How do I become a quantitative interpreter?

TLDR: start doing quantitative interpretation.

I just saw this question on reddit/r/geophysics

I always feel a bit sad when I read this sort of question, which is even more common on LinkedIn, because it reminds me that we (in the energy industry at least) have built recruiting patterns and HR practices that make it look as if professionals have career tracks or have to build CVs to impress people or get permission to train in a new area. This is all wrong.

Or, to be more precise, we can treat this as all wrong and have a lot more fun in the process.

If you are a 'geologist' or 'geophysicist', then you are in control of your own career and what you apply yourself to. No-one is telling you what to do, they are only telling you what they need. How you do it, the methods you apply, the products you build — all this is completely up to you. This is almost the whole point of being a professional.

The replies to Timbledon's question include this one:

I disagree with Schwa88. Poor Timbledon doesn't need another degree. Rock physics is not a market, and not new. There are no linear tracks. And there is no clear or useful distinction between rock physics and quantitative interpretation (or petrophysics, or seismic geophysics) — I bet there are no two self-identifying quantitative interpreters with identical, or even similar, job or educational histories.

As for 'now is not the time'... I can't even... 'Now' is the only time you can do anything about, so work with it.

OK, enough ranting, what should Timbledon do?

It's easy! The best way to pursue quantitative interpretation, or pretty much anything except pediatric cardiology, is to just start doing it. It really is that simple. My advice is to use quantitative methods in every project you touch, and in doing so you will immediately outperform most interpreters. Talk to anyone and everyone about your interest and share your insights. Volunteer for projects. Go to talks. Give talks. To help you find your passion, take the time to learn about some big things:

  • Rock physics, e.g. the difference between static and dynamic elasticity.
  • Seismic processing, e.g. what surface consistent deconvolution and trim statics are.
  • Seismic interpretation, e.g. seismic geomorphology and seismic stratigraphy.
  • Seismic analysis, e.g. the difference between Zoeppritz, Fatti, and Shuey.
  • Statistics, e.g. when you need multilinear regression, or K-means clustering.

Those are just examples. If you're more into X-ray diffraction in clays, or the physics of crystalline rocks, or fluid properties, or wellbore seismic, or time-lapse effects, or whatever — learn about those things instead.

Whatever you do, Timbledon, don't listen to anybody ;)

Expert culture is bad for you


Expert culture is bad for you. Not experts themselves, though I prefer not to use the word at all, but a culture that elevates them unduly. I don't like the word because it is usually used to mean something like master, chief, authority, or worst of all, judge. 

What's wrong with expert culture? Lots:

  • It disenfranchises everyone else. Non-experts think there are some opinions they are not entitled to. In a highly creative, subjective discipline like ours, this is A Bad Thing.
  • This forces them to wait around till the expert can tell them what to do. Which slows everything down. If they have to wait too long, or can't get the expert's attention, or the expert can't or won't get involved, the opportunity, whatever it was, may disappear. 
  • Meanwhile, experts are burdened with impossibly high expectations — of always being right or at least deeply insightful. This makes them cautious. So if they're uncertain or uncomfortable, they hang back because there's no upside to being wrong in the expert culture.
  • Expert culture encourages knowledge hoarding, because it explicitly connects personal knowledge with glory, and downplays what the rest of the organization knows. The ignorance of the masses highlights the expert's prestige.
  • Experts, frustrated with having to tell people what to do all the time, write best practice documents and other edicts, which try to make tricky workflows idiot-proof. But idiot-proof means idiot-friendly — who did you hire?

How to fix it


Better is a culture of expertise. The basic premise is that expertise is everywhere in your organization. You do not, and can not, know where it is. Indeed, its whereabouts will often surprise you. Turns out you hired awesome people after all — and they know stuff. Yay!

In the culture of expertise, what are these people we often call experts? They are still highly experienced people, with unusually broad or deep careers, with profound intelligence or intuition. But now they are free to apply their insight and judgment in more creative and more daring ways — even to things they aren't considered experts in. And their role in this new culture shifts slightly: it becomes the seeking, assessing, parsing, synthesizing, and spreading of expertise in the organization — wherever it is. They become curators, mentors, and champions of excellence. And they will revel in it.

The best experts do this already. How many do you know? Will you step up?

Today's the day!

We're super-excited. We said a week ago we'd tell you why today. 

At the CSEG-CSPG conference last year, we hatched a plan. The idea was simple: ask as many amazing geoscientists as we could to write something fun and/or interesting and/or awesome and/or important about geophysics. Collect the writings. Put them in a book and/or ebook and/or audiobook,... and sell it at a low price. And also let the content out into the wild under a creative commons license, so that others can share it, copy it, and spread it.

