A geophysical data processor uses the most modern and sophisticated electrical, magnetic, electromagnetic, seismic or gravity-measuring instruments to convert raw geophysical data, (usually large volumes of seismic data), into a user-friendly format.

The converted data is then analysed by interpreters in order to determine sub-surface geology. This data is often used to identify potential oil-bearing rock layers.

Processors work in teams, often on many different projects simultaneously. The processing sequence is tailored to individual projects depending on geology, data acquisition techniques, time and financial constraints.

Frequent client interaction is essential as is the ability to develop expertise in state-of-the-art software.

Responsibilities

Responsibilities vary depending on the nature of the role, for example seismic processing, but typically include:

  • inspecting the quality of raw data;
  • analysing observer logs compiled by data acquisition crews;
  • running a series of computer programs on a Unix operating system using the employer's proprietary software;
  • testing and adapting computer programs to suit individual datasets;
  • debugging aborted programs;
  • discussing the processing requirements of individual datasets with teams and advisers;
  • monitoring the progress of programs that take many days to run;
  • prioritising each program according to runtime and project urgency;
  • conducting visual analysis of seismic sections (cross-sections of the earth's crust revealing rock layers and geological structures, such as folds and faults, when the seismic data is properly processed);
  • determining a suitable processing sequence for client approval;
  • using quality control software to analyse data at various stages in the processing sequence;
  • discussing requirements and results with clients on a regular basis;
  • preparing technical reports using conventional PC software;
  • learning new software;
  • supervising junior staff;
  • adhering to standards in order to maintain quality management systems (ISO 9001).

Additional responsibilities for senior posts may include:

  • managing a team of data processors;
  • overseeing all data-processing activities;
  • managing the cost and duration of a project;
  • actively promoting the company's services;
  • training other staff on specialist processing techniques;
  • helping to develop new software;
  • providing technical input for meetings with clients.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range between £20,000 and £35,000, depending on your level of qualifications.
  • Salaries can increase from £35,000 to £50,000 with experience and qualifications. Consultants may earn in excess of this figure.

In addition to basic salary, generous benefits are often provided, including pension, private healthcare and life insurance. Pay and bonus schemes tend to be performance-related.

Fluctuations in the strength and stability of the oil economy may have an influence on pay.

Along with the opportunity to travel, generous overseas allowances and more holidays are available to those willing to work in overseas-processing centres or on board data acquisition boats. For longer contracts, companies will often pay relocation costs.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, although it is common to work overtime (both evenings and weekends) in order to meet deadlines. Overtime tends to increase with responsibility. Some companies provide time off in lieu rather than financial reward.

Part-time work and career breaks are supported by most employers.

What to expect

  • Work in the UK is based mainly in oil company offices or processing centres around London, Maidenhead, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, though some time may be spent on data acquisition boats.
  • Self-employment is rare although oil companies may occasionally hire self-employed and highly-experienced consultants to oversee work undertaken by a data processing contractor.
  • As projects are run to tight deadlines, stress and enforced overtime can be considerable. Working on data acquisition boats involves spending time away from family and friends (up to six weeks at a time, subject to weather). Those willing to work in overseas-processing centres may also be asked to relocate at a month's notice for an unspecified length of time, although for long overseas assignments, an employee's family can usually travel with them.
  • Opportunities to work overseas often arise as most companies have processing centres based in other major international cities, usually close to oil company offices. Some companies have dedicated processing centres set up within larger client offices and many run data acquisition boats, which require data processors on board.

Qualifications

A relevant geophysics, mathematics or applied science degree may increase your chances of entry. These include:

  • applied physics;
  • computer science/software engineering;
  • geology;
  • geophysics;
  • geoscience;
  • geotechnology;
  • mathematics;
  • physics.

In addition to a relevant degree, good A-levels (or equivalent) are required, as is a high level of numeracy and computer literacy.

Entry with an HND only is not possible - the necessary scientific background can be obtained only through study to degree level.

A postgraduate qualification in a relevant course, such as a Masters degree in geophysics or petroleum geology, may improve employment prospects and enhance salaries. Search for postgraduate courses in geophysics.

