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Field engineer in schlumberger?

  1. Feb 1, 2014 #1
    Is Schlumberger a good company? I talked with their rep at my school yesterday, and they sound really awesome. Especially I liked their field "engineers"; travelling around the world, looking for oil, spending long hours in remote locations.. Sounds really adventurous and romantic, very much my kind of thing. However, the rep said that the field-engineer job can be done with a good High-school degree... He himself became a field engineer after getting a degree in physics..

    This is an issue for me. Problem is that almost anyone with a technical degree and not-worthless GPA can get that job. I mean, I get this arrogant feeling that "hands on" work is kind of beneath me, as I will graduate (in a few years) with a 5-year engineering physics degree from a prestigious school, and with (unless I become lazy) very good grades to boot. In addition I feel that all the knowledge of science I will have accumulated by 2017 will be wasted... That's 5 years down the drain?

    Am I being a douchebag, or is it a valid concern (IMO I'm being a douchebag)? Any thoughts on the company and the job? At any rate I'll be applying for summer-jobs this year, and hopefully I can get a position in schlumberger to test them out.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2014 #2


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    I worked for Schlumberger for a couple of years 10 years ago. It was an excellent company then. There were opportunities for everyone (whatever your background) and had a real focus on science and engineering, right up to board level.
  4. Feb 1, 2014 #3
    The number of jobs for pure theoreticians is significantly less than the number of jobs for hands-on technical people. Don't overlook the experience you'll get from doing hands-on work. It grounds you and gives you an unmatched perspective of how things work later in a career. It also projects experience of how things work against what a theoretician believes.

    Field work involves a lot of travel. This can be hard on your health and social life. At the same time it can be exciting. Some thrive on it. Some people can't handle it. There is a reason why it pays as well as it does.

    I suggest you look at which division of Schlumberger is hiring and what the financial health of that division is. When doing field work, it would be wise of you to maintain a personal reserve of money to get back home (wherever that is). You never know when a company will sell a division and cause a financial implosion. I've heard stories of people who expected reimbursement for travel expenses, suddenly laid off while they're on a job site, leaving them with the bills.

    So the answer is no, this is not beneath you. If you can handle the constant travel, go for it and learn!
  5. Feb 2, 2014 #4
    Thanks for the perspectives! I really appreciate it.

    Why did you quit? And what kind of work did you do there?

    If I start out working at schlumberger, won't I forget all my theoretical knowledge though? I mean 3 years as a field-engineer is a long time. I'm kind of split on what I want to do: On one hand I am extremely competitive and A-personality, so I think I could become a useful coporate soldier, but on the other I really enjoy learning physics.

    Also, people are laid off straight at the job site without even reimbursement for travel? Did this happen to schlumberger? Because I am not interested in a company that treats their employees like that.
  6. Feb 2, 2014 #5

    D H

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    Welcome to the real world. Unless you go on to get a PhD you aren't going to be professional physicist. Even if you do become a professional physicist, you are going to forget the details of the technical knowledge you have picked up except for the rather narrow field in which you are working. For example, if you become a specialist on gallium arsenide devices your ability to do classical physics, thermodynamics, and statistical physics will wither on the vine.

    On the other hand, relearning what you've lost is much easier the second time around when the need arises. Case in point: My degree is engineering physics. It wasn't until 20 years out of college that I once again ran across spherical harmonics. Aerospace engineers model the gravitational field of a lumpy body (e.g., the Earth, the Moon, …) using spherical harmonics. The mathematics is foreign to most aerospace engineers. Even though that knowledge was buried in 20 years of forgetfulness, the basic concepts weren't foreign to me. Relearning the details was easy.

    You should instead look at your engineering physics as having given you the background needed to quickly adjust to lots of different technical fields. You will encounter two key biases against physics education in your career. One is that you don't have the detailed knowledge that a specialist who was trained in whatever discipline you are working in has. Employers are wont to hire specialists. The other is that physicists are too theoretical. Employers do not want people who make every problem into a 12 month theoretical study.

    One way to overcome that first bias is to slip in through the cracks where no specialists exist. There are lots of technical jobs that go begging because specialists are too specialized. Your engineering physics degree is perfect for these jobs. You just have to learn how to find them.

