10 Tips for Students and YPs From a 10-Year Petroleum Engineer

This year marks 10 years since I took my first petroleum engineering class. I confess it deeply touched me, and I decided to share my personal journey to pass my top 10 lessons learned to students and YPs.

Natan in the control room in offshore Indonesia with Anoa FPSO friends.
Source: All images provided by author.

This year marks 10 years since I took my first petroleum engineering class. I confess it deeply touched me and decided to share my journey, aiming to pass my top 10 lessons learned to students and YPs.

1. Define your success measure. Recalibrate it as you go.

When I started my bachelor's degree, I was not entirely sure how to measure success. Getting a job in the industry, visiting different countries, and helping my family were some of the key performance indicators that came to mind. However, I quickly realized that these alone wouldn't fulfill my inner self.

Time passed, and I began to establish connections not only with my classmates but with more experienced individuals in my department and professors and students from other courses.

I discovered my knack for networking and that brought me great joy.

Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. In 2013, I attended I Petro-Sul, a workshop organized by the SPE UFPel Student Chapter.

I had the opportunity to meet numerous outstanding oil and gas professionals, among them Felipe Mota, a reservoir engineer working for Halliburton at that time. He wasted no time and wholeheartedly encouraged me to join SPE as a volunteer at the UFPel Student Chapter. He was confident that it would have a significant impact on my journey, and indeed it did.

After the workshop, I found myself defining my own success for the first time. My goals were clear: to cultivate meaningful friendships, continually embrace challenges, and make a positive imprint on the world.

2. Focus on the half-full glass. Positive energy helps a lot.

Extracting the best from each situation, good or bad, although a hard task, is one of the key things I had to learn early on.

When I started at UFPel, the university lacked infrastructure. Some classes did not have hired professors, there was no connection with the oil and gas industry, and none of our professors had offshore experience.

These may seem like valid reasons to complain, right?

Actually, not. Most of the professors were geologists and geophysicists, well-known for their academic achievements in Brazil and abroad. Moreover, there was an open-door policy that welcomed anyone willing to help the course thrive. We had a blank canvas to fill and a story to build, and I felt a great sense of pride in being part of it.

3. Get involved in extracurricular activities. Dip your toes in different waters.

I liked the idea of working in multiple streams in parallel, and I found it difficult to turn down new opportunities. In my initial years of university, I took on too many tasks.

Saying "no" was something I had to learn later.

Nonetheless, my intention was simply to be open-minded and explore my true interests. It is really hard to determine your passion without giving multiple interests a try. So, go ahead, embrace new opportunities, and venture into the unknown. In the early stages of your career, it is better to say "yes."

4. Join SPE. Go above and beyond. Learn from your mistakes.

Joining SPE changed my life.

Volunteering is always a good idea, but there is no better opportunity to develop yourself as an industry professional than by joining your local SPE student chapter. It serves as the ideal platform to express ideas, foster leadership abilities, build a valuable network, forge lasting friendships, and, most importantly, make a meaningful impact on society.

Upon Felipe's recommendation, I joined the SPE UFPel as a public relations officer. The chapter, established in 2012, was still in the process of consolidating its presence, and our job was to focus on its sustainable growth.

A dynamic group of new members, along with experienced officers, ignited a series of initiatives that would propel the chapter to global recognition for its accomplishments.

We pioneered the Energy4me program at UFPel, one of the earliest implementations in Brazil. The program focused on visiting schools to engage in discussions about the oil and gas industry, its challenges, and opportunities.

We created processes to attract and retain members not only from the petroleum engineering course but all others that could be interested in joining the SPE.

I Petro-Sul, an SPE event organized at UFPel.

The SPE UFPel was the experience I was seeking.

Our hard work and dedication paid off swiftly. In 2015 we were recognized with the SPE International Gold Standard Award. This designation recognized sections that accomplished an admirable level of activity.

In 2016, we were awarded the Outstanding Student Chapter Award.

In less than 3 years, we expanded our reach and became known. As SPE officers, we had the privilege of connecting with diverse individuals and making friends while we attended events in many different locations.

5. Do not be afraid. Be yourself at your best.

A "colono" (southern Brazilian small farmer) in petroleum engineering. That was the way I was seen early on at the university.

My class was diverse in gender and geography. There were students from all regions of Brazil with different ways of speaking Portuguese. Coming from a small city, colonized predominantly by Italians in the 19th century, my accent could be differentiated easily.

One day I received a frank recommendation to speak more as an urban individual. I thought for a second about making the effort and adapting myself to the new world I was just joining. But that did not seem correct to me.

Similar cautionary notes were made about wearing our gaucho's traditional clothes and drinking our traditional drink, chimarrão or mate (for the Argentinians and Uruguayans) during visits to oil and gas events outside Rio Grande do Sul.

I didn't need much time to decide. I stuck with my accent, my mate, my bombachas, and alpargatas (traditional gaucho clothes).

