Sunday, September 30, 2012

...oh the obligatory hello

And so I've finished my BSc in Geology.

And the day after my last paper I had to begin background reading on evaporites, sabkhas and Qatar, because two of my industrial sponsors were visiting the following Monday to discuss about the three-year project.

Background reading was hard to get a headstart on, because (to much of Dr. Mary Benton's disappointment), my memory is indeed compartmentalised.

So I met my sponsors whom both agreed that I was 'expensive to fund' over two full days of meeting and discussion about the project with various of collaborators - Dr. Alex Anesio, Dr. Tom Scott and possibly Prof. Mike Kendall.

So what will my PhD be about?

Hydrogeology and Geochemistry of Holocene Sabkhas in Qatar.

I am contemplating whether to blog about it, hence the wishy-washy half-hearted start-up.

Right now I am spending my summer in North Andros, Bahamas helping on a research work by Katie Cooper, more about it at

[The (personal) story behind digging my own grave]

Doing a PhD was something I never thought I would want to do or thought I’d be capable of doing. And of course, afford.

But when Dr. Tom Scott asked a friend and I back in 2010, if we would like to do a PhD with him after my geological mapping at Capel Curig, Wales (provided if we maintain our grades) – I thought ‘Hey, if funding could be secured – why not.’

However, after an internship with Shell, the group dynamics has mentally fixate me into working with the oil and gas industry. The fast-paced and dynamic multi-cultural cross-generation overachievers-filled environment was what I really wanted.

My project was about gauging the hydrocarbon prospectivity and play feasibility of a underexplored basin. I've never worked in such an intense environment with the best of multi-disciplinary geologitst. The happiest AND the scariest moment would be when the Manager himself called me into his office to personally offer me a graduate position on his team. Best three months of my life. Period.

[...and half of the exploration team, especially the expats, have a PhD.]

During Week 0 of my third year, there’s a small award ceremony (in which I missed two years in a row because I was backpacking in Portugal and Germany, respectively he he) – Prof. Mike Kendall, the head of department asked if my friends (Hong Chin, Pollux) and I were interested in staying on to pursue a PhD provided if funds are available.

[note that being on international payee status – we would cost 4 times of a local and European tuition fee status L]

This time, I got more interested.

A talk with Dr. Mary Benton (who taught Sedimentology since Year 1) and Dr. Fiona Whitaker (who taught me Hydrogeology and Petroleum Sedimentology this year) assured me that I should be able to handle the pressure of surviving the world of PermanentHeadDamage for three years with little research background or experience.

I was still keen in working in the oil and gas industry, because that is where my passion lies. So I set requirements to convince me enough to do a PhD, which it has to be...
  •         Related (hence) funded by an oil and gas company
  •         A mixture of fieldwork and modelling

So I had a talk with Mike Kendall, who asked me questions to gauge what kind of PhD environment/area/supervisor would suit me the most – which lead me back to Fiona Whitaker.

So I decided to knock on her office door – and the rest is history.

Getting funds were not easy. Well, to begin with - it costs about £16,000/year in tuition fees, about £14,000/year in stipend, and about £15,000/year for fieldwork costs, conferences, lab analyses, field equipment, computing, modeling software licenses and misc. (Do the math)

I was shortlisted second by the department to try my luck in getting the highly competitive university overseas scholarship, after an American who has a Masters and has a paper published on Nature (!!) – but it was to no avail, as expected.

Shell and Petronas were keen in supplying their data for my project, but not funds.
ConocoPhillips was interested hence invested 50%.
…and other little news here and there followed.

One fine day – a call woke me up, by Fiona herself. Sounding unusually over-enthused, she asked me if I would like to spend my next three years looking at sabkhas in Qatar. I said yes after a seconds of waving grogginess away gathering my thoughts.

Minutes after, I wore my Speedy Gonzales suit and jumped out off bed. I only had time to brush my teeth while skimming through Iain West’s work on sabkhas as I remembered vividly while looking up references to complete the Petroleum Sedimentology fieldwork report, all before running up to Park St to Wills Memorial Building.

Emails, phone conference, meeting, a couple of minor hiccups followed by a two-day visit by my sponsors (who became my industry supervisors) last week – and it is on!

So here you go, the concise version behind what defied everyone's (including of my own's) expectations of my decision to want to do a PhD.