So the idea was conceived as Things You Should Know About Geophysics. And today the book is born... almost. It will be available on 1 June, but you can see it right now at, pre-order or wish-list it. It will be USD19, or about 36 cents per chapter. For realz.

The brief was deliberately vague: write up to 600 words on something that excites or inspires or puzzles you about exploration geophysics. We had no idea what to expect. We knew we'd get some gold. We hoped for some rants.

Incredibly, within 24 hours of sending the first batch of invites, we had a contribution. We were thrilled, beyond thrilled, and this was the moment we knew it would work out. Like any collaborative project, it was up and down. We'd get two or three some days, then nothing for a fortnight. We extended deadlines and crossed fingers, and eventually called 'time' at year's end, with 52 contributions from 38 authors.

Like most of what we do, this is a big experiment. We think we can have it ready for 1 June but we're new to this print-on-demand lark. We think the book will be in every Amazon store (.ca, .co, .uk, etc), but it might take a few weeks to roll through all the sites. We think it'll be out as an ebook around the same time. Got an idea? Tell us how we can make this book more relevant to you!

What we did over the summer holidays

The half-life of a link is hilariously brief, so here is an attempt to bring some new life back into the depleted viewership of our summer-time blogging. Keep in mind that you can search for any of the articles on our blog using the search tool, shown here, or sign up for email updates lower down on the side bar, for hands-free, automated Agile goodness every time we post something new.  

Well worth showing off, 4 July: This post was a demonstration of the presentation tool Prezi applied to pseudo-digital geoscience data. Geoscience is inherently visual and scale dependant, so we strive to work and communicate in a helicoptery way. I used Prezi to navigate a poster presentation on sharing geo-knowledge beyond the experts

Geophysical stamps—Geophone, 15 July: Instalment 3 of Matt's vintage German postage stamps was a tribute to the geophone. This post prompted a few readers to interject with suggestions and technical corrections. We strive for an interactive, dynamic and malleable blog, and their comments certainly improved the post. It was a reminder to be ready to react when you realize someone is actually reading your stuff. 

Petrophysics cheatsheet, 25 July and its companion post: Born out a desire to make a general quick reference for well logs, we published the Petrophysics cheatsheet, the fourth in our series of cheatsheets. In this companion post, you can read why petrophysics is hard. It sits in a middle ground between drilling operations, geoscience, and reservoir engineering, and ironically petrophysical measurements seldom measure the properties we are actually interested in. Wireline data is riddled with many service providers and tool options, data formats, as well as historical and exhaustive naming conventions.

How to cheat at spot the difference, 3 Aug: Edward Tufte says, "to clarify, add detail". Get all your data into one view to assist your audience in making a comparison. In this two-part post Matt demonstrated the power of visual crossplotting using two examples: a satelite photo of a pyroclastic flow, and a subsurface horizon with seismic attributes overlain. Directly mapping partially varying properties is better than data abstractions (graphs, tables, numbers, etc). Richer images convey more information and he showed us how to cheat at spot the difference using simple image processing techniques.

Digital rocks and accountability, 10 Aug: At the First International Workshop in Rock Physics, I blogged about two exciting talks on the first day of the conference on the promise of digital rock physics and how applied scientists should strive to be better in their work. Atul Gawande's ternary space of complexity could serve as tool for mapping out geoscience investigations. Try it out on your next problem and ask your teammates to expose the problem as they see it.

Wherefore art thou, Expert?, 24 Aug: Stemming from a LinkedIn debate on the role of service companies in educating and empowering their customers, Matt reflected on the role of the bewildered generalist in today's upstream industry. Information systems have changed, perfection is a myth and domain expertise runs too deep. Generalists can stop worrying about not knowing enough, specialists can builder shallower and more accesible tools, and service companies can serve instead of sell. 

Pseudogeophysics, 31 Aug: Delusion, skeptisicm, and how to crack a nut. This post drew comments about copyright control and the cost of lost opportunity; make sure to read the comments section of this post.

So yeah, now go catch up on your reading. 

Wherefore art thou, Expert?

I don't buy the notion that we should be competent at everything we do. Unless you have chosen to specialize, as a petrophysicist or geophysical analyst perhaps, you are a generalist. Perhaps you are the manager of an asset team, or a lone geophysicist in a field development project, or a junior geologist looking after a drilling program. You are certainly being handed tasks you have never done before, and being asked to think about problems you didn't even know existed this time last year. If you're anything like me, you are bewildered at least 50% of the time.

In this post, I take a look at some problems with assuming technical professionals can be experts at everything, especially in this world of unconventional plays and methods. And I even have some ideas about what geoscientists, specialists and service companies can do about them...

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