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Academia is not the only route: exploring alternative career options for Earth scientists

Academia is not the only route: exploring alternative career options for Earth scientists

With more PhD and postdoc positions than there are tenured posts, landing a permanent job in academia is increasingly challenging. For some, years of funding and position uncertainty, coupled with having to relocate regularly is an unwelcome prospect. A changing job market also means that aspiring to the traditional, linear career path might be an unrealistic expectation. Skills acquired by those striving for an academic career (analytical skills, time and project management, persistence – writing a thesis requires it by the bucketload!) are highly valued in other job sectors too.

During a short course at the 2017 General Assembly, a panel of current and former geoscientists discussed their experiences in jobs both inside and outside academia.  They offered tips for how to pursue their careers paths and what skills served them best to get there.

In this blog post we profile each of their jobs and offer some of the highlights from the advice given during the session at the conference.


During the panel discussion Victoria stressed the importance of building a strong professional network, both inside and out of academia.

Victoria O’Connor (Technical Director at Petrotechnical Data Systems)

Victoria gained an undergraduate master degree in geology from the University of Liverpool in 2007. Since then, her career has focused around the oil industry, but has seen twists and turns, which have relied heavily on her building a varied skill set.

For almost six years after graduation, Victoria worked at Rock Deformation Research Ltd (RDR),  a spin out company from the University of Leeds, which was eventually acquired by Schlumberger. She held various roles throughout her time there, eventually becoming Vice President. The role relied heavily on her technical expertise as a structural geologist, as well as people management and organisational skills. In 2013, she moved to The Netherlands to work the Petrel technology team at Shell, where she managed various geoscience software development projects.

Her experience eventually enabled her to set up her own geoscience consulting company which was acquired by the PDS Group, through which she now manages the Geoscience products and services division, leading a 40 strong team of geoscientists and scientific software developers, developing cutting edge technologies for the oil and gas industry in collaboration with various academic institutions. In addition she also holds a visiting researcher position at the University of Leeds where she provides teaching and consultancy support. In addition, she also edits the European region AAPG newsletter.

During the panel discussion, Victoria stressed the importance of building relationships and developing a network of contacts. The benefits of building a strong professional network, both inside and out of academia are far reaching: job opportunities, joint collaborations, career development prospects. In her current role, she is developing technology with academic partners she first met over ten years ago at the University of Leeds.


getting on the career To get on the career ladder make sure you have a well written cover letter and CV, says Philip.

Philip Ball (Strategic Planning and Optimization Team & Geological Specialist [Rifted Margins] at Saudi Aramco)

Philip’s career certainly falls in the windy road category, rather than the linear path. It has involved a number of switches between industry and academic positions which have taken him all over the globe. His positions have always had an oil industry focus. He has lived through a number of market slumps, resulting in redundancies and an uncertain career path at times.

During the panel discussion Philip, highlighted adaptability and flexibility (skills certainly gained during research years) as a key to his success. Landing his first position was partly down to his willingness to be flexible.  In addition to being proactive, publishing, attending conferences and meetings, maintaining a network, never giving up is also critical. For example, he applied three times to Statoil between 2013 and 2015 before he managed to get an interview.

Before progressing onto a PhD, Philip enjoyed a short stint at the British Geological Survey and was a geologist for Arco British Ltd. Since gaining his PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2005, Philip has held a number of positions at oil companies, including StatOil, ConocoPhillips, ONGC Videsh and Saudi Aramco.

His top tips, for getting on the career ladder is to make sure you have a well written cover letter and CV. This is critical whether applying for a student travel grant, research position or a position outside of the academic realm. Also do your research and do not expect chances to come to you. Use and visit the job boards online regularly to find positions in geoscience or other fields.


A career in the publications industry is a popular choice among researchers, like Xenia.

Xenia van Edig (Business Development at Copernicus.org)

Researchers are necessarily familiar with the world of academic publication (for more tips on how journal editors work take a look at this post we published recently), so it is hardly surprising this ends up being the chosen career of many former scientists.

Xenia Van Edig is one such example. Following an undergraduate in geography and PhD  in agricultural sciences at Georg-August-Universität-Göttingen, Xenia took a sidestep into the world of scientific coordination and management before starting her role at Copernicus (publishers of open access journals – including all the EGU publications – and conference organisers).

Project management was a skill set Xenia developed throughout her time as a junior researcher. It has been a pillar stone of her career outside of academia too.


Robert is an example of how a a hobby can become a new career direction.

Robert McSweeney (Science Editor at Carbon Brief)

Robert holds an MEng in mechanical engineering and an MSc in climate change. He worked for eight years as an environmental scientist for Atkins, a global design, engineering and project management firm.

For the past three years he’s been working as a science writer for Carbon Brief  – a website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy – where he is now science editor. The role relies heavily on Robert’s communications skills, which scientists hone throughout their research career in the form of presentations at conference and to peers.

Robert highlighted how a hobby – in this case, writing – can become a new career direction. He also emphasised that scientists have a lot of opportunities to get involved with communicating their research, and commenting on others’, through blogs, Twitter, and developing extra materials to publish with new papers.


