SPE 101

SPE Events: Which One Is Right for Me?

If you have ever thumbed through a copy of the Journal of Petroleum Technology or surfed around on, you are no doubt aware of the wide variety of events our society holds for its members. At first glance, the appeal of an event might be its location—an exotic locale you have yet to visit—or perhaps just the opposite, you’re looking for an event close to home. What about the relative technical merits of each?

As we will find out, SPE events are not all created equal. Different types of events cater to different needs within the industry. Depending on your objectives (e.g., training, networking, sharing technical knowledge, etc.), you will find some events will meet your needs better than others. When it comes to choosing the right one, a bit of planning and careful thought can go a long way.

First you will need a little background information. SPE offers four kinds of “live” learning opportunities:

Forums are unique, by-invitation-only events that bring together top technologists, innovators, and managers to address a specific industry challenge. The objective is to stimulate thought, accelerate innovation, and inspire the development of new technology.

Conferences can be focused on a specific topic or have a broad technical scope. The technical program covers current applications and new or future technologies. Conferences typically offer special sessions, such as panel discussions and luncheons, in addition to technical sessions. In most cases, conferences also feature an exhibition of the latest products and services, offering attendees a chance to experience new equipment and technologies in person. SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) is SPE’s main technical conference. It is held most of the time in the US, but look forward to 2014, when Amsterdam will host it for the second time ATCE has been held outside North America.

Workshops are topic-specific, intensive events that are smaller in scope and size than conferences. Workshops maximize the exchange of ideas among attendees and presenters through brief technical presentations followed by extended Q&A periods. Focused topics attract an informed audience eager to discuss issues critical to advancing both technology and best practices.

SPE-sponsored training courses offer a quick, convenient, and cost-effective way to build your knowledge on a focus area or topic. SPE offers standalone training courses through local sections or at the SPE training centers in Houston and Calgary, but there are also courses held in conjunction with select SPE conferences. These 1- or 2-day courses are typically held immediately before or after a conference.

So, which kind of event is right for you? It really depends on your objectives. Since each type of event offers a unique variety of activities and topics, you will need to identify your primary reason(s) for attending. While networking, attending exhibitions, and learning about the latest technologies are all good and useful goals, if you can be more specific, you will be able to home in on a specific event. For example, let’s say your primary goal is to make new connections through networking. What kind of people are you hoping to add to your network? Do you need more contacts within your local or regional industry? Perhaps a regional conference would best serve your needs. Are you looking to become acquainted with experts in a particular field? A forum or workshop might be ideal. If you would like to meet lots of people working on projects similar to yours, a major conference or a themed conference in your area of interest would be valuable.

You can use a similar process of elimination if you have a paper to present. Give some thought to the likely makeup of the audience—are they local, regional, or international? Will a particular event attract a large enough audience to give your paper the exposure you are seeking?

If the exhibition is of particular interest to you, then you should be aware that forums and workshops do not generally have exhibitions associated with them. The exhibitions at conferences vary in size, but generally the conferences with the most attendees have the largest exhibitions. That notwithstanding, a themed conference with a more modest exhibition may be very helpful if you have a more specific technical focus. Of course, if one of your objectives is to network for a new job, a large conference might serve you best, simply due to the sheer number of exhibitors and potential contacts to be made.

Do not discount SPE Forum events because of their “by-invitation-only” label. There is nothing stopping an enthusiastic SPE member from contacting Forum committee members to present their qualifications and express their desire to attend and contribute. Everyone appreciates an enthusiastic participant.

Finally, one of the most important parts in the process of selecting the right event is the discussion you will have with your supervisor in order to plan your development. The cost of attendance and time spent away from the office are valid considerations. Well before any event (and throughout your career), you should work together with your supervisor to establish a shared vision of your goals (both for business and personal development, long-term and short-term). If you can show that a particular event is well-aligned with these objectives, you will find your leader will be much more likely to support your attendance. Whatever your goals, aspirations, and constraints, there is always an SPE event to match your needs. Who knows, you just might get to take a trip to that exotic locale after all.

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