A day in the life of…

    Geophysicist Leanne Mearns     

We been catching up with Leanne Mearns, a former Aberdeen University student now working at ConocoPhillips, ahead of her AUWiSE talk.


Hi Leanne, firstly why did you choose to study Geology at Aberdeen University?

My favourite subjects at school were geography, maths and physics. I was fascinated by the earth and all its natural hazards. I initially planned to study geography at university, but after being introduced to geology during a school project called ‘STEM in the Pipeline’, I decided to look for geology courses at university. I loved how geology focused on the physical side of geography and the university courses I looked at allowed me to continue studying both maths and physics alongside. After spending a summer working at Marathon Oil, I was really interested in the oil and gas industry, finding the idea of exploration and development really exciting. I therefore decided to study at Aberdeen – the oil capital of Europe – so that I could try and build industry networks and gain work experience.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

My favourite parts of the course were the people and the field trips. The field trips got you outdoors, allowed you to travel away from Aberdeen and let you see real rocks. They let me develop new skills, such as mapping and logging, and they gave you a chance to get to know your classmates and make lots of lifelong friends.

What is a typical day at work like?

No day is the same at work, which is what I love about my job. I tend to work 8-5pm with an hour for lunch. Most days, I spend 80% of my time interpreting seismic, with about 20% of my time spent sending emails, documenting work or attending technical meetings. My main responsibilities are to map faults and horizons around our producing fields, trying to look for areas we can drill future wells to produce remaining hydrocarbons left trapped in the ground. Sometimes we have lots of wells and lots of data, but don’t quite understand which wells are connected to others. Therefore, it is my job to look at the seismic and find any faults that are acting as barriers to fluid flow. When we drill wells, I am responsible for giving a depth that we expect to hit our top reservoir, along with the size and shape we expect our reservoir to be.

What is the best/worst thing about your job? 

The best thing about my job is the people. I love how friendly everyone is and my colleagues are more than happy to spend time teaching you about geology and telling stories about their time in the industry. Teamwork is very important in the oil and gas industry, so getting along with everyone is essential. The worst thing about my job at the moment is the uncertainty of the future of the industry. Lots of my friends have lost jobs and it is not nice knowing you could lose your job too. You just have to work hard, focus on what you want to achieve and hopefully everything falls into place.

What is the most valuable skill(s) you learnt whilst at university that you now use in your career?

The most valuable skills I learnt at university are team work and mapping, as well as all the technical geology words and meanings. Team work was important when doing group projects at university and it is a great introduction to how you work as part of a subsurface team in the industry. Mapping, and being able to visualise in 3D, was an important skill to learn at university because my daily job involves reading maps, making maps and planning well locations using maps. It is also important to learn the geology lingo at university as you will continue to use that as you progress through your career. However, be prepared for lots of TLAs (three letter acronyms) in the industry, which I am still continually learning.

Any advice for students trying to get work experience/placements in geology related jobs?

Keep an open mind and apply to lots of different industries. Oil and gas is not the only industry you can use a geology degree. You can look at jobs in environmental science, construction and with the government, to name a few. The oil industry is a bit unstable at the moment but in the past, these cycles happen. People still need oil to live, so until the day comes that there is no demand, there will still be jobs out there. Once the oil industry picks up, companies will need to staff up, so concentrate on your degree and hopefully everything else will fall into place. A masters is almost a must for a job with an operator, so if you can’t get a job then further your career with an MSc or PhD. With these, you usually get an industry placement as part of the course, which will give you experience and get you contacts.

To find out more about ConocoPhillips head to http://www.conocophillips.com/ and hear more from Leanne about her work, career paths and how having a degree in geoscience can shape your future at her talk on 1st November, 2016 in New Kings, Aberdeen University, 6pm