Jessica Polkinghorne

University of Western Australia
Reservoir engineer
Jessica studied Bachelor of Petroleum Engineering (Hons) with a major in oil and gas at the University of Western Australia.

What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?

My name is Jessica Polkinghorne and I am a Reservoir Engineer. I studied a Bachelor of Petroleum Engineering (Hons) with a Major in Oil and Gas at the University of Western Australia, graduating in November 2014.

Where did you grow up? Important stages of your life (school, education, experience abroad, jobs etc.)

I spent my childhood and teenage years in Rossmoyne, a suburb just south of the Perth CBD, in Western Australia. I attended Rossmoyne Senior High School, where I discovered and pursued my passion for travel, music and new experiences. I toured New Zealand in Year 9, playing saxophone in our school Jazz band, and in Year 10, I spent 6 weeks in Germany on a cultural exchange program. Experiencing another country, different language and culture really opened my eyes to diversity. It also ignited my passion for skiing which I love to this day! During, this time I met my exchange partner, Julia, and we are still friends to this day. While I studied at university, I worked part-time at OPSM for 5 years which was a great experience – I got to meet lots of new people, chat and try on sunglasses all day long!

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

As a part of my petroleum engineering degree, I was required to complete 12 weeks of work experience before graduation. I decided that Shell was my ‘dream company’ and I wanted to pursue a future working as an engineer there. Why Shell you may ask? Shell appealed to me because of the extensive training provided on the graduate program, the opportunity for international placements, and its reputation for technical innovation. I applied for an intern position in the penultimate year of my degree. After multiple rounds of assessments, I was offered a 12 week assessed internship. I worked as a Drilling Engineer in the Wells team in the Perth office from November 2013 to February 2014. My key deliverable was to work on the emergency response plan for Prelude, specifically the ‘how to’ around the deployment of a capping stack in the unfortunate event of a subsea blowout. Following an assessment of my business deliverables and behaviours exhibited over my 12 week placement, Shell offered me a Reservoir Engineering position on the Shell Graduate Program. I commenced my role in March 2015 and have been working here for 3 years to date.

Your work

What does your employer do?

Shell is an integrated energy company that aims to meet the world’s growing demand for energy in ways that are economically, environmentally and socially responsible. Our operations are divided into four businesses; Upstream, Integrated Gas and New Energies, Downstream, and Projects & Technology. In Upstream, we focus on exploration for new liquids and natural gas reserves and on developing major new projects. In Integrated Gas and New Energies, we focus on liquefying natural gas (LNG) and converting gas to liquids (GTL) so that it can be safely stored and shipped to markets around the world. The New Energies business has been established to explore and invest in new low-carbon opportunities. In Downstream, we focus on turning crude oil into a range of refined products, which are moved and marketed around the world for domestic, industrial and transport use. Our Projects & Technologies business is responsible for delivering new development projects and the research and development that leads to innovative and low-cost investments for the future.

What are your areas of responsibility?

I recently moved from Perth to Brisbane to work for QGC in the Integrated Gas line of business. As a Reservoir Engineer on the Shell Graduate Program, I have worked on many projects, in both non-producing and producing assets. These roles include working on reservoir uncertainty, experimental design, PVT fluid analysis, short and long-term production forecasting and production data analysis. These roles have been within the Subsurface or Development Planning teams, and have given me exposure to many different parts of the business.

Can you describe a typical work day?

I am working on projects through to completion over timeframes of months, therefore each day involves different tasks that contribute to final project deliverable, there is very rarely a “typical” work day. Each day I am at my computer creating dynamic model reservoir simulations, and analysing the results of these to identify subsurface impact on the business plan. I can attend several meetings throughout my day. These may involve colleagues in disciplines across the whole business, from well engineering, production operations, geologists, petrophysicists and economists. My favourite weekly meeting is my discipline-specific meeting, where we connect with the Reservoir Engineering community across Brisbane and Perth and share ideas, work in progress and any specific topics of interest.

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

I believe studying Petroleum Engineering with a major in Oil and Gas provides a broad understanding of the oil and gas industry, in turn opening up the possibility to develop further into varying disciplines and career paths. To succeed in this industry, it is beneficial to be a creative and ambitious professional, with the continual desire to learn. Show your ability to harness a culture of teamwork, integration and inclusivity, and obtain as much experience in the industry whilst you’re a student as possible. It is this experience that will help you decide on the right path within the industry, and shape your determination for long-term career goals.

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

Someone with solid technical foundation in their discipline and strong communication skills to enable the clear sharing of ideas. Also, a passion to succeed, learn from your mistakes and work hard, but also prioritise establishing strong relationships with your colleagues.  

Pros and cons

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

Every day is exciting! Whether it involves engaging with new teams, meeting people from different parts of the business, networking, or diving deep into a reservoir simulation, it is always challenging, thought-provoking and very rewarding. My favourite task is definitely reservoir simulation. I love the complexity, challenge and constant opportunity to learn. Sometimes you must make a mistake to learn how to improve, however the feeling of accomplishment when you succeed is very rewarding.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Is your job physically demanding?

The biggest limitation of my current role is the restricted site exposure. In previous roles, I have had the opportunity to go offshore the northwest coast of WA whilst working in Perth, and onshore to parts of the Surat Basin in rural QLD, both of which were fantastic experiences. Gaining site exposure is very important; it puts your own work into perspective, and introduces you to the many different moving parts of the business which all have to work together safely and efficiently for day-to-day success.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I pride myself in being a very caring and passionate person and I thoroughly enjoy giving to and helping people. I have always been interested in medicine and the incredible ability science and innovation lend towards helping people in need. I think I would be especially interested in helping children so they can live healthier, happier and longer lives.

A word to the wise...

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? 

Be enthusiastic and show your willingness to learn. No one knows everything, and in every situation, both in your personal and professional life, there is always opportunity to learn and grow as an individual. Get involved – show interest in your classmates, join university clubs and societies, and volunteer. Showing genuine interests, and having hobbies outside of your academic life is very important in being a well-rounded person, plus it is fun to get to know people! Be true to yourself – there is only one person you need to make proud, and that is yourself. Be true to your values, your personality, and your beliefs; and most importantly, always respect the same for others. Being a part of a multicultural world allows us all to support the pursuit for diversity and inclusion and allowing everyone to be accepted for who they are!