Talk with Anna Samnioti (PhD Researcher)

This week, we introduce you to Anna Samnioti, a PhD Researcher in petroleum engineering. She is a graduate of BE in Mineral Resource Engineering from Technical University of Crete, followed by a MSc. in Petroleum Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark from 2016 and 2018 respectively. She is currently a PhD candidate in Petroleum Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens.

Anna has worked as a Reservoir Engineer intern at Energean and then also as a Reservoir Engineer at Petro Austrails Ltd. She is currently pursuing her PhD and her research is focused on compositional reservoir simulation using neural networks.

She has a robust and indepth understanding of petroleum engineering core topics and has both the academic and practical experience. Therefore, we were lucky to have a chance to have a talk with her. So do read her answers below to learn more about her.

Education

What motivated you to study Petroleum Engineering?

When I started my Bachelor, I was very excited that I was going to be an engineer since it was always what I wanted to do. As the semesters passed, I gained a very good insight into the fields of my department (Mineral Resources Engineering) and what intrigued me the most was Petroleum Engineering.

I liked Petroleum Engineering because it is an interdisciplinary subject. You start studying about how hydrocarbons are produced and stored underground and you combine it with subjects like mathematics, geology, thermodynamics, chemistry, fluid dynamics and many more. In addition, I think that the whole process of drilling a well and producing the hydrocarbons is an engineering marvel. It takes months of even years of planning and construction and it combines many different engineering fields to make it happen.

How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

For my Master degree, I spent most of my time reading and doing team projects every week, something that I enjoyed doing since I got the chance to meet, work with and have fun with many people from different countries. The workload was heavy mostly at the end of my studies since there was much to be done in order to complete and present my thesis. Now, for my PhD studies, the workload is even bigger, with long hours of research about modelling fluid thermodynamic properties using neural networks and learning how to use different programming languages.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

Yes, we had many chemistry courses and I attended almost all of them. To be more specific, we had many classic chemistry courses in the first years of my BSc but later on the courses started to focus mostly on petroleum chemistry and on earth sciences related chemistry in general. Some of the most interested courses that I attended was petroleum chemistry, fluid thermodynamics modelling and refinery related chemistry

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

The most difficult for me was the fluid thermodynamics-modelling course, and it is what i ended up doing for my PhD at the very end. At first this courses was very challenging and I spent long hours reading and researching but when I understood the foundations and the basic concepts it became one of my favorite courses.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?

I chose to focus on Petroleum Engineering. This is a very challenging field because it combines earth sciences and engineering, something that fascinated me from the beginning. Although this field is always very controversial, especially now that we are facing and understanding the global climate changes, it is evolving and it is providing the required energy for the world and helping alleviate the challenges of climate change.

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad? if yes, from where to where? How did you do it?

I got my BSc from my home country and my MSc from Denmark. It was always my dream to study abroad and I finally got the chance to do it for my Master degree. I chose the University of Denmark because it has one of the best Masters in my field and I moved there as soon as I received my acceptance letter.

Was there a lot of mathematics and programming in petroleum engineering?

There a lot of mathematics, as in any engineering field, and programming. Someone in this field has to know at least the basic because programming, software and computers in general are widely used in order to solve problems related to both subsurface and surface operations. These might entail simulating the hydrocarbon flow in a reservoir or a pipeline, evaluating reservoir performance, estimation of reserves, production optimization, drilling and well logging and I am only mentioning a few.

What programming language and programs are mostly used in petroleum engineering?

In my experience, the most important program for a petroleum engineer is Excel. Microsoft excel is a standard when it comes to recording, visualizing and transferring data, something very useful for petroleum engineers. Another one, also very handy, is MATLAB, which is very good for numeric mathematic purposes. By using MATLAB, someone can simulate a reservoir like environment, model and optimize drilling equipment, analyze seismic data to determine optimal drilling locations and much more.

Finally, Python is very useful because it is a popular coding language for data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. It can be used for informed decision making when it comes to reservoir production, recovery optimization and much more.

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

I had an internship for 2 months when I was doing my BSc, which was mostly on my field of petroleum engineering and I got it through an internship program we have at TUC. This internship helped me gain useful insights and see what petroleum engineering is all about, making me love it even more. In addition, I got the chance to visit an oil platform for a few days, which was both fascinating and educational at the same time. After that, I was working in a watersports business, mainly in summers in a tourist area of my hometown.

