensing. Following my first degree, I was offered a year-long Young Graduate Trainee position in Earth Observation at the European Space Agency in Rome. After this, I turned my scientific observations under the surface, when I did a PhD in Numerical/Marine Geophysics at Imperial, studying the break-up of South America and Africa approximately 130Ma. I still used varying amounts of Earth Observation data throughout my PhD, in order to help me see the bigger picture.
I used a much-needed mental health break after my PhD, to assess what I wanted to do next in my career. When the advertisement for the R&D Scientific/Technical Manager role at isardSAT landed in my inbox, I was instantly drawn to it. It asked for someone with ESA experience, for someone with a numerate degree, and it was based in the Space Sector – I felt like I was a very good fit!
What does your job involve?
isardSAT is a research and services provider enterprise in the Earth Observation Field. Our overarching aim is to improve the quality of the Earth by understanding the nature of its changes. We do this through the use of Earth Observation data, more specifically dealing with altimetry, passive microwave and SAR imaging.
As the Scientific/Technical Manager of the UK office, my role is to help nurture and expand our projects in the UK, both through funding calls for new research, and commercially for our off-the-shelf products. On a day-to-day basis, this includes reaching out to potential consortium partners and clients. I need to keep up to date with developments in the Space Industry. As a lot of projects are born at networking events, I get to travel on a national scale frequently, with the possibility of international travel.
An even more important part of my job is understanding the science and technicalities of the different projects we have within the company. With respect to earth observation satellites, we have projects dealing with both ‘upstream’ sector (i.e. engineering – helping to calibrate a satellite) and ‘downstream’ sector (i.e. scientific applications – reprocessing raw satellite data to have a better quality final product). As I am still only a few months into the job, my main day to day activities have been learning about our projects, and establishing where I could contribute on a technical basis.
The Space Industry is at the cutting-edge of technology, so it is a very exciting sector to be in. We work with some of the big players (ESA, EUMETSAT, NASA), but as a small and medium sized enterprise, we also work with companies who only have a few employees – in fact, there’s only 4 of us in the Guildford offices!
How do you use your skills in geology and geophysics?
Due to my cross-disciplinary experiences in the Earth Science field, I use my skills in in geology and geophysics every day. It could be, understanding what a satellite is looking at, or the coding behind how we help calibrate it. I can also help explain concepts to prospective partners and clients easier, be it how we can have a clearly picture on glaciers in Greenland, or how our soil moisture service helps predict the locations of locust swarms in Northern Africa.
PhD’s aren’t easy – you need to make sure to take care of your mental health. Yet my best moments from 2017 include being recognised for all the hard work of my PhD and being offered my current position: It’s incredibly rewarding to have a constructive viva with your examiners, to validate that you have been doing good work, and being wanted in my current role for my skills and expertise.