We're pleased to highlight another interview with an industry young professional this week! Dr. Chicheng Xu is a petrophysics researcher with about 10 years of industry experience who was recently selected to receive the 2018 SPE Gulf Coast Regional Formation Evaluation Award. Chicheng's path into the oil and gas industry started out a little untraditional, given he started his career focused on logging tool physics and geoscience software, gaining professional experience before going back to university to study petroleum engineering. Often, the paths we take into our current careers take unique routes. Here Chicheng offers some great insights and advice from his experience and career trajectory.

1. Tell us about you! What is your current role? What did you study?

My name is Chicheng Xu and I am currently working as a research petrophysicist and project leader in Aramco Houston Research Center. My research focus is on innovative geological-petrophysical data-driven interpretation. I received both my bachelor and masters’ degrees in physics and my PhD in petroleum engineering. I have about 10 years of experience working in R&D and technology departments for both oil and service companies.

2. What was the biggest challenge you faced moving from student to professional?

I encountered some challenges when switching from a graduate student who does academic research (mostly for publications) to a professional researcher in a corporate after graduation. Transitioning to full time research in the oil and gas industry that focused on solving real business problems was challenging in many ways. The key is to engage close collaborations with the business departments to get to know their problems and get their support for data access and background knowledge sharing.

3. What are you most proud of in your career so far

My career path in the oil and gas industry is not so typical as I see. I started my career in Schlumberger Beijing Geoscience Center with a physics background. I spent more than four years developing geoscience data acquisition and interpretation software. I then made a decision to further my education in the petroleum engineering department at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduation, I worked another four years for BP and BHP Billiton to support deepwater and onshore shale gas fields. During the downturn, I landed on my current R&D role in Aramco to work on the most challenging geological-petrophysical interpretation problems, which can leverage all of my academic and industrial experience to deliver business values. So, I feel lucky (instead of being proud) that I was given opportunities to do what I really like at an early stage of my career and I will keep doing my best.

4. What is the most valuable professional advice you’ve received so far, that you’d like to pass on to recent (or soon to be) graduates?

I benefited from many valuable professional advice given by my mentors that have made big impacts on my career development. Two of the best are:

  • Be really good at what you are doing and opportunities will come to you.
  • Find out what others are doing and see what you can do to help.

5. Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years? What skills will new professionals need to be successful?

As we can see from the public media, the oil and gas industry is undergoing digital transformation. As already happened in some other industries, many tasks that used to be performed by human workers will be automatically run by computers or machines. In the petroleum geoscience community, it usually takes a very long time and many field projects to train a geoscience worker to become an independent professional. With the advancing data analytics technology, machine may become very intelligent and learn much faster than human workers on integrating large-volume, high-dimensional, and multi-scale geoscience data to deliver quicker and better solutions. So I think mastering some data analytics & machine learning techniques and getting familiar with relevant software packages will be helpful in various projects.

*All opinions or standpoints presented in this interview are individual and do not represent Chicheng's current and former employers.