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Bridging the Gap between Academia and Industry


After thirty-nine years in the oil industry, he’s back to teach BYU students how to apply their understanding of geology to working in industry.

Robert F. Lindsay studied geology at Weber State College earning his bachelor’s degree in 1974, and he graduated from BYU in 1976 with his master’s degree. He later went to the University of Aberdeen in Scotland to earn a doctorate degree in geology in 2014.

He worked for Gulf Oil from 1976 to 1985, Chevron from 1985 to 2002, and finished his career at Saudi Aramco, from 2002 to 2015. His career included working in production geology, enhanced oil recovery, applied research, exploration geology, laboratory supervision, and unconventional exploration. He also taught in-house courses, led field trips, and taught at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM).

After he retired, he set out to achieve one of his three “bucket list” goals—to teach students at BYU what he learned in the oil industry. As an affiliated faculty member, he helped design an advanced geology course—Geology 621: Petrophysics and Reservoir Characterization—which he taught during Winter Semester 2017. Lindsay’s motive for creating the class was to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

“It was my gift back to BYU,” Lindsay said. “They were nice enough to let me go to graduate school there. And so what I wanted to do was pay it forward to the next generation of students and give them a class that would help them as they go into industry after they graduate.”

Lindsay divided the Geology 621 curriculum into five parts: four taught at BYU and the last one taught in the field in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico and west Texas. Instead of a textbook, he gave the students real data from Permian Basin oil fields.

First, the students described a core from a Permian Basin reservoir. Second, they learned how to build a sequence stratigraphic model that connects genetically-related strata within a reservoir.

“If you understand the reservoir architecture, then you can drain the reservoir more efficiently and produce more oil, making a bigger profit for the company and hopefully not run out of oil,” Lindsay said.

Third, his students learned how to identify a stratigraphic trap where oil is trapped in porous strata next to non-porous strata. Fourth, the students each assessed the reservoir potential of the core they described in part one and put together a five to ten-minute presentation. The presentation had to cover their core description, their sequence stratigraphic model, the stratigraphic trap, and their assessment of reservoir potential.

Lindsay kept track of how many times a student said “uh” or “um” during their presentation. The goal was to teach his students to present clearly and professionally.

“When you’re standing in front of corporate management, you want to speak professionally,” Lindsay said.

The class then went to the Guadalupe Mountains for part five of the course, and in seven days, built a sequence stratigraphic model across the entire mountain range.

“The whole idea was to see how laterally and vertically all the different types of rocks fit together,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay said the students performed well and responded positively to the class, despite the hard work. They are now more prepared to enter geology careers.

“By doing these exercises, they got hands-on experience doing what industry does,” Lindsay said.

He said the Department of Geological Sciences while he was at BYU was “marvelous” and prepared him well for his career in the oil industry. What he did not learn, however, was how to apply his understanding of geology to his occupation. Thus, he returned to BYU to teach the next generation of geologists those concepts.

“This is something that’s hardly ever taught in any department,” Lindsay said. “Some of the things I taught the students hadn’t been invented yet when I graduated, and I had to learn them on the fly in industry.”

The next decision is how often to teach the class.

“As long as I can be an active instructor, that’s how long I’d like to teach,” Lindsay said.