Women in Tech: Kerry Botha

Principal Geologist at Statoil, Kerry Botha, discusses her career as a woman in the tech industry

I’m a geoscientist working in the Exploration group for an international oil and gas company. In my role as an exploration geoscientist I integrate geological and geophysical data and evaluate the location, size and viability of future oil and gas prospects. Once I have identified a potential prospect, I work with the reservoir engineers, facilities engineers and economists to determine the expected value of an opportunity which can then be ranked against the company’s other business opportunities around the world. When a prospect ranks highly in the global portfolio, I will work with the drilling engineers, land department, environmental and government agencies to plan, permit and drill an exploration well to test for prospective oil and gas accumulations. 

My favourite aspect of this job is the collaboration with different disciplines and integration of data. My role requires me to be creative, experimental and a bit of a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ when it comes to exploring for oil and gas. And in the challenging and changing times for the energy sector today, I get the chance to play an important role in how we work and how we can improve in the way we do things going forward.

I see that girls are generally a lot more reserved when it comes to offering up their opinion or coming forward with questions relative to the boys

One frustration that I have (and that I share with all my colleagues) is the slow-moving nature of working for a large, international organisation. We often see so many new technologies coming out that could significantly improve the way we work but it typically takes years for it to be tested, adopted and incorporated into such a large organisation.

I chose to pursue my higher education studies in earth sciences because I had an affinity for all science subject at school. My natural curiosity was strongly encouraged by my teachers. When I was in my final year of high school, I was invited to join a geology excursion that was run by students from the local university, looking to promote the field of geology for career options. This was my first experience to the application of what I was learning in the classroom and I was hooked.

I completed my BSc degree in Geology and Applied Geophysics (having taken modules in mathematics, statistics, chemistry, oceanography, climatology, astronomy and earth sciences). I then continued my education through a one-year MSc in Petroleum Geology. 

Throughout my academic career, I have always felt the strong support and encouragement of my teachers and never encountered any barriers to perusing a career in a STEM field. This might have been different had I not gone to an all-girls high school. In my experience as a guest speaker at local middle schools today, I see that girls are generally a lot more reserved when it comes to offering up their opinion or coming forward with questions relative to the boys. As a result, teachers might not always be aware of their interest in STEM subjects. I feel that a combination of encouragement and support from the teachers as well as for girls to see other girl excel in STEM fields can help to improve the number of girls perusing STEM careers. And I’ve seen great progress being made at some of the local schools here in Houston, TX, where some even have all-girls robotics teams!

I’m surprised by the drop-out rate of girls in the science fields

When it comes to tertiary education, I’m surprised by the drop-out rate of girls in the science fields. This is something I struggle to explain (in my experience I enjoyed the sciences even more when I had to opportunity to take such a wide variety of STEM subjects at university). One way that could maybe address this issue is to have similar volunteer presentations by professional women at the universities – not just guest academic speakers. At my company we also offer summer internships which are a great way for students to really experience what it’s like to work in a science field. This could be extended to a mentor or ‘big sister’ sort of program which would allow us to reach more students.

I’m studying for a Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School.  In regards to studying, I’m hoping to better understand the business context and implications of my day-to-day work. It is difficult to bridge the gap between being a strong, technical person and being someone of influence when it comes to the business decision that shape our future exploration efforts and this is becoming essential to anyone working as a geoscientist in the energy sector of the past 8 years since we are called upon to make recommendations and decisions that affect the company’s performance. It has also helped increase my confidence when it comes to decision making and as a result, more influence in helping to shape the future of the company.