"Your career can be as rewarding as you want it to be..."

An interview with Graziella Kirtland Grech

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Tyler MacFarlane
Graziella Kirtland Grech

With an uncommon combination of technical, leadership and management skills, and a track record of strategic planning and team building, Graziella Kirtland Grech is an active and inspirational geophysicist. Even before receiving her Ph.D. in Exploration Geophysics from the University of Calgary in 2002, she began her career at VeritasDGC, first as a research geoscientist and subsequently as a technical advisor.

Subsequent to the merger with CGG, Graziella's career at CGGVeritas developed rapidly as she became Director of Geoscience in Calgary and then moved to France to build a global multidisciplinary team of research scientists and geophysicists as Manager for Multicomponent Processing & Technology. Achieving her objectives in France ahead of schedule, she returned to Calgary as Vice President, Geomarket Director for Canada and Alaska. Early this year, she joined Arcis Seismic Solutions, where she is putting her skills to good use as Vice-President, Processing and Reservoir Services.

Graziella's high quality Ph.D. work has been published in refereed publications, and she won many awards for presentations based on that work, including the SEG Best Student Poster Award in 1998, and the CSEG Best Paper Award in 2001, amongst others. Graziella has a passion for languages and is fluent in Maltese, her native language, as well as in English, Spanish, French and Italian. She plays the violin, piano and flute and is a fitness enthusiast. Having achieved so much since arriving in Canada 15 years ago, she is an inspiration and role model especially for younger geophysicists who are just embarking on their careers. Warm and straightforward in manner, Graziella very sportingly agreed to an interview, from which we have excerpted the following highlights.

Graziella, please tell us about your educational background and work experience.

I have a B.Sc. in Physics and Computer Science and an M.Sc. in Geophysics, both from the University of Malta. After graduating, I started working as a geophysicist at the Oil Exploration Department for the Maltese government, but I always wanted to further my studies, so I applied for a Commonwealth scholarship and also independently to 3 Canadian universities. Eventually I got a Commonwealth scholarship to study at Imperial College in London and also got accepted at Queen's, U of A and U of C. I chose to go to U of C for my Ph.D. in Geophysics. I was lucky to be offered a parttime job with VeritasDGC Inc. at the beginning of the third year of my Ph.D. studies as a research geoscientist, which translated into a full-time job 8 months later. It was a great opportunity since the work I was doing at the time complemented my research experience and I learnt a lot.

How did you pick up physics and computer science for your B.Sc., and then why did you switch over to geophysics in your M.Sc.?

I always liked physics, since the very first lessons in secondary school when I was 13. Computer Science in the late '80's was a pretty new topic and I was intrigued. The other possible combination for me at the time would have been Physics and Math, but I preferred the more practical aspect of Computer Science. When I came to do the M.Sc. I only had two choices – Geophysics or Astrophysics – since research opportunities at the University of Malta were very limited in the early '90's. At the time, oil exploration in Malta was in the news due to a fair amount of exploration activity offshore. The Director of the Oil Exploration Department (OED) also lectured at University. The summer after I finished my B.Sc., I got a summer student position at the OED and got to go on a seismic acquisition vessel for the first time. I remember I was one of only two women onboard. I met a lot of people from all over the world on the boat and got an insight into a new and exciting world – the world of geophysics. I was hooked. I had only taken one class in applied geophysics when I was an undergrad, the only one available, but it was all theory. So it was really cool to see geophysics in action and it was not difficult to decide what to choose for the M.Sc.

What made you decide to come to University of Calgary for your Ph.D.?

I was interested in the research that was being carried out by CREWES and FRP (Foothills Research Project), in particular the work on multicomponent, depth imaging and anisotropy respectively. Plus I also liked the fact that the consortia had a good link with the industry and Calgary was the centre of the Canadian Oil and Gas industry.

Besides the technical stuff, you have also done some courses in leadership and management. So how did you make this switch? Usually after getting a doctorate people go in for teaching and research.

