The oil industry serves as a relatively minor employer of physicists, as approximately 330 physicists were employed in oil and gas extraction positions in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The oil and gas industry has seen a robust increase in women workers overall, jumping from 48,900 in 2004 to 78,400 in 2012, according to ABC News.
Research and Development
Oil companies employ physicists, along with a battery of scientists in other fields, to conduct laboratory research and other non-field research. These physicists use data to develop extraction strategies and study the theory and practicality of the technology used in the oil fields. They also work with others, including engineers, to design improved equipment and techniques for the exploration and extraction of oil. In addition, physicists and others in research labs work with engineers in the field who share data and other information with them, so that the lab researchers can help with strategies for specific well cases.
Physicists who do field work for an oil company may work on sites around the world. These field engineer positions require travel to often remote conditions that are hundreds of miles away from a town. Conditions can be challenging, including extreme heat and cold. Locations can be as demanding and diverse as a Middle East desert and the Arctic Circle, or even an oil rig at sea. Field work involves working at well sites to ensure equipment is working appropriately and to analyze data findings to determine oil availability.
Physicists can move into management positions in oil companies. Those positions may be directly related to their scientific background, such as a leadership post running a lab. For example, Ellen Williams, a physicist, serves as chief scientist of British Petroleum, overseeing the application of scientific and technological developments to energy practices. A management post may have more of an engineering focus, such as managing a well site. In addition, physicists can move into management positions that oversee a more broad realm, including such categories as customer service, marketing and human resources.
Other Industry Careers
Physicists work in positions in the oil industry that do not involve research or field work. However, those positions often capitalize on their knowledge and skills, and the physicists who hold the posts may move into them after previous jobs in the areas of research or field work. For instance, a physicist with experience at oil extraction sites may move into a training position that calls on them to teach engineers and others how to use equipment or how to conduct field analysis.
- Institute of Physics: Working in Physics - Striking It Lucky in the Oil Industry
- Institute of Physics: Oil and Gas
- American Physical Society: Profiles in Versatility
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Physicists
- Southeast Conference for Women Undergraduates in Physics: Speakers and Panelists
- ABC News: Breaking New Ground - Oil Boom Draws More Women to Industry
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