    The second bias is perhaps even harder to overcome. One way around that is to show you know how to get your hands dirty. This job is perfect for that.

    The upstream petroleum industry is rather volatile. That's one of the many reasons it pays so well. And boy, does it pay well. Some of my neighbors are in that industry, and they are paid a good chunk more than I am. (I'm an aerospace engineer by trade.)

    Moreover, JakeBrodskyPE was being prudent. The upstream petroleum industry is rather volatile, so it's good to be a bit cautious, even if Schlumberger is a very good employer. Another reason for precaution: You might need to get out of Dodge, fast. You might be sent to politically volatile regions. When you start hearing rancorous protests and perhaps even machine gun fire at night it might be a good idea to fly out the next morning. Been there, done that, 30 years ago (Chile and Argentina, 1983).
  7. Feb 2, 2014 #6
    thank you for your very wise perspective, DH.

    One last question: If the oil runs out/is replaced, I might well lose my job. Would I be able to easily switch fields?
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  8. Feb 2, 2014 #7

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    First off, it's not that likely that oil will be replaced any time soon. What is there out there to replace our need for a cubic mile of oil per year? Certainly not solar or wind, probably not biofuels. The one viable alternative is now being shunned worldwide since the Fukushima disaster. Countries are switching from nuclear back to fossil fuels.

    Moreover, petroleum engineers keep finding new deposits. Will we run out eventually? Sure. In the next 50 years or so? Probably not. That's one of your key timespans of interest, retirement age. (Countries worldwide are bumping the retirement age. Social welfare programs are becoming less and less sustainable as people live longer.) In the next 20 years or so? Definitely not. That's another key timespan of interest, how long people stay in one field. People switch not just employers but jobs and even career fields nowadays.

    Finally, your question is true of any technical field. Technical fields have been evolving rapidly for a long time. Perpetual change is the new steady state. No matter what field you go into, you have to be the primary caretaker of your career and your livelihood. You have to keep yourself current and you have to be on the lookout for your career field being the next to go the way of 8 track tapes and floppy drives.
  9. Feb 2, 2014 #8


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    I was in IT services. Schlumberger bought us in 2002 and sold us in 2004. I always liked the company ethos, which was practical, scientific and ethical - and really inclusive and egalitarian.

    I worked on a global IT project for a year and got to meet people from all over (USA, Europe, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Russia, China, South America). There were people from many countries right up to board level.

    Maybe I should have transferred into Schlumberger proper, but when they sold us, I was on a 12-month project in London, so I just stayed where I was effectively.

    If Schlumberger still has the same ethos today, I would recommend it a top employer.
  10. Feb 2, 2014 #9
    Schlumberger are the most prestigious and best paying of the big servicing firms (them, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, and maybe Weatherford). But they also work you really hard, and I've heard many bad things about them.

    Many describe field engineers as glorified technicians. It certainly isn't a highly academic/theoretical type of job; however, the hands-on and practical experience you will gain from such a position is highly valuable for your future career. You're probably not going to be a field engineer for the long term, you're usually expected to progress up the ranks fairly fast where you'll soon go into an office based role.

    You studied engineering-physics, so surely you can't expect to actually use everything you've learned during your degree as part of your job, unless you go into research or something? And then again, Schlumberger are an excellent R&D company in the industry. A field engineering background would be very useful for this because it's easy to find people who would like a job researching, say, downhole equipment, but much harder to find people who would like such a job but also actually have practical experience in the field with such equipment.

    Schlumberger (and the other servicing companies) are also good opportunities for physics and engineering-physics graduates as they are some of the few companies that still treat a physics degree as equal to an engineering degree when it comes to applications for employment. Many other companies will no longer even look at a physics graduate when it comes to entry level engineering positions...
  11. Feb 2, 2014 #10
    You can do both. Yes, you will specialize. Everyone does. But field engineering is a job where a lot of different disciplines have to come together. My work is not that different from field engineering. I might be working on a program to compensate for a valve's Cv profile on one day, a grounding problem for an analog circuit the next, PLL filter components for a microwave radio, network security designs, or SCADA protocols. At the end of the day, the controls for a water distribution system has to work reliably and I do whatever it takes to make it so.