That's a very good question. I used to think that I wanted to be a researcher for the rest of my life but after 3 years working in research I began to realize that there were other work opportunities that appealed to me. Besides, I realized I really enjoyed working with clients, whether internal or external, and doing more practicaltype work, like developing a new workflow to tackle a specific processing problem, rather than writing computer code. So at the end of my fourth year at Veritas, I got the opportunity to move to production as a Technical Advisor, initially for Time Processing, during which time I focused primarily on multicomponent processing and CACP processing (controlled-amplitude, controlledphase) and then for Depth Imaging.

So you joined Veritas, now CGGVeritas, in the year 2000 as research geoscientist. After initially taking on the role of technical advisor, you gradually moved to bigger roles and management roles. Tell us about that.

When I was Technical Advisor for Depth Imaging, my primary task was to work with the processors and the Development Team to improve the Depth Imaging tool box, in particular the interactive applications like the depth model building tools and also to help adapt some technology that was initially developed for marine for use with land data. It was a very exciting time since there was a high demand for the technology, primarily coming from work in the Canadian foothills but also some from Colombia, and Veritas wanted to be an industry leader. When I had developed a plan of what we wanted to accomplish, it became obvious that besides the developers, I needed a few people to work with me to test the software, prepare training manuals etc. That's when I proposed to senior management to let me set up and lead a technical support group and got my first management experience. Initially we were 4 people in the team, but as we took on more diverse projects the team grew to over 12 people. I really enjoyed the combined management and technical aspect of the job, but I never had any formal management training. That's why I took the Veritas Global Leadership training at Rice University, Houston, in the Fall of 2006 and later, in 2010-2011, the General Management Program at CEDEP, in France. In the initial years as a manager, I was still able to do hands-on technical work but as I took on more senior management and leadership roles, I had to eventually let go of that. I must admit it was tough to do as I really enjoyed solving technical problems, but the "technical withdrawal symptoms" eventually went away the more I got absorbed in the business side of things. Plus, there is one aspect of management that I really love that makes up for the lack of the hands-on technical work, and that is helping people grow and succeed professionally. The great thing about my current position, as VP Processing and Reservoir at Arcis, is that I have the opportunity to combine the 3 things I really like – science, management and leadership.

Satinder Chopra and Graziella Kirtland Grech

What personal qualities do you think enabled you to achieve the professional status that you enjoy today? Is it hard work, ambition, or anything else?

It is a combination of things: hard work and ambition are definitely two of them. Also having a goal, a plan and the determination to execute the plan and accomplish the goal even if at times everything seems to be very grim. Oh, and perhaps a little bit of luck as well; by that I mean being at the right place at the right time. I am sure there are many people out there that would succeed if only they had the opportunity to show what they can do.

What are some of the challenges that you faced in your technical work and how did you overcome them?

They were usually of the type – there is something wrong here, the data result doesn't look right for one reason or another. So you need to break down the problem by analyzing it into small chunks until you identify the root of all evil, and then find a way to address it. One example that comes to mind is when I was asked to try to find a solution for something that looked like a big static bust on a PS-wave stack. The normal approach just wouldn't solve the issue. Finally I ended up developing a new methodology for processing PP and PS data from topography, including a new way of doing PS-statics. It was a very challenging problem, because a lot of modules had to be updated to implement the new flow, including interactive applications. Then you have to test on a few data sets etc… but it was a very good experience and the flow was subsequently adopted in production.

Tell me about Graziella, the person – i.e. your habits, your likes/dislikes, etc.

I like setting goals and working towards accomplishing those goals, both professionally and personally. I guess in some respects, I am a creature of habit since I tend to stick to certain routines, like the time when I work out at the gym or play the violin. But in other respects, I enjoy variety and new challenges both at work and at home. I think it is very important to keep a good balance between the two. While I'm a very active and outgoing person and enjoy team work, I do need my quiet moments and my own personal space. My idea of a nightmare is a loud, crowded party. My perfect evening out is a nice dinner with my husband followed by a concert by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra from their classical series, especially if it includes a violin concerto. But we're also happy to stay at home and watch a film with our 4 cats.

What has been the most memorable moment in your professional life? Also, can you tell us about some of the successful landmarks in your geophysical career?