My origins were never up for negotiation, and looking back I can say that being firm and keeping my traditions helped me to stand out from the others.

So be your best self.

SPE is about making friends and impacting the world for the better.

6. Celebrate every single small achievement. But keep learning.

At the end of high school and at the beginning of my days in Pelotas, I often skipped celebrations and refused to take even a moment to say thanks, take a deep breath, and celebrate. It seemed I was always running toward the next goal.

There was a clear reason behind this. I was not happy with my parents working hard on the farm to give me the opportunity to study full-time elsewhere. But not celebrating wouldn't improve anything; in fact, it wouldn't help at all.

Celebrating every achievement is powerful, and so is taking lessons from any situation. When I realized that, I understood even the toughest situations would find a way to be resolved.

7. Give back. Do not miss a chance of helping someone.

I always felt lucky for the opportunities I had. "I need to give back" was always on my mind and that is still the case.

Although I worked hard to support my parents on the farm and then studied rigorously to get accepted into a tuition-free university, I always knew that I was lucky. I lived in a country where only 12% of people had access to higher education.

It was clear to me that I had to help more young students get access to what I had.

When I began university, I tried to keep a close relationship with my high school teachers. I encouraged them to promote STEM in their classes and to show the students how they could study for free. When I felt I had enough to share, I started to go back to Progresso RS, my high school, and give presentations about energy, oil and gas, STEM, and the opportunities that students could pursue.

For those who don't like to speak in front of a group of savvy kids and teenagers, I would suggest becoming a mentor. SPE has a fantastic eMentoring program, where you will certainly find someone to help.

8. Create your own opportunities.

Life is a gift, go ahead and open the doors. If they don't exist yet, build and then open them.

At university, I often found it difficult to understand engineering topics and had to study more than an average amount to pass. As a public relations officer at the SPE UFPel Student Chapter, I discovered I was quite good at connecting people from different generations and exploring creative solutions for complex problems.

I spent a significant portion of my time at the chapter making calls and sending emails to senior people I had never met before. My main objective was to convince them or their companies to support our projects.

I became friends with many of them, and doors that were once closed were opened.

During the government-funded Science without Borders program, many of my colleagues went abroad to study in the US, UK, Australia, etc. Studying abroad became one of my goals, but my English skills were not good enough to apply for those scholarships. The door was closed, so I had to act.

Rio Grande do Sul state is close to Argentina and Uruguay and shares the same gaucho culture, so I thought I could survive in a Spanish-speaking country. That was when I decided to focus on studying in a Latin American country.

Luckily, I found a bilateral agreement between Universidade Federal de Pelotas and Universidad Surcolombiana (USCO). I applied for it without hesitation.

I was overjoyed when I discovered that I had been approved to study for one semester at USCO in Neiva, Colombia. The region had been producing oil for decades, and as a result, the industry was much closer to USCO than it was to UFPel in Brazil.

I made several friends and improved my Spanish. On the technical side, I learned a lot, but the most important thing was to go back to Brazil knowing how important onshore oil and gas was for that region.

I realized from my personal observations and experience that even a company producing only 5 BOPD per well with a water cut of 99% could employ people. It was something hidden in my homeland where onshore was in decline and struggling with the lack of public policies.

Back in Brazil, I still had a couple of semesters left to finish university, and I decided I had to work and pay my bills. There were no oil and gas companies in Pelotas or the surrounding area, so I had to be open-minded and creative.

Believe in yourself, work hard, and create your own opportunities.

9. Work hard, have faith, and believe it.

Creating opportunities demands a lot of effort. Unfortunately, very often it alone will not be enough. We need to believe in what we are doing.

In 2017 I started my internship with NewFields, an environmental, engineering, and construction management consulting firm, where I learned a lot about HSES and business. But something was missing. I needed to go back to oil and gas.

I called two friends from SPE who were also looking for opportunities in the industry and we launched our own company, +Oil E&P.

We did not have money or experience, but we were willing to work hard and we had faith. Something good was going to happen!

As +Oil commercial director, I had to find partners and funds to support future acquisitions or to sell our "low-cost" services. My mobile was busier than ever. Day and night, calling people, sending emails, doing mentoring, etc.

Suddenly, things started to work out.

One of my calls paid off and I was hired as the first intern of Premier in Brazil and later made my journey to the UK.

In the meantime, my cofounders at +Oil E&P got jobs in the industry and our company was put on hold.

Things worked out because we worked hard and had faith. Keep this in mind, it is powerful!

10. Make friends and have fun.

Since I fell in love with petroleum engineering, my professional and personal lives have become intertwined. This is largely due to the friends I have made along the way.

While writing this article, I found pictures that reminded me of many stories that had been dormant in my mind. The friends I made over the past 10 years are proof that these years have been worthwhile.

Make sure to surround yourself with good friends, no matter what you do.