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Careering off course: Paul Dodsworth (Oil/Gas Industry)

Note: this article, written in 2002, featured on the previous Palaeontological Association website but was not part of the Careering off Course! Newsletter series; however it is now included within the series for consistency. This article was updated on the 05/01/2017.

Paul Dodsworth has +20 years of experience as a full-time biostratigraphic consultant. He has written six papers in peer-reviewed journals on the applications of palynology to stratigraphic problem solving. He has co-written a further five multi-disciplinary papers. His expertise mainly focuses on the Upper Jurassic, Cretaceous and Paleogene palynology and stratigraphy of Europe, the Middle East, North America and Africa. Office-based studies of hydrocarbon wells from these regions allow accurate stratigraphic calibration.


My job.

Palynologist/Stratigrapher with a service company logging Cretaceous/Tertiary palynological slides from wells drilled for hydrocarbons, writing reports, reviewing data from other stratigraphers' reports, integrating biostratigraphic data with corresponding sedimentological and seismic work. The wellsite work is the most exciting, assessing stratigraphy as it is drilled, often being required to advise on critical operational decisions (e.g. "we've come out of reservoir, do we need to steer the drill bit up, down or straight ahead?")

How I got there.

Interest in geography at school, went on to study geography, geology, statistics and computer science at A-level, B.Sc. (Hons.) in applied geology at Plymouth, and an M.Sc. in palynology at Sheffield. Funding stopped there. I took part-time work in the palynology research labs in Sheffield, demonstrated to undergraduates, and taught visiting post graduates (including the editor of the newsletter!) dinoflagellates and palynological processing to fund my doctoral research. For the first few years after graduation, basic salaries are comparable to those for post-doctoral research posts. Significant additional sums may be earned through undertaking offshore assignments.

My area of research

Mid-Cretaceous dinoflagellate cysts. My undergraduate research supervisor at Plymouth University, Prof. Malcolm Hart, introduced me to the problem of bug changes across mass extinction intervals, in particular the Cenomanian-Turonian Stage boundary. I became so interested in the issue, I carried on researching it for my M.Sc. and Ph.D. at Sheffield University.

But would I do it all again?

I enjoyed the research I undertook at M.Sc. and Ph.D. level. I first applied for an industrial biostratigraphy job after my M.Sc. in 1992 but this was during a downturn in the hydrocarbon industry. I may have taken a post if I had been offered anything at that time, rather than pursuing a Ph.D. Opportunities to get in to the industry were limited for the next couple of years. My colleagues on the M.Sc. course managed to find work in the hydrocarbon industry but in fields other than biostratigraphy. As I wrote up my Ph.D. in 1996, there were three biostratigraphy vacancies and I took up one of these. Since 1996, employment opportunities have been fairly steady with the exception of the downturn of 1999. With the closure of U.K. palynology M.Sc. courses, there will be a shortfall in the supply of trained graduates to the industry. Anyone undertaking a Ph.D. in palynology or one of the M.Sc. courses available outside the U.K. will probably be in demand on qualifying.

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