Jun 19 See the big picture

In order to do a good job as a geophysicist, it is important to be on top of a lot of important detail (see Sweat the small stuff). However, at the other end of the spectrum it is equally important to see the big picture. Since we live in an era of super-specialization this is increasingly hard to do. An integrated project in any area of geophysics involves data acquisition, modelling, analysis, and interpretation, and in the mid-70s every geophysicist was expected to be on top of all of these aspects. But, in the early 21st century, no one person can be a specialist in even a sub-set of these different areas. So how can you be expected to juggle the need to understand the details with the importance of seeing the big picture? I think that the answer to this lies in two directions: collaboration and self-education. Let me discuss these two different strategies.

Collaboration

As I mention in Sweat the small stuff, collaboration is important when you integrate your expertise with the expertise of others. In that approach, you simply rely on others for their detailed knowledge. However, in doing this, take the time to ask them about the important ideas and literature in their field. For example, although you may be familiar with the way a geophysicist looks at anisotropy, why not find out how a reservoir engineer looks at the problem? It will probably be quite different. As another example, you may be familiar with the seismic response of shale overlaying a carbonate reef, but what are the important parameters that a geologist is interested in? Again, they will be quite different to your ideas. While discussing the project, try to put yourself in the other specialists’ shoes, and see what questions they might have about the way you are approaching the problem. Take all this information and try to expand your horizons. In other words, try to see the big picture.

Self-education