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Earth Sciences - Graduate Profiles

Earth Sciences - Graduate Profiles

Our alumni have taken their Earth Sciences learning far and wide – from environmental services to wealth management - and still use it in their daily work.

A degree in Earth Sciences opens doors to a range of careers and organisations. Read about the jobs our graduates do and the companies for whom they work.

Name: Ryan Payton
Subject: BSc Environmental Geology & PhD Earth Sciences "investigating pore scale characterisation of sandstone reservoirs for use in geological carbon storage using digital image analysis and numerical modelling"
Graduated: Completed viva December 2022, due to graduate summer 2023
Place of work: Oracle
Role: Senior Research Advocate within the Oracle for Research team

Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?

The Earth Sciences Department itself was the major pull for me to undertake a BSc at Royal Holloway and then continue through to a PhD. The tight-knit community feel was always very welcoming and felt incredibly supportive. This was something apparent from attending applicant days and certainly wasn’t just a façade, the impression remained throughout my time at Royal Holloway.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

In studying Earth Sciences, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to gain an appreciation and understanding of processes happening from the atmosphere through to the deep Earth across all scales. The ability to combine elements of chemistry, physics, and biology to understand our world has made me feel confident in applying myself across different fields. Research in the Earth Sciences has become increasingly diversified and offers more opportunities in the digital space too. I have enjoyed learning skills such as programming and high performance computing implementation, supplementing my geoscience skills, which broadened my career options.

Please tell us about your career journey since graduating and what you are doing now.

During my PhD I was supported by an Oracle for Research cloud credit grant, giving me access to advanced computing infrastructure for my project. Having worked with the team at Oracle as a researcher, I perused a job opportunity to join that same team with the intention of supporting other researchers. As a Senior Research Advocate, I engage with academic researchers across all disciplines who have computational requirements in their workflows. I am responsible for identifying opportunities for researchers to take advantage of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) to accelerate their work through grants of in-kind support. My experience in the academic environment made me a good fit for a group whose goal is to support academic researchers. Understanding the publishing process, research workflows, grant applications and having the credentials of once being a researcher means that I can relate to those I am working with.

What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in your sector?

Within IT and cloud it is impossible to know everything, there are simply too many technologies to keep track of and have extensive experience in. I think that it is important to nail the basics, learning how to code in a widely used language like Python and taking advantage of free training courses in cloud platforms are great places to start. All major cloud service providers, like Oracle, offer certifications in the foundations of using cloud. Certifications like the OCI Foundations Associate offer a great way to gain a broad understanding of cloud, not just from the perspective of a researcher. Having a solid foundation in this way means that you are likely to be able to apply for a variety of positions, not locking yourself into a highly specialised role which might be harder to find when starting out in your career. You can always specialise further later down the line!

What is your greatest professional achievement to date?

Since joining the Oracle for Research team, I have pioneered a new initiative to provide greater access to cloud computing grants for PhD researchers. This involves delivering training days which encompass a lecture element and practical workshop to give students a solid grounding in general cloud concepts and how to apply them to their research. Consequently, we have seen a steep increase in early career researchers involved in using OCI for research which is both a personal and professional achievement.

When you started at Royal Holloway, did you have a strong sense/ ambition of what you wanted to get from your time at university? What was special about Royal Holloway that helped you achieve this?

At the time of enrolling as an undergraduate my main focus was expanding my knowledge of the field however, determining a career path was also in the back of my mind as it is for many, if not all, students. When I started my studies, I quickly became sure that I wanted to go down the ‘typical’ academic route of being a researcher in the Earth Sciences alongside teaching. Whilst this option was something I could have pursued, the wider opportunities in the digital space which Royal Holloway offered later in my BSc programme, which shaped my PhD project, enabled me to see other career options. Ultimately the introduction of digital skills, deviating from the traditional Earth Sciences, allowed me to end up in the Oracle for Research team today – something which I am very happy about!