Much of the information generated within this field is subject to data and software privacy restrictions and so finding work experience opportunities can be difficult.

Gaining an awareness of the industry as a whole, from reading broadsheet newspapers and industry publications or through joining relevant societies, can help in interviews and will show a prospective employer you are a serious candidate.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent communication, analytical and organisational skills;
  • the ability to work to deadlines and under pressure;
  • attention to detail and a methodical approach to work;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • flexibility (in particular, a willingness to work abroad);
  • the capacity to communicate technical information to non-technical people;
  • the ability to record information accurately;
  • project management skills;
  • the ability to interact and get on well with both team members and clients;
  • a commitment to continual learning.

A driving licence and evidence of good health may be required for some postings.

Employers

This is generally considered a competitive industry, although there can be fluctuations in the employment market according to changes in the price of oil.

Opportunities for employment tend to be greater during periods when oil prices are high, when it is economically viable to seek out new oil reservoirs.

The main employers are a small number of specialised oil and gas sector service companies, which tend to work on a global scale.

These companies are often involved in data acquisition and data interpretation as well as data processing. Typically, they will have processing centres or dedicated processing facilities in client offices in a number of different cities worldwide.

Opportunities also exist with public sector and governmental agencies e.g. the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO).

Each processing centre has to bid for work by responding to calls for tender from the local oil company offices (work is won on the basis of price, processing speed and unique processing software). This results in large workload fluctuations.

Many companies resolve this problem by offering temporary overseas contracts to personnel in overstaffed processing centres.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. Vacancies may be listed in the oil and gas sector press.

PETEX is a biennial conference and exhibition held in London and organised by the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB). Data processing companies have a strong presence and attending this event is a good opportunity to meet potential employers under one roof, as well as to obtain literature and learn more about the industry.

Careers information days, which cover the full range of geoscience careers and are usually attended by a number of key industry employers are run by the Geological Society. Its website also has a section on careers and posts job vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Geophysical data processors have to get to grips with using specialist software and programming systems, whilst at the same time understanding the fundamental geophysical and mathematical principles upon which the software is based. Intense technical training is therefore integral to the role.

Most companies have in-house training centres where new employees typically spend the first few weeks of their employment.

After this, they join a processing team where they continue to receive on-the-job training and instruction from more experienced team members. Short visits back to the training centre for revision and software updates will occur regularly.

In addition to technical training, most employers also place an emphasis on personal and professional development. Employees are usually given access to a range of courses, including:

  • project management;
  • time management;
  • communication;
  • teamwork;
  • supervisory and management skills.

Geophysical data processors must be aware of the company's best-practice procedures and keep themselves up to date through relevant training opportunities.

For those with a geology degree, membership of the Geological Society can be useful for networking and for keeping up to date with changes in the industry.

Geophysical data processors working in the oil industry may find it useful to join the PESGB, which has a geophysics special interest group.

Career prospects

Natural career progression for a geophysical data processor is to the role of project leader, usually achievable after two to three years.

In this position you will be in charge of a project and have the responsibility of supervising less experienced members of the team. Regular client interaction is an integral part of the role.

Eventually, a processor may be placed in charge of a whole team of processors and be responsible for the quality and timing of a number of projects.

Once a processor has gained a year or two of experience, opportunities may arise to work in processing centres abroad or with data acquisition crews, which are normally offshore. Field work is generously rewarded, but it is not a lifestyle that suits everyone.

Alternatively, a processor may sidestep to another department within the processing centre where they work, e.g. data interpretation or dealing with more specialised and sophisticated processing techniques.

Further opportunities exist in:

  • training or advising;
  • esearch and development;
  • sales and marketing;
  • management.

Some oil companies use independent consultants to liaise with processing companies on their behalf. These consultants have typically had long careers in the oil industry and can demand high fees. It takes many years of experience to be able to define and supervise data processing to the standards required. The work carries a lot of responsibility but is well paid.

An alternative career path is the finance industry, where a comprehensive knowledge of the oil exploration industry and a good head for figures is vital.