    I can't speak for Schlumberger specifically. I don't know their reputation. However, I do know of some people from highly regarded companies with very good track records who were left stranded as a result of executive level decisions to reorganize or downsize the company. Some of these decisions can happen literally overnight. If you're being paid significantly more than average, there is usually a reason. Stability of the job is often one of them.
  12. Feb 2, 2014 #11
    Thank you for all the advice and RL-experience, guys. It seems I was living in a bubble when it comes to working.

    I respect your opinion, though I disagree that it's certain that I will have work until retirement in the oil/gas business. Right now it seems like hydrocarbons are irreplaceable in the short term, but there is great political pressure to go renewable, and much research focused on developing new sources of energy. Especially nuclear power is a strong candidate, as in time fukushima will be forgotten and new technologies developed. Who knows how things will look in 30 years.

    well, we never see that stuff in Norway. But then again, there are extremely strict laws on employment here.
  13. Feb 2, 2014 #12
    Working internationally is different. I do not doubt that there are work laws in Norway that prevent such things from happening, but when working for a multi-national corporation in a foreign country, it is indeed possible that they may not be bound by Norwegian law.

    Tread with care.
  14. Feb 2, 2014 #13

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    Those political pressures tend to come from people who are proud of their technological ignorance. They ignore the very severe technical and infrastructure challenges. They ignore the brutal math. You're an engineer, not a wishy-washy political science major. You can do the math. It's very simple but very brutal math. For example, the developed world can be free itself from its dependency on oil in 50 years if it builds and installs a mere quarter of a million solar panels every single day for the next 50 years.

    That's just the developed world. The billions in the developing world aspires to be like those in the developed world, and they are immune from the Kyoto Protocol. The billions in the underdeveloped world aspire to be like those in the developing world, and they too are immune from Kyoto. The developed world has the luxury of weaning itself from oil. The rest of the world does not. Your job in the oil industry will be even more secure if the developed world does manage to wean itself from oil because this will pretty much eliminate the threat of depletion of oil reserves during the next 50 years.

    Sure you do. You're living in a bubble. Norway is at or near the top of the EU in many categories: GDP and unemployment (the latter number for Norway is apparently highly fudged, but that's true of practically every country), but also at or near the top in terms of your grey market / underground economy / shadow economy / parallel economy. Taxing people as much as Norway does creates an incredible incentive for skirting those tax laws, and apparently you Norwegians are rather creative at doing this. There isn't much demand for engineers and scientists in a shadow economy, so you're pretty much stuck paying those very high taxes -- with one exception.

    That one exception: Norwegians who work overseas. Many countries has special rules for their citizens who work extensively overseas. Norway is one of them. You should look into the special tax laws that apply to Norwegians working overseas. From the lousy google translations of those Norwegian websites, your laws in this area are quite convoluted. (That's typical. Every country that has laws in this regard makes those laws rather complex.) Your tax laws are another reason for you to think hard about taking or not taking this job.

    Once again, Jake was just being prudent. His immediate concern of being left hanging may not apply to you because one thing Norway law does do for you in this regard is that employers of Norwegians who work overseas for more than a month must have a guaranteed return home in their work contract. It's still a good idea to carry some cash (but watch your wallet or money belt!) when traveling to developing / underdeveloped countries. Even if your employer will reimburse you, you want to have the means to get out fast when the machine gun fire starts at night.

    Another reason: That neat leather jacket you want to buy in some shop in a not-quite-developed country will be much cheaper if you pay in euros or dollars. That's real euros or dollars, not a Visa card. You'll get the official exchange rate if you use your Visa card. You'll get something closer to the real exchange rate if you use euros or dollars. It will be even cheaper if you "know someone who knows someone" who can help you get the real exchange rate for your euros. The amazing thing is that this grey transaction oftentimes takes place at the very bank that exchanges your euros at the official rate.
  15. Feb 2, 2014 #14
    There is an undertone in politics that all you need to make innovation happen is to throw money at a problem. That you can forever speed up innovation by putting more money into the problem.
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