The Wytch Farm Group Project: An Intra-Mentoring Experiment

One of the most memorable programs of the MSc petroleum engineering degree course work at Imperial College, London, has been the Intra-Mentoring Group Project. This interesting and challenging exercise involved an integrated study, evaluation, and development of a real reservoir using actual field data provided by the field operator. The truly unique aspect of this project was the way in which the students were organized into self-mentoring teams. This year, the field under study was the Wytch Farm project operated by BP.

This was one of the capstone projects of the MSc program, because it involved integrating the different disciplines in teams to face a real-life petroleum engineering work situation. The experience has been pleasurable and memorable both for the students with working experience in the oil and gas industry and for those without any prior knowledge of the petroleum business. Discipline mentors were selected on the basis of their prior academic and professional experience. Using the intra-mentoring concept, discipline-specific experience was leveraged, providing team members access to diverse experiences.

Before joining the MSc group, I had worked as a facilities engineer with Eni. My work experience gave me an edge on facilities engineering that I was able to share with my teammates. Because surface engineering is not the focus of the MSc program, my expertise in surface and facilities engineering was a welcome relief during the project work. My previous knowledge helped to reduce the man-hours needed in the design and analysis stage and accelerated final decisions in the field development.

I was fortunate that my Eni supervisor was also an excellent mentor and technical expert in offshore structural engineering. It was a particularly edifying work experience because of my mentor’s mastery of the subject and his ability to transfer his knowledge and experience to me in an efficient manner. With this experience in the back of my mind, I knew that good mentoring was the key to development, especially in a highly technical and complex environment like the oil and gas industry. As a fresh graduate you feel a sense of confusion, and your mentor acts as a navigator in this ocean of technical uncertainties. Mentors hold a critical role in transferring knowledge to the next generation of oilfield workers. The design of this project proves that one doesn’t need to be an expert to be a good mentor.

My colleagues from the MSc group have drawn similar conclusions from this experience:

  • Alan Mourgues: “I am a reservoir engineer with 3 years of work experience prior to starting my degree at Imperial College, and this experiment of intra-mentoring has given me the possibility to experience and also to test my skills and improve them. Giving advice in reservoir engineering to other students has proved to be enjoyable and beneficial for my communication and technical skills. I knew from my industry experience that a good mentor is critical for your personal development, particularly if you think that on-the-job experience is much more helpful than training courses. In this case, working through a complex real-life situation in teams with discipline mentors assisted everyone involved in reaching a new level of excellence.”
  • Alberto Bianco: “I worked in hydraulic engineering before joining the MSc program and didn’t know anything about other parts of the oil and gas industry. What I enjoyed most about this activity was the opportunity to learn informally from my peers within a short period of time. Obviously, this project put a lot of pressure on us, but the informal environment is excellent for working and learning.”
  • Stephane Lanchec: “Just being exposed to and having the opportunity to utilize different software packages in a short amount of time has been challenging. In addition, the possibility of having your peers collaborating with you and using the experience and knowledge of everyone in the group enabled us to deliver a better end product. You had a more experienced teammate working with you, facing the same problem and available to help. It was a great experience and an exemplary cooperative team working environment.”
  • Fleur Guillot: “We brought our experiences together, and, with prior experience in reservoir modeling, I was pleased to support my classmates. The teams encountered many diverse problems on a daily basis including software issues or more-challenging modeling problems. Nevertheless, we all endeavored to find solutions, never losing sight of the big picture. My previous knowledge of geological modeling software and reservoir engineering has been supportive for everyone, and I really enjoyed it.”

Mentoring is a key success factor for anyone working in the petroleum industry. Young professionals launching into their careers depend on mentors to accelerate their learning curve and guide them through corporate challenges. Experienced staff must learn how to mentor less experienced staff in order to achieve bottom-line results. Learning how to become an effective mentor early in one’s career will enable one to become a better “mentee” initially, and eventually will groom one to assist others in realizing career goals.

All involved in the intra-mentoring group project felt that a structured intra-mentoring team environment was beneficial to meeting set objectives. Using the intra-mentoring approach optimally brought the experience and knowledge of all teammates to the table for the betterment of the final product. The final product was not just the successful completion of the class project, but also the rapid learning and transferring of knowledge between all involved. Such close collaboration also forged lasting relationships that will likely last a lifetime. The intra-mentoring team concept is highly recommended to other students and young professionals in the industry. The experience solidified the importance of mentoring in all of our minds, and ultimately will benefit our careers.

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