Name: Selma Isiku
Subject: MSc Petroleum Geoscience
Graduated: 2016
Place of work: Azinam
Position: Exploration Geologist

Selma studied MSc Petroleum Geoscience at Royal Holloway following recommendations from alumni friends and colleagues in Namibia. “Royal Holloway is renowned for producing and initiating quality research within the petroleum industry,” Selma says. “My colleagues’ personal accounts of the comprehensiveness of the course as well as the enjoyable year spent as an international student there made my decision to enrol very easy.”

Despite a demanding year, Selma credits the support of the Petroleum Geoscience with developing her confidence she reflects in her work place to this day. “It took quite some time to get comfortable with asking for guidance or advice during the course,” she says “but the open and encouraging attitude of staff gave me the confidence to boldly debate with others or challenge my own conventional thinking at times. The courage to speak up without fear of rejection or of having your ideas dismissed, especially as a female in a male dominated industry, was a significant confidence booster for me.”

After graduating in 2016, Selma returned to Namibia and joined Azinam as an Exploration Geologist. Azinam is a leading independent Southern-Africa Atlantic Margin focused oil and gas exploration company, currently chasing enormous untapped hydrocarbon potential offshore Namibia and South Africa. She is the only female geo-scientist at the company and since joining, has provided mainly geo-technical input on various hydrocarbon exploration projects, acreage evaluation and prospect generation work. She has also showcased Namibia’s hydrocarbon potential through technical presentations and panel discussions at various conferences and seminars.

“Due to the fact that Namibia’s oil and gas industry is still in its infancy, I have had the unique opportunity to see exploration from initial reconnaissance efforts to final well drilling,” Selma explains. “It has been so fulfilling to be in a position where I can apply my acquired skills ‘on the job’ every day and to do so under the tutelage of geologists and geophysicist who have been doing this kind of work for decades in different petroleum-rich basins across the globe!”

Selma was the deserved recipient of the prestigious Global Women Petroleum & Energy Club Award for Excellence in Africa in 2018. The Frontier Energy Network presents this award annually to an individual that has demonstrated excellence in Africa’s oil and gas sector and is a role model for young women looking to enter the industry. “Receiving the award was an incredibly humbling milestone not only personally but for the industry in general,” Selma says. “We have reached a point where fewer women have to fight for a place in the classroom, or even for the right to work, but today they are fighting being side-lined in traditionally male-dominated fields because of poor representation. If my small contribution can inspire young Africans, specifically women, to tip that scale by taking an interest in Science, Energy and Technology fields, then I am encouraged to remain consistent in my journey.”

In addition to her geotechnical work, Selma also hosts a weekly television talk show called Tupopyeni live on the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC. Tupopyeni which means ‘Let’s Talk’ is a popular and powerful platform where Namibians can engage invited guests and experts on a number of social and contemporary issues ranging from mental health, gender- based violence, financial literacy, early childhood development, cancer and much more.

Selma has some key advice for young people looking to enter the oil and energy industry. “There are many conflicting ideas about the future of oil and gas exploration amidst a very real climate change dilemma and net zero goals set by many leading organisations in my industry,” she says. “However, I wouldn’t be discouraged about pursuing a career in oil and gas. For as long as the world strives for economic growth, the key demand drivers derived from industrial and transportation sectors, there will be a need for experienced geoscientists in this field. In fact this may be the perfect time for students to think about how they can be more innovative and diversify their qualifications to reflect the ever-evolving nature of energy demands and contribute to the search of untapped resources.”


Name: Samia Ahmed
Subject: BSc Biology and Geology
MSc Petroleum Geoscience
Graduated: 2008, 2009
Place of Work: IHS, UK
Position: Middle East Field Researcher

IHS provides data and expertise across product lifecycle, security
and the environment for governments and multi-nationals.

Samia’s role is to create new discovery field records and to research and reconcile all aspects of hydrocarbon field data, ensuring data accuracy and consistency.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

Royal Holloway came highly recommended from my brothers who studied there and had found their time at the University a great experience, both academically and socially. Coupled with
the reputation of the geology course at Royal Holloway, I decided to move from Denmark to study there.

Did you do gain any work experience while at Royal Holloway?

The Director of my Masters, Professor Chris Elders, had business contacts and sent out emails for job opportunities. On the back of these, I applied to Sasol Petroleum, where I worked on a CO2 research project in my third year. At the same time, I was doing my third year project with the Natural History Museum in London.

