Spending the summer at the lab

Shijia Ma (28) and Herman Muriel (25) have an extraordinary summer job. They will spend the whole summer in the Geomechanics lab at University of Stavanger.

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    Shijia Ma (28) and Herman Muriel (25) spend the whole summer in the Geomechanics lab at University of Stavanger.
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    Shijia Ma is from Chengdu in China. She has lived in Stavanger in almost two years.
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    Herman Muriel does not miss Colombia. He sees himself settling down in Norway.

Shijia Ma and Herman Muriel are MSc students in Petroleum Engineering. They just finished their MSc thesis, with professor Merete Vadla Madland from The National IOR Centre of Norway as supervisor. Even though the MSc thesis is handed in, they can't sit back, relax and enjoy a well deserved summer vacation. Ma and Muriel were offered a summer job in the Geomechanics lab, and they both said yes right away.

«I actually had booked tickets home. One week later I was offered this job, so the trip home will be postponed,» Ma says. She is from Chengdu, southwest of China. She has lived in Stavanger for almost two years, and moved here after getting a recommendation from a friend who studied at University of Stavanger.

«I was working at Baker Hughes when I decided to go back to university. I really like it here at UiS. The learning culture in Norway is completely different compared to China. Here you are much more involved. You can take part in projects or work at the lab – instead of just sitting in an auditorium taking notes.»

«You can get your hands dirty,» Herman Muriel adds. He is from Barranquilla in Colombia – the home city of Shakira, he says with a smile.

Nature shock

Herman Muriel also wanted to continue his studies after finishing university back home. He applied for several universities, and got admitted to three of them; DTU in Denmark, TU Delft in the Netherlands and University of Stavanger.

«There's nothing like studying Petroleum Engineering in a city where the main industry is oil and gas,» he says.

Muriel loves Stavanger and sees himself living here for the rest of his life.

«Norway is so different from Colombia – in several good ways. The feeling of safety, the nature. I was really surprised with the nature when I first arrived.»

The 25 year old student don't spend all his time at university.

«I love hiking, and in this area you got so many opportunities to enjoy nature,» Muriel says.

Norway is the first choice

Both Ma and Muriel would like to continue their IOR studies, hopefully as PhD students.

«It is not up to us, but we would really like to keep working with IOR. Our first choice would be Norway,» they say.

Ma adds that it is difficult for a reservoir engineer to enter the business straight after finishing a MSc thesis.

«You need a PhD degree,» she says. She never got used to working in companies.

«I love working in the lab. You're independent and can control your own time.»

Muriel adds that the summer job is his way to put in the extra effort to reach this goal.

But, there are a few things they dislike about Stavanger and Norway.

«The weather … I don't mind the rain, but when it's windy at the same time – you can't even hold on to your umbrella!» Ma shouts out. She misses China, especially the food. Ma explains that in China the food is the most important thing in a social event – in Norway the drinks are most important.

Muriel has no rush going back to Colombia.

«And I actually like the rain. What I don't like is the public transportation in the weekends. One bus every hour? I spend a lot of time in bus sheds,» he says laughing.

IOR for dummies

So, what do they actually do in the lab this summer? When asked to explain their experiments for an audience of kindergarden children, they both come to short.

«We're doing core flooding experiments. In my master thesis, I mostly focused on wettability alteration. This summer I will continue this work, but with different brines,» Muriel says.

«I'm also doing continuous work from my master thesis on permability evolution, but I'm changing the method to see how the permability changes over time,» Ma says.

Even though they will spend 7,5 hours a day in the lab, they hope they will get some time to explore Rogaland this summer.

«We have been to Kjerag, Preikestolen, Dalsnuten, Flørlitrappene and Månafossen. This weekend we hope to go to Trolltunga,» they say.

Text and photo: Kjersti Riiber