You don’t necessarily have to stick within your original field of expertise

Steven Gibbons (Senior Research Geophysicist at NORSAR)

Perhaps the best hybrid career for a researcher is to be able to continue to investigate, but not necessarily in an academic setting. It’s a nice compromise for those seeking a little more stability than life at traditional research institution might offer. But the notion shouldn’t be viewed with rose tinted glasses either: being an industry/foundation based scientists might mean less independence when it comes to selecting research topics and, often, securing funding is still an important part of the equation.

Nevertheless, it is can be a rewarding career which gives insights into a more commercial mindset and which draws on skills gain throughout academic research years, as Steven Gibbons described during the short course in April.

Crucially, his career trajectory highlights that you don’t necessarily have to stick within your original field of expertise. Steven has a PhD in core geodynamics and the Earth’s magnetic field, but now works as a geophysicist within the programme for Array Seismology and Test-Ban-Treaty Verification at NORSAR.

Steven has an undergraduate and PhD from the University of Leeds and has been working for NORSAR since 2002.


The EGU’s 2018 General Assembly, takes place in Vienna from 8 to 13 April, 2018. For more news about the upcoming General Assembly, you can also follow the offical hashtag, #EGU18, on our social media channels.

Organise a short course at EGU 2018: follow this simple guide!

Organise a short course at EGU 2018: follow this simple guide!

From supercharging your scientific skills, to boarding your base in science communication or picking up tips on how to boost your career – be it in academia or outside – short courses can be one of the highlights of the General Assembly programme.

But, did you know that any EGU member (you!) can propose a short course? You’ve got until 8 September 2017 to complete the application. This quick guide, will give you some pointers for submitting and organising your own short course at EGU 2018!

Before you even put pen to paper and plan your workshop, remember that the courses should provide a forum to teach your General Assembly peers something of interest. This means that courses should, preferably, not be connected, or only loosely connected, to any of the programme groups and should be designed to be open to all conference participants.

Planning your short course

As the organiser, you are free to choose the content and set-up of the course. But the content should be of interest to (a subset of) the community that the EGU represents!  The decision as to whether your course will be included in the final conference programme is made by the Programme Group Chairs: the ECS Union representative and Sam Illingworth.

To submit your course, you’ll need:

  • a title and a short description
  • the details of the course organiser

You also have the option to co-organise your course with a scientific division(s) (meaning it’ll appear in the both the Short Course Programme Group and that of your favored division(s)). You might consider doing this if your workshop is aimed at a specific community, as well as being of broad appeal.

Choosing a time-slot

An innovation introduce last year and available for EGU 2018 is that short courses can now be run on the Sunday before the conference official opens, as well as throughout the General Assembly week (please note that the Sunday slots will be given preferentially to day-long workshops). Make sure you add a note in the comments section if you’d like your course scheduled on Sunday.

The logistics

All short course rooms come complete with a microphone, a data projector, a notebook, and a VGA switch to use up to three individual notebooks in addition to the permanently-installed notebook of that room.

Usually, short course rooms have no technical assistants, but should you need support, don’t forget to indicate that on the request form!

If you require participants to register in advance of the course, it is your responsibility, as the organiser, to coordinate this. Be sure to include a registration email address or a Doodle link in the description of the short course, so potential participants know how to sing-up.

Food and drink can liven up any meeting! Should you wish to provide catering throughout your workshop (at your own expense), please get in touch with the General Assembly caterer (Motto Catering) before 31 March 2018.

Dos & Don’ts

  • Do make skills/abilities related to science and research the focus of your workshop
  • Do aim to provide training in skills needed by people working in science
  • Do promote your short course
  • Do make your course interactive or include hands-on activities (if possible)
  • Do let participants know (via the description) if they’ll need to bring along materials (e.g. laptop, tablet, specific software) to participate in the course
  • Do allow time for questions

 

  • Don’t invite too many speakers
  • Don’t engage in commercial activities during the course (e.g. sales)
  • Don’t charge admission fees or course fees – these are strictly prohibited

For a full list of guidelines head over to the EGU 2018 website. If you have questions about submitting a short course request please contact the Programme Group Chairs or the EGU’s Communication Officer, Laura Roberts.

At the General Assembly 2017: Thursday highlights

At the General Assembly 2017: Thursday highlights

Welcome to the fourth day of General Assembly excitement! Once again the day is packed with great events for you to attend and here are just some of the sessions on offer. You can find out more about what’s on in EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly – grab a copy on your way in or download it here.

The Union-wide session of the day focuses on making facts greats again: how can scientists stand up for science (US3)? The session aims to identify strategies to counter recent attacks on science and brainstorm ways in which scientists can stand-up for science. With a selection of high profile panellists: Christiana Figueres, Sir David King, Heike Langenberg, Christine McEntee and the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber as chair person, the session promises to be one of the conference highlights. Join the discussion from 10:30 to 12:00 in room E2.