I also did an internship at Deloitte as an Analyst before starting my Masters. I worked on two GIS projects using Petroview software and Petrobase, which are both Deloitte’s products.

What support did Royal Holloway offer in addition to your academic studies?

My Professor was very pro-active, supportive and kept us up-to-date with alumni careers. He was my inspiration and he has definitely contributed to my success today. We also had departmental careers fairs, where oil and service companies came to tell us about their graduate programs. These were mostly delivered by alumni who had studied geology. We would have company presentations, discussions, drinks and the opportunity to network with them.

Name: Helayna Wade
Subject: Geology
Graduated: 2014
Place of work: BAM
Position: Geotechnical Engineer

I completed Royal Holloway’s BSc in Geology in 2014.

What’s happened in your career?

Following graduation, I entered the construction industry, joining BAM Ritchies as an Assistant Geotechnical Engineer. During my time with BAM, I gained extensive engineering, commercial and design experience managing construction sites across the UK. The projects I have carried out have consisted of ground breaking and innovative techniques in slope stabilisation, ground remediation, piling and anchoring. In December 2015 I was promoted to Geotechnical Engineer at BAM. My responsibilities grew and so did the technical challenges.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

Studying at Royal Holloway was not only a privilege, but also a springboard to start my career as a Geotechnical Engineer. The course as a whole has been fundamental to my career development and aspirations.

Name: Matthew Phillips
Subject: Geology
Graduated: 1993
Place of work: Thomas Miller Wealth Management
Position: Managing Director

I completed Royal Holloway’s BSc in Geology in 1993. Back then, the UK economy was just coming out of recession, and having a good degree from a college of the University of London certainly helped getting my first job. By more luck than judgement I fell into financial services, working on a graduate management scheme for what was then the Woolwich Building Society.

Later I joined Deloitte, working in investment management, fund selection and portfolio construction. I am now managing director of Thomas Miller Wealth Management, a company that provides advice to private clients, charities and corporate clients.

Studying geology at Royal Holloway taught me how to apply the scientific method while always keeping the big picture in mind. This approach really helps in investment world where you need to have the flexibility to constantly challenge your own conclusions as new information comes to light.

Name: Les Hopper
Subject: Geoscience
Graduated: 2004
Place of work: Oxford University Press
Position: Head of Innovation (Education)

I completed Royal Holloway’s MSci in Geosciences in 2004. Following graduation, I was employed as Geology Warden at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre on the Jurassic Coast, a job that involved renovating the museum, leading fossil hunting trips, and working with local collectors.

Since 2006, I’ve mostly worked in science publishing, first joining Heinemann as a Science Editor in their schools team, then serving as Commissioning Editor for Pearson Education, before finally running my own team as Science Publisher at Oxford University Press (OUP). During this latter career phase, I helped turn OUP Science into the UK No. #1 before also taking over the Maths team as Head of STEM Publishing. In my current role as Head of Innovation (Education Division) at OUP, I work across the UK, Africa and Australia developing new education solutions for schools and individuals, and I’ve just completed a Postgraduate Diploma at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

Studying geology at Royal Holloway fueled my lifelong passion for the discipline, and the skills I learnt during my degree have proved invaluable for my career development.

Name: Alexandra Forster
Subject: Geology
Graduated: 2012
Place of work: Gold Fields Ltd
Position: Exploration Geologist

I completed Royal Holloway’s BSc in Geology in 2012. Following graduation, I have been employed by a number of different greenfield gold exploration companies in Guyana, Mali, Congo, Guinea and Australia. I am currently based in Perth, Australia, working for Gold Fields Ltd as an Exploration Geologist. Highlights of my career so far have included using tanks in the rainforest as transportation, finding gold nuggets in Kalgoorlie and living in tents in Mali. If you love adventure become a mineral exploration geologist!

Studying geology at Royal Holloway, with its particular emphasis on fieldwork, provided the ideal pathway into my professional life

Name: Alexander Ball
Subject: BSc Geology
Graduated: 1990
Place of work: University of Sheffield and the Natural History Museum (London)
Position: Ph.D. Student: Late Silurian – Early Devonian Adaptive Radiation of Vascular Plants.