PhD Experience

What was your research focus during your PhD?

My research focus in my PhD is compositional reservoir simulation using neural networks.

What is your daily routine like? What were the tasks you had to deal with during your PhD?

The daily life of a PhD student can be quite different from what someone might have experienced as an undergraduate or Masters Student, with much more independence and with no courses (at least that is the case for me). My day starts early in the morning when I arrive in my office at the university. The daily routine depends on several different factors, from my research area and the stage of my PhD and to what I have agreed with my supervisor and my own learning style. I am mainly focused in my computer, since my PhD does not contain any lab work, and I spent many hours reading and researching.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for a PhD in petroleum engineering?

In my opinion, the most useful hard skills are the technical skills someone should have, like about thermodynamics, geology, geomechanics, production etc. and analytical and problem solving skills. For the soft skills, I think that the most important are interpersonal skills, like communication, presentation, teamwork, ability to work under pressure etc.

How did you get your PhD?

I am still a PhD candidate, I have not finished yet.

If other students wish to continue to a PhD? What should they be doing during their BSc/MSc years?

If someone is planning to apply for a PhD program, the most important task to be done is to think about the area of expertise you want to focus on, as early as possible. This is important because during your Master you will have the time to gain the right academia background and be prepared. During your Master’s you win years in which you can decide on a definitive research topic and you will inevitably gather a lot of info about it.

Why did you pick a PhD over going into the industry?

I choose academia because there someone can enjoy intellectual freedom, without the constraints of short-term deadlines. In addition, I believe that I will gain more expertise in my field in order to better pursue a job in the industry when I finish.

What are your future plans? What opportunities are there for petroleum engineers?

My plans are to finish my PhD in the next 2 years and pursue a job in the industry. I am not sure yet if I would like to remain in academia afterwards but I am more confident that I will have that option too if something goes not as planned. I am a person who always wants to have multiple plans in my life, in everything I do, because what I have learned is that life has many surprises and I want to be ready to deal with them.

As far as the opportunities for reservoir engineers, there are many. As a petroleum engineer, someone can work on many different fields, depending on the expertise. From exploration, drilling and reservoir to production, storage and transportation, a broad range of employment opportunities are open to petroleum engineers in the oil and gas sector. Finally, apart from those, I believe that all different kinds of engineers can work on many sectors, not only the petroleum industry.

Many people believe that oil industry is in a downhill and petroleum engineering has a limited scope. What would you say about that?

Petroleum engineering is a unique and highly controversial discipline. There is no doubt that the worlds perspective over energy has changed dramatically over the recent years since we have gained more knowledge over the climate change problem and we are heading towards a world with cleaner energy.

Many people tend to think that the petroleum industry is in a downhill but I do not think that is the case. The Oil and Gas sector, from the begging of its creation, has learn to adapt to changes in order to provide the world with energy, while safeguarding the environment for future generations.

Petroleum engineering will be needed for decades to come to provide the required energy for the world and help alleviate the challenges of climate change because petroleum engineering practices can and will also be used in solving some of the climate change issues. Already, most Oil and Gas companies are implementing projects to reduce the environmental footprint, like inclusion of renewable energy resources and battery-power backup to upstream and downstream facilities, utilizing new technologies in drilling to reduce the impact on the environment, carrying out operations for carbon capture and storage etc.

What was your first job after graduation and how did you get it?

My first job as a MSc graduate was as a petroleum engineer for an Australian company (remote). I took this job while a had already started my PhD. Someone asked my professor if he knew a petroleum engineer interested in working remote from home and he suggested me. Then I took the interview, along with several other candidates, and eventually I took the job. This job was very challenging because of its nature (remote) and because it was my first role as an engineer. Despite that, it was one of the best experiences because it was like a different type of ''university'' since I learned many practical skills that was not included in any of my studies since then.

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

I mainly have two suggestions for them. The first is to enjoy their years in university, travel if possible and make friends. This might not seem important but for my personal experience (and my friends), doing that helped us improve our language skills, enhance our social network and learn about new cultures and perspectives. Secondly, it is important to try to figure out what fascinates you the most. Do your research, talk with professors or career advisors in order to guide you to the right path. This way you will be more motivated and focus on what you really want to do in your life.

What skills should they focus on during university years? For me the most important ones are communication, teamwork and learning how to be flexible and adapt to challenges. No matter what your career will be in the future, those skills will always be useful in all industries.
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