Thursday also sees two interesting Great Debates taking place: Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats (GDB1, from 08:30–10:00 in E2, jointly organised with American Geophysical Union – AGU). While many scientist support open access publishing, is support for open access to the underlying research data as easy to achieve? Join the discussion in GDB4, from 15:30 to 17:00 in room E1. At the same time, in room D1, conference participants can take part in the third Great Debate of the day. The two-way, complex interactions between urban and geophysical systems has been recently recognised as the key question for the fate our planet and the issue of the Anthropocene. How can we transition to next generation cities and planet Earth future?  Tune into to the sessions on Twitter using the #EGU17GDB hashtag or online at http://www.egu2017.eu/webstreaming.html.

Today’s interdisciplinary highlights include sessions on…

Take the opportunity to expand your skills in one of today’s short courses and splinter meetings. Be sure to share what you learn on social media using the hashtag #EGU17SC:

There’s also a number of Medal Lectures on throughout the day – here’s a sample of what’s on offer:

What have you thought of the Assembly so far? Let us know at www.egu2017.eu/feedback, and share your views on what future EGU meetings should be like!

If you need a change of pace, stop by the Imaggeo Photo Exhibition beside the EGU Booth (Hall X2, basement, Brown Level). You can vote for your favourite finalists there and – while you’re in the area – take the opportunity to meet your Division’s representatives in today’s Meet EGU appointments. While on the subject of competitions, make sure to ‘like’ your favourite  Communicate Your Science Video Competition film on the EGU YouTube channel.

Have a lovely day!

At the Assembly 2017: Wednesday Highlights

At the Assembly 2017: Wednesday Highlights

We’re halfway through the General Assembly already! Once again there is lots on offer at EGU 2017 and this is just a taster – be sure to complement this information with EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly, available both in paper and for download here.

The day kicks off with an interdisciplinary Union-wide session: Vegetation-climate interactions across time scales (US1, 08:30–12:00 in E2, followed by posters from 13:30 to 15:00 in Hall X4). It will bring together palaeocologists, ecophysiologists, geoscientists and climate scientists to explore the different processes through which plants interact with the climate system across timescales. You can also follow the session on Twitter (#EGU17SSE) and catch up with the EGU 2017 webstream.

The second of our Great Debates is also on today. It is particularly gear towards Early Career Scientists (ECS). Head to room G1 from 19:00 to 20:30 to discuss, in a series of small group debates, whether ECS should be judged by their publication record? There will be free drinks provided to help lubricate the conversation. You can follow the discussion on Twitter with #EGU17GDB, and, #EGUecs.

Another highlight of today’s events is the EGU Award Ceremony (US0). Come and celebrate the recipients of the 2017 awards and medals from 17:00 in room E1.

Another promising event set for today is the EGU Award Ceremony, where the achievements of many outstanding scientists will be recognised in an excellent evening event from 17:30–19:00 in Room E1. Here are some of the lectures being given by these award-winning scientists:

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ Forum (12:15–13:15 in L2) is the best place to find out more about the Union and how to get involved. Because the EGU is a bottom up organisation, we are keen to hear your suggestions on how to make ECS related activities even better. There will be plenty of opportunities during the Forum for you to provide feedback.  It’s over lunch, so you’ll find a buffet of sandwiches and soft drinks when you arrive too!

There are a host of interdisciplinary events taking place today. If you are interested in big data and machine learning in the geosciences head to Room L2 at 08:30 for orals, or poster hall X4 at 17:30 for further discussion later in day. While session IE3.1/BG9.58: Information extraction from satellite Earth observations using data-driven methods (13:30–15:00 / Room L2, Poster:17:30–19:00 / Hall X4), is also set to be thought-provoking. Check the conference programme, our EGU Today, for details of a further two events spanning the cryospheric, atmospheric and ocean sciences.

There are more short courses than ever at EGU 2017! (Credit: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Now on to short courses! Today offers the opportunity to learn some tips for winning grant proposals with Open Science (SC74: 08:30–12:00 / Room -2.85). Don’t worry if you can’t make it today, it runs again tomorrow at the same time and place. Perhaps you’ve considered showcasing the fruits of your research in an informative science film, but are struggling to identify where you can find the funds to make the film happen. Then the workshop on finding funding for your science film is just the ticket (SC78:10:30–12:00 / Room 0.90). If instead you feel blogging might be the best way to make your work accessible to a broad audience, come along to the short course on the nuts & bolts of blogging with WordPress where you can pick up a tonne of tips to get you started. If you work in the field of natural hazards you can learn how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used for monitoring (SC53: 15:30-17:00 / Room -2.61). Writing your first paper can be daunting, so head to room N2 at 17:30 to develop successful strategies to design, develop and write a scientific paper (SC92:17:30–19:00 / Room N2)

And check out some of today’s stimulating scientific sessions:

Finally, remember to take the opportunity to meet your division’s representatives in the day’s Meet EGU sessions and, if you’ve had enough of the formalities, head on over to GeoCinema, where you’ll find some great Earth science films, including the finalists of EGU’s Communicate Your Science Video Competition. Make sure to vote on your favourite entries by ‘liking’ the videos on the EGU YouTube channel.

Have an excellent day!