I was first introduced to Royal Holloway by my A -Level Geology teacher, and amongst many other things, the excellent research and wide-ranging course matter at RHUL was very attractive to me. The opportunity to explore aspects of Geology beyond the set course are always there, and I started on my path to Palynology during my second year whilst writing a report, after which, encouraged by my lecturers, I continued to explore this exciting and somewhat unusual area of Palaeontology. 

My third-year mapping project was carried out on (mostly) Early Devonian Rocks in Scotland, and my Paleobiology Professor very kindly allowed me to process and examine the plant microfossils that were extracted from a sample that I had collected. I was able to add this to my final year project, something that certainly helped when I applied for my Ph.D..

My Ph.D. focuses on an area of Southern Wales called the Anglo-Welsh Basin at a point in time (around 416 million years ago) where there was very limited and simple plant life, as well as negligible animal life, on land. My supervisors and I aim to quantitatively analyse changes in diversity and disparity, as well as the evolutionary turnover rates, of the earliest vascular plants during the Late Silurian and Early Devonian, as they succeeded much simpler land plants. I will do this through the analysis of dispersed spores and plant fossils, both collected during fieldwork in Wales and via existing collections in the Natural History Museum.  I will also use in situ spores to explore the relationships between fossil plants and the dispersed spores, and all of this will help to illuminate the speed at which vascular plants gained terrestrial dominance, paving the way for the land we know today and giving insights into a very different world.

I was exceptionally fortunate to be offered a Ph.D. straight out of my BSc, as a master’s is usually required - it would not have been possible without the support and encouragement from my excellent lecturers.

Name: Max Coleman
Subject: BSc Environmental Geology
Graduated: 2018
Place of work: Royal Holloway
Position: MSc Earth Sciences by Research student

I graduated from Royal Holloway’s Bsc Environmental Geology programme in 2018 and went on undertake an MSc Earth Sciences by Research programme at Royal Holloway for the 2018-19 academic year. My masters project involved investigating the scale and sources of methane emissions from North Sea gas rigs, onshore gas terminals and shale gas sites, using isotope and trace gas concentration measurements of air.

During my undergraduate study, lecturers often referred to their own research during lectures, and coursework would often require reading of primary research articles, investigating a range of topics. During fieldwork we were also encouraged to make our own observations and formulate our own hypotheses explaining what we found. These factors gave me a taste for scientific research which I found I enjoyed. Having enjoyed opportunities to experience geochemical lab work as part of my 3rd year environmental geology project on methane emissions from around a developing shale gas site, I decided to continue with my project supervisors pursuing an MSc by research. I have obtained many skills from my undergraduate study, including data analysis and reduction with excel and python, and scientific writing, which I feel have prepared me for my upcoming masters study.

Name: Isaac Kenyon
Subject: BSc Petroleum Geology 2015 and MSc Petroleum Geoscience 2016
Position: Europe Energy Analyst at MapStand, Adventurer and Motivational Speaker

Why did you choose to study at Royal Holloway?

There are lots of reasons why to choose Royal Holloway for the outstanding diversity and international student mix, the beautiful campus and Harry Potter Hogwarts looking Founders building or the general close proximity to London but also the convenient nature areas such as Windsor Great Park. For me the main reason I chose was the Earth Science Department, one of the best in the country and has world-leading research, it is the best of the best in my opinion and I loved our field trips and excursions all over Europe - a wonderful learning experience which has helped me forge my career today. As with many of us who choose this subject I always had a fascination with the discovery and history of the world we live in. I also was inspired by a Steven Spielberg movie called Jurassic Park to study palaeontology or study dinosaurs in some way. So that coupled with my love for the outdoors and wonderful field trips lead to pursuing the natural sciences.


What did you enjoy most about your course?

I enjoyed the closeness of my course, we were 30 students for the year group and that meant it was very easy to become a team and everyone knew everyone and there was no scrambling for help from professors or lecturers as there was enough support to go around. I liked that there was a lot of contact hours pretty much 9-5 pm every day and this kept the learning up to a maximum and felt like you were gaining the most out of your degree.