Memorable moment, hmm, good question. I will certainly remember when I got a First Class classification for my B.Sc., and when I received my first Best Student Paper award by the CSEG, one year after arriving in Calgary. As for the successful landmarks, well I have held several different positions in my career, and I consider each one of them as an important milestone to getting where I would like to be professionally. One of the most successful ones was when I was Manager for Multicomponent Processing and Technology with CGGVeritas in France. It was the first time I was leading a team spread over several different countries, and on different continents. I was sent to France with two specific objectives and 2 years to accomplish them together with my team. I thought I was going to find working in France relatively easy, since I'm from Europe and have been to France several times before. But it was a very challenging experience. However, it worked out very well in the end and we accomplished the objectives in one year instead of two. The EVP was so impressed he invited us to give him a presentation on what we were working on, followed by lunch. It was the first time I gave a presentation in French. Unfortunately, only the French members of the team were able to make it for lunch as it was held in France.

What are your plans for the near term and your aspirations for the future?

I joined Arcis a few months ago, in February, and recently we joined the TGS family, so of course I am still adjusting to those changes. However, I like to be involved in strategic and high-level decision-making, and working with people around the world, so I hope to see my career developing in that direction in the medium to long term. Most of all I love learning new things and taking on new challenges.

You are an inspiration for many women in our industry, having achieved so much early on in your career. Tell us how easy or difficult it has been for you to reach where you are at present.

Very nice of you to say so. Early on in my career it was certainly not easy. Opportunities in Malta were very limited and when I came to Canada as a new immigrant, I had to work very hard to prove myself, but the effort paid off. Once I had overcome the initial barriers and challenges of the first few years, it became a lot easier. Of course, there were always new challenges, but I was better equipped to deal with them.

What is it you love about our industry?

Primarily the broad spectrum of opportunities and the constantly evolving technology. It is a very dynamic industry and there is not one dull moment.

Let me ask you some questions with half-line answers.

(i) Your role model:

I don't have a specific person, but rather a few people that inspired me in one way or another or that I learnt a lot from, even though some of them I have never met in person but only observed from afar. Although I have been privileged to work with many Interview Cont'd "Your career can be as rewarding…" Continued from Page 17 Continued on Page 19 October 2012 CSEG RECORDER 19 talented people, two of the most influential since I arrived in Canada have been Don Lawton, my Ph.D. supervisor, and Scott Cheadle, my first manager at VeritasDGC.

(ii) your favourite food:

A good vegetarian Italian or Indian meal, washed down by some nice wine (colour does not matter).

(iii) favourite book:

Cien años de soledad by Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez – it was what got me hooked on Spanish literature.

(iv) if not a geophysicist, you'd be…

In my wildest dreams a worldclass violinist but there's no way I can ever make it.

(v) best technical paper?

One of my favourites is Leon Thomsen's classic paper on anisotropy for obvious reasons, but there are of course many other fascinating papers out there which would deserve mention given limitless space.

What are your other interests?

I enjoy music (particularly playing the violin), learning foreign languages and working out at the gym.

You are a successful professional, you have won many awards for your research work, you speak 5 languages, you are pursuing an MA in Spanish literature, and you find the time to hit the gym as well. Where do you get all this time from?

My days are very packed, weekends included. I work out first thing in the morning before going to work. Having a gym in the basement at home helps! I must admit that I enjoy being pretty much constantly on the go, though I do make time on the weekend for some quiet moments. My weekend siestas are very important – helps me catch up with the lack of sleep!

You have not been actively participating in professional society activities. Any particular reason(s) for doing this?

It depends what you mean by this. I do attend conventions, technical luncheons etc. on a regular basis. Over the past few years in particular, my professional life was very full, requiring a lot of effort outside normal hours and I was on the road a lot. While I enjoy the world of geophysics, it is important I find time for my other interests to keep the balance. There are not enough hours in the day, unfortunately! I have never served on a CSEG committee yet, but it is something I have been thinking about and would consider if the opportunity comes.

What would be your message to young entrants who have just taken geophysics as a profession?

"Go for it!" Take every opportunity you have to learn about different aspects of our industry and don't be afraid of new experiences. Your career can be as rewarding as you want it to be.

One last question, do you think I missed out on any question, that you expected me to ask and I did not?

No, I think you've covered it all...


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