Duncan Chisholm

DuncanChisholmIn life, some things come from vision and planning. Other good things come from hard work. Discovering my passion for geology came from sheer dumb luck!

I should have discovered geology sooner. It was in my blood — literally. My great-grandfather, John Chisholm, died prospecting for gold out west. My father, grandfather, and three uncles all spent their careers in the mining industry. Dad even majored in geology. I was exposed to mining and geology through such glamorous summer jobs as laying new railroad track into a limestone quarry and manually loading limestone blocks onto trucks. I now suspect that my father helped me get these jobs not to encourage an interest in geology, but to motivate me to get a college education so that I would not have to do such backbreaking work as a career.

What did I decide to major in when I got to college with all of that mining exposure? Why, Spanish, of course. I had just spent a year in Bogotá, Colombia as a high school foreign exchange student, was fluent in Spanish, and absolutely loved the South American people and cultures. Of course, I had no idea what I was going to do with a Spanish major, but it seemed logical at the time.

The course of my life changed dramatically with what I thought was a simple decision. Dartmouth is a liberal arts school, and I needed one more course to fulfill my science distributive requirement. I had put off taking that last science course, and it was now fall term of my junior year. I made the relatively random decision to take the introductory geology class, and the rest, as they say, is history. I could not believe how incredibly interesting the class was! I was totally hooked. Even though I was just a couple of courses away from finishing my Spanish major, I decided I had to change my major to geology. That change made my junior and senior years pretty intense, but my new-found passion for geology made it all worthwhile.

The last part of my story is how I became a petroleum geologist. I immediately went on to Stanford after graduating from Dartmouth. I decided to go into mining like the rest of my family, and Stanford had a very good mining geology program. I discovered, however, that I did not have that same passion for my new geology coursework and decided it was due to a lack of enough real-world working experience to which I could apply the knowledge. I took a leave of absence from Stanford after two terms and was hired by Getty Oil for six months to hike deserts, climb mountains, and look for gold, silver, and copper. It was an extremely exotic experience, but I ultimately realized that I did not have a passion for mining geology. There did not seem to be any reason to return to Stanford to finish my master’s degree, and I found myself with no plans for the future for the first time in my life.

Here is where the second stroke of dumb luck came to the rescue. I had been based in Salt Lake City with Getty. Once my job was over, I spontaneously decided to go back to Stanford one last time to see my friends in the geology department, and I delayed heading back home to Ohio where I would have to ultimately figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My unannounced arrival on campus ended up being on the first day of a two-day geology job fair. That evening there was a reception with the recruiters. All my friends were going to be there, and the college provided free food and booze! I did not think that it could get any better than that until I met two really terrific Sun Oil geologists. The next thing I knew, I was in Dallas with a four-month job exploring for oil and gas for Sun. After mapping for only a couple of weeks, I was amazed that anything could be so interesting, challenging, and fun. I had rediscovered my passion for geology. I immediately went back to Stanford, and in nine months, finished my master’s degree in petroleum geology. I am fortunate to be able to say that the challenge and creativity involved with oil and gas exploration has kept my passion for geology alive throughout my career.

Duncan Chisholm