Field Engineer (Tech and Field Program)
Masters, mechanical engineering
University of Bristol
"If somebody asks you to design an aeroplane, it’s something you can relate to: you’ve flown in them, seen them, read about them. Oil-industry tools aren’t part of normal life, so it’s not until you join the oil industry that you realise how incredible they are and how creative you need to be in designing them."
Career Profile: Slim
"Most wells these days are curved, not straight. We steer them towards pockets of oil thousands of metres below the surface – like using sensors to land an aircraft in midnight fog, without lights. The heat, pressure and shocks can be immense. Imagine taking something as sophisticated as your mobile phone, baking it in an oven at 200°C, subjecting it to pressure 1,000 times greater than a car tyre, and strapping it to a jackhammer!
I’m now in my third year of one of Schlumberger’s industry-leading training programs. Ever since I joined, I’ve been designing the tools used in this kind of operation. And now I’m using them in real situations. Our training has a strong emphasis on practical experience. It exposes you to real engineering – like a hands-on extension of a degree. In year two, I was assigned to a rig in West Texas. The contrast with the mathematical work I’d done up till then couldn’t be greater. I flew in and drove a 4x4 down dirt tracks for two hours to what seemed like the middle of the desert. It was an amazing adventure.
There’s also a powerful teamwork ethic in everything we do. In one project, developing a gamma sensor, I was part of a multidisciplinary team comprising electrical engineers, software engineers and nuclear physicists. Seeing how those disciplines interrelate was exciting and full of valuable new insights – helped by a friendly, supportive and sociable environment. The responsibility builds up quickly too: as the only mechanical engineer, the mechanical side was entirely my responsibility.
My training has also given me the chance to attend numerous optional courses that have helped me function more effectively. For example, one course, taught by someone who used to work for a Formula 1 team, trained me in computational fluid dynamics – a vital aid in designing effective down-hole tools.
At the moment, it’s all about the practical side. I’m a field engineer in the US, and regularly visit drillships and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the income-generating side of the business. I’m dealing with clients and understanding how the tools I’ve helped design are used and what field engineers think of them. It’s also teaching me to appreciate the pressure our clients and colleagues are under in the field. After my training, I’ll probably return to a development role, designing tools. We’re constantly refining them, improving reliability and making the modifications field engineers want. My practical experience will help with that."