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Ellie Ardakani, PhD, P.Geo.

How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

I fell in love!

Born and raised in a country that was and is running on Oil & Gas production, Iran, I always wanted to be part of this fascinating industry. From downstream to upstream I wanted to be the one who learns how it all works. There was something about the energy sector that made me feel empowered and capable. It may have had something to do with the challenging nature of the professions within the industry and in return the noticeable impact it had in our lives.

I was so hooked after I took a course in Formation Evaluation in my undergrad that pursuing my MSc in Petroleum Geology and my PhD in Geophysics was a no brainer.

I'm so glad I chose to study Geosciences and now get to be the one who is visioning and committing to creating an effective way to communicate and teach complex scientific concepts using digital technology that tie directly to the bottom-line of this multi-trillion dollar industry.

How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)

Things did not kick off for me as easy as I had imagined.

I went directly from my undergrad to MSc program; I was ranked in the top 10 for the Petroleum Geology MSc program entrance exam in the entire country and attended the best State University, University of Tehran. My MSc project was funded and supported by Iranian Offshore Oil Company which is not that common. I had publications in prestigious science journals by the end of my MSc program. I did a ton of networking, attended many conferences, did many presentations. I was a top-notch student and laser-focused on what I wanted for my career. I did play all the cards right, but my job applications got rejected one after another by Oil & Gas companies while my male peers got multiple offers and were weighing their options!

You may have guessed by now why my applications did not get accepted. I was a female in a male-dominated industry and radical country. The companies that wanted to be nice told me that they were rejecting me because they were concerned about my safety among a male workforce on oil rigs as site visits were a requirement to get the job done.

The non-inclusivity of Iran’s Oil & Gas industry, and in a bigger picture the whole country pushed me to jump ship and immigrate with the hope that I can pursue my passion in a first world country. I left my loved ones behind to move to Canada to continue my studies in a PhD program at the University of Alberta. Despite the rosy-image I had in my mind for a first world country soon I figured that now I have to deal with other issues such as stigma against immigrants and minorities and I have to outperform Canadian counterparts to build a career for myself.

I will not get into details, but I made it. I got my first O&G job in Canada with a mid-size operator at the end of my PhD program and later with a Service company where I worked for another 3 years, before I left my job to start up a energy-tech company with a good bunch, called Meta.

Can you briefly describe your career progression?

When I think about it, I can describe my career path as an obstacle course! Nothing was given just because I was good at what I did, nothing came easy, nothing came fast. The silver lining of that though is that as I did go through different phases of my studies and all short-term and long-term positions, I got more and more resilient. And now as I achieve one milestone, I move the goalpost a bit further by myself. I embrace challenges and the unknowns like there is no tomorrow. To me jobs and careers are just a means to deliver on something bigger than what the role and the career path determine. To me they are there for us to make a difference every day. That is what I have been doing and will be doing in the future.

What made you decide to start your own company? What skills, experience, or people helped you along the way?

My life experience made me an expert as “bottle-neck remover”, “status-quo shaker”, and “resource generator”. I think that is called an entrepreneur! My training started when I was only 13, I ran my first business by selling old frames and posters to local shops. The goods absolutely had no use at our home and were cluttering our space. I made some cash, solved the cluttering issue at home, and found a new home for the nostalgic frames, I call that a triple-win.

I also always had a knack for more responsibilities, leadership, and supporting others to feel successful. All that combined with the fact that I saw a good business opportunity, made me to make a big decision to leave my R&D position to start a company. But I did not do it alone and I had the help and support of my cofounders and later my staff.

If you had to do it again, would you?


If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

Not a thing

What are the three best things about your job/career? What are the three worst things?

There are so many things I love about what I do now as a founder and CEO of a startup but here are the top three:

1) I get to lead a movement toward meaningful adoption of interactive digital technologies in energy sector and redefine the way technical training has been done forever for geoscientists and subsurface engineers in this sector with our L&D product, metaKinetic.

2) I get to work with some of the best talents and experts in the industry, both internally (in my team) and externally (our clients).

3) I get to wear multiple hats every day and I love that everyday is packed with so many challenges and hands-on learning opportunities.

I can not think of any downsides.

What do you think about the effect of the pandemic on our profession and the industry that you are serving?

I believe that this crisis is going to be the mother of all sorts of innovations and disruptions in our industry. This crisis is the time to bring in 100 times more value for a buck spent. In other words, any strategy that can be used to optimize costs.

At the forefront of these strategies are the digital strategies. We have already talked about digital transformation for a decade within this industry and are still hesitant to take steps toward truly adopting it! Hesitant in adopting those unfamiliar but truly amazing digital products that boosts performance, optimize our costs, and add business value.

As unfortunate as the crisis is, the silver lining is true digital technology adoption. This is the nudge that our professional society and our corporations need to truly adopt digital technology and implement proactive digital strategies.

Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

I think our workplaces and our society in general is getting more gender-diverse and I definitely hope it will continue to be that way! But the industry will not change overnight and even if the face of the industry changes and looks more diverse and inclusive, the fundamental biases that are rooted deep down take longer to be resolved. We should look at this progression as a marathon and not a sprint.

What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?

Do not be afraid to jump in when you do not feel comfortable. Start before you are ready. Do not get discouraged if you feel discriminated because of the color of your skin, your religion, your birth-country, or your political views. Try to create awareness about how you were discriminated so the society knows and do your part in moving the dial forward but then do not dwell on it, just brush it off and focus on what matters the most to you. You chose geosciences for a reason. If your reason is legit then stick to it and push through. Be strategic about it. You will get to harvest the seeds you plant throughout your studies and career sooner or later. Never give up on your passion.

Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focused on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

Beside the fact that the future-work must be inclusive and diverse because we will otherwise lose on opportunities, I was and am a first-hand victim. I missed out on job opportunities, experienced lower salaries compared with my male counterparts, had to out-perform peers all the time to get to have a say, was refused from promotions, had my business proposals rejected due to being a minority, and at an even more personal level I experienced sexual harassment.

I believe continuous and steady efforts will make a difference for the future workforce in our profession and particularly in Oil & Gas industry. That is why it is so important to ensure the continuity of the efforts that groups and communities such as “Women Geoscientists in Canada”, “SEG Women Network”, and “SPE Women in Energy” are putting in to create awareness and encourage change.

On a corporate level, this continuous effort must be planned, structured, and rolled out in parallel with other corporate strategies.

Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?

Because it is 2020?!

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