Although a master’s in petroleum engineering – one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – puts you on the path to a career as a petroleum engineer, you’re never truly done with your education. Engineering is a field characterized by technological innovation, and practitioners of petroleum engineering are always advancing the field and developing new, safer and more efficient methods of working. One way established engineers learn of these advances long after they have finished their formal academic preparation is through continuing education and professional development learning activities.
Why Continuing Education Matters in Petroleum Engineering
The phrase “continuing education” is usually used in the sense of formal learning activities for which a participant can receive some sort of credit, certificate or recognition. Continuing education can take many forms, including online and in-person learning and training activities like workshops, courses, conferences and webinars. If you enjoy the college course format, you might also choose to pursue a formal continuing education certificate from a college or university.
At the most basic, though, continuing education means simply that your learning doesn’t end just because you completed your degree. To gain mastery of any subject, being open to continuing to learn even when you’re not pursuing a college degree is crucial. Otherwise, your knowledge of your subject will remain limited to developments that occurred before you graduated. That may be fine when you’re a recent graduate, but as you reach mid-career roles and above, you could be missing important new advances in your field.
Virtually all subjects of study continue to evolve over time. In engineering, science and even mathematics, researchers are uncovering new concepts, formulating new theories and developing innovative processes, machines and uses of tools.
In petroleum engineering, specifically, research is rapidly advancing in areas like drilling and completion engineering, reservoir engineering, petroleum and geothermal energy recovery, gas turbine technologies and more. For example, researchers in petroleum engineering are discovering ways to use ultrasound waves to find oil and gas reserves hidden in the earth and to solve problems like corrosion, contamination and bacteria. Petroleum engineers who earned their degrees before research in this line of inquiry intensified would have no idea that the ultrasound technology widely used in healthcare could have applications in this field if they didn’t continue their education, either formally or informally.
The same is true of other innovations in the field, including smart well engineering and the engineering of unconventional resources. Research isn’t always about introducing new methods to a discipline. In some instances, researchers emphasize the search for improvements to existing technologies, such as the development of more cost-effective drilling systems. There is also a push to digitalize and automate aspects of the oil and gas industry to improve efficiency and accuracy and reduce risks, both safety and financial.
Even in fields of study where it may seem that facts are set in stone – sometimes literally, in the cases of archeology, anthropology, paleontology and history – researchers are still finding new clues to a past about which we can only speculate.
Continuing Education’s Role in Professional Licensure and Certification
There is another reason petroleum engineers should care about continuing education besides having the tools and knowledge to be the best engineers they can be. If you seek professional credentials like licensure and certification, additional training in the form of continuing education and professional development activities is typically mandatory to keep your credentials in good standing.
These credentials are awarded to petroleum engineers who prove the quality and extent of their knowledge and technical skills in the field. Allowing yourself to fall behind in your proficiency with evolving tools and technologies could mean that you no longer meet those evolving standards.
Requiring licensed or certified petroleum engineers to keep re-taking these challenging certification exams would be one way to make sure engineers keep current with developments in the field, but that requires working professionals to devote a great deal of time to study and exam preparation. To avoid that obligation, these professional credentialing organizations often use continuing education requirements as a way to ensure that the petroleum engineers to whom they award licensure or certification don’t get complacent with the skills they already know and fail to develop new skills to keep pace with innovations and developments.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers, which offers the Petroleum Engineering Certification, requires 16 professional development hours per year. Most state licensing boards also require continuing education, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying reported.