Please tell us about some of your favourite memories of your time at Royal Holloway.

Some of my best memories came out of the extracurricular voluntary opportunities at Royal Holloway that really helped me grow in character and confidence. Some of the opportunities have given me an adventurous avenue in life alongside my career. So whilst studying I was very active with many projects. I tried the whole work life balance to the extremes at university and that has really helped me take on a multitude of tasks at work and not be phased. I started doing adventures in my second year of university and making the most of the scholarships that were offered. During which I got a grant to do some fieldwork as part of an expedition that took me 6 days to climb to the summit of Mt.Kilimanjaro as part of a geology coursework and I got the alumni fund award for Royal Holloway Swimming Club to swim across the English Channel which we did in 12 hours. This is where my life of adventure started.


How did Royal Holloway help you to discover opportunities and prepare you for life after university / to find your purpose in life?

I think the education of the Earth Science department really helped with getting a job in geosciences and the energy industry. Also having the support of the Students' Union and Royal Holloway to go above and beyond in my case adventurous charitable initiatives and projects for developing myself and those in the sports and societies I was a part of built specific skills that you don't usually get without lots of support in making those steps happen. I may never have done these big adventures or be working in the challenging energy transition of the energy industry without the education and support that helped me make steps towards those goals. The network of alumni is also incredibly important in maintaining that support I have so many friends that I have met at Royal Holloway which I have helped in some way since or they have helped me vice versa which comes from that close-knit family of a campus university where you really get to know your fellow cohort.

Please tell us about your career journey since leaving university and what you do now.

Since leaving university I have worked as a business analyst for a large property company called British Land which helped me learn about budgets and accruals as well as managing large projects simultaneously. I took six months out of work to row across the Atlantic Ocean which took 40 days to complete. I then started my own speaking business to discuss the adventure which I still run to this day and became a trustee for the charity Mind in Mid Herts a mental health charity. I then returned to the hustle and bustle of Central London as an energy analyst for a company called MapStand and have been part of since its inception for the last two years. MapStand is a worlds-first start-up, focused on providing affordable energy intelligence within a one-stop-shop online platform that features accessible real-time newsfeed, compiled asset information and professional networking connectivity within a unique geospatial context.  As Europe energy transition lead in the data team I manage various databases that monitor, report and reflect European energy activity on the platform. Information comes from research, dataset collaborations and intelligence gathering (drilling, crowdsourcing prospects, planned wells, planned infrastructure tiebacks, renewable projects). I like to update processes within the data team along with the research/development teams to fulfil the needs of the client/user and improve the workflows for more efficient and quicker and more insightful updates. With many start-ups, I have a second role in business development. Generating leads, conducting demos of the products to clients, managing the sales funnel and negotiating deals with IOCs. I like to strike collaborations with service companies, government agencies and NOCs by gaining open-source dataset permissions from various servers to add new datasets to our growing database. 

What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in your industry?

Don’t be afraid of “What If” The energy industry is going through a huge transition as with many other industries to address climate change/emissions and those not adapting are losing out… Investment is moving to forward-thinking companies, if an opportunity comes and it isn’t the traditional route, don’t be afraid to be different and do something else, you might come out better than if you keep persisting on the traditional way, companies like innovation and new ideas and value those who are prepared to take risks and be accountable for them it’s a good skill to have. The world is always going to change and you can’t stop change, so embrace it and be prepared to change with it. If it is not working for you try something else, because you have nothing to lose by trying. Improving your position for your goals so you are ready to come back when the timing is better but even stronger than you were with new skillsets.

Being lucky can get you only so far, working hard with persistence can get your further. I will be honest it is a tough industry to get into and it is very people focussed. "Who you know" is  very important. Also, there are a lot of job cuts in the energy business in oil and gas but there is a lot of opportunity in the renewables and energy transition roles. The hiring is very cyclical so it's about the right time and the right person, although if you’re a hard worker and think outside the box and market yourself well you can break into the industry during a low time. This industry is in crucial need of young fresh perspectives and this can only come from young graduates. Even if the timing is not good for hiring, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on a dream, keep talking to people in the industry your time will come when you make it in.


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