I’ve been lucky enough to have a few awesome female engineering mentors over the course of my career. With so few women in engineering, looking back I find it pretty amazing that I’ve had a woman mentor for at least half of engineering roles.
When I moved from the small oil and gas town of Farmington, NM to a huge coal seam gas to LNG mega project in Brisbane Australia, I also changed engineering disciplines from gas plant engineering to reservoir engineering. I had only 3 months of previous reservoir engineering experience from a rotation program when I first started in oil and gas, so I had a lot to learn.
Luckily, I had a mentor with a lot of great experience who taught me everything I know about reservoir simulation. She was a great and patient teacher. She took time to explain things to me with drawings and equations, helped me when I was stuck, and answered all my many questions. Also, she has a funky fashion sense that I admired, a lovely French accent, and so many great stories. I loved being around her everyday at work.
Diane made my first year working as a reservoir engineer in Australia a success. I couldn’t have learned reservoir engineering without her, and she inspired me in many other ways too (she motivated me to travel more after hearing about her amazing vacations, she signed up with me to run my first 10k, I started to wear more dresses after seeing her in cute dresses at work). I’m excited and humbled to feature her story today on the blog.
Engineering Emily (EE): What is your name and occupation?
Diane Labregere (DL): Diane Labregere, Reservoir Engineer
EE: How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
DL: I would say I was in love with rocks when I was a kid (one of my favorite activities was to play with my geologist toolbox, and collecting articles from magazines about earthquakes and volcanos). I loved maps too. Where I come from, it was difficult to meet a geologist (I remember for school we had to interview someone who we would like to become….and it was hard task to find…)
EE: What was your college major?
DL: I have 2 masters, one in Engineering Geophysics and one in Hydrogeology.
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
DL: Lots of guys….(engineering is a nest) and lots of hangovers (I studied in the French beer capital: Strasbourg)
More seriously, it was tough but worth it.
To be an engineer in France, you have to do some preparatory classes (that takes 2 years) in Math-Physics before Engineering class, so it is no life for 2 years.
I stayed only one month in this preparatory class and decided to go to uni for the first 2 years (and party! ;-)). If I finished in the top 2% of the uni class, I knew I could still apply for the engineering school I wanted, which I did.
However, it took me a bit of time to recover in Math-Physics in Engineering school (luckily geology and economics saved me at the start). In France, you can’t redo one year of Engineering of school, you pass or you are out…so it was short call for first year but I did pass…phew….
Math was always my weakness but when my classes became more applied science, it was better. I was passionate about geology and field trips were my favorite.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
DL: Yes I did, as it was mandatory when doing Masters and Engineering in France.
My first one was overseas at the University of Western Australia (Perth) where I studied local intra-plate seismicity (we have to do one internship overseas to practice our English as it is mandatory as well for French Engineer to have a good English level to be graduated). French State helped to finance the plane ticket to fly overseas!
My 2nd internship was at the French Petroleum Institute in Paris where I did a bit of 4D Geophysics, and the last one was at my company where I was modelling remedial solutions for seawater intrusion (hydrogeology internship). I got my first job thanks to last internship.
EE: How did you find your first engineering job?
DL: At the end of my 7 months internship my company offered me a full-time job as a junior hydrogeologist.
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
DL: Service company for Oil and Gas industry.
EE: What has been your career path from college graduation up to today?
DL: That is a long story…..(but I am not old!!!)
I firstly graduated in geophysics engineering in Strasbourg, France and as it was in a downturn, I decided to keep studying with another masters (in hydrogeology) in Paris University (studying in France is not as expensive as in US for example). During this masters, I was placed in a new business of Schlumberger (Water Services) where I did an internship of 7 months. At the end of my internship I got offered a job in the US in the company, but after few months of waiting for a visa, it was decided that I would stay working in Paris in this new branch.
I got the job of “product champion”, where I was gathering requests of different hydrogeologists worldwide to adapt oil and gas simulation software for groundwater modeling. The software development team was located in UK so I was traveling there quite often to work with them.
Then Water Services became Water and Carbon Services where a new team was created to work for CO2 sequestration projects (capturing CO2 from coal plants or gas/oil fields and storing it in deep aquifers in the subsurface). I joined that team and still worked on adapting simulation softwares for CO2 storage and I worked as well on consultancy projects. I had to study if we could potentially store (safely) enough CO2 for different fields or coal plants location. This position brought me to be transferred to Brisbane, Australia (best place it could be for me).
After 1.5 years in Brisbane, I joined QGC-BG Group (where I met Emily!), I decided to quit the service company to work for an operator. It was one of the hardest choices of my life! I felt I was leaving my family, as I started to work at Schlumberger since the start and I learnt a lot there. But I wanted to stay in Australia (in order to get permanent residency) and I felt like my job was about to disappear in Carbon sequestration (which did later as new government stopped financing/promoting this great initiative).
So I worked 2.5 years as a lead reservoir engineer for Coal Seam Gas in a very dynamic team on very interesting projects and challenges. I was still doing lots of simulations (which I love) and I was involved as well with groundwater department as I am a hydrogeologist by training. It is here where I met my future husband who was doing support for QGC (and was a Schlumberger employee…Yeah it looks like I was still addicted to a Schlumberger presence).
But the time came where I wanted to get more experience with conventional oil and gas projects, and I moved to Perth, on the other side of the country to work for ConocoPhillips for offshore fields. I worked 2.5 years there where I learnt a lot on offshore well operations and reservoir management. I was doing less simulations which I missed quite a lot in fact.
And guess what? I moved…again…. to Jakarta, Indonesia and I came back to Schlumberger! This time I was doing software support, sales, mentoring local staff and training. That was a really great experience, I loved Indonesia especially the people even if Jakarta was HELL for traffic and pollution!
At that time I got married (on a lovely beach in Malaysia), had crazy travels all around South East Asia, and then….bang – downturn happened. My husband was put on technical leave while we were in Jakarta for about 8 months. Then we came back to Perth and that was my turn to be on technical leave and it seemed an eternity for me.
During all this free time, I decided to work my skills in graphic design and sewing and I created a little business (Ohla Hug). Schlumberger took me back part-time early this year when I was 4 months pregnant! I am doing the same job as I was doing in Jakarta.
I came back to work part-time 3.5 months after the birth of my son which is not that common in Australia (as new mums here usually take 6 months to one year off) but I felt I had already had my year off (and it was without baby to take care!). That was very hard at the start, I won’t deny it…but now I feel like I am reaching a kind of balance, and thanks to my husband that really helps (it is 50-50 share for baby care).
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
DL: Yes a LOT and it is one of the things I like about my job. Canada, US, UK, Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Germany, UAE, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand…and only for business trips.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
DL: Yes, several times and it is part of the job. I moved from Paris, France to Brisbane, Australia. Then to Perth, Australia. Then to Jakarta, Indonesia than back to Perth, Australia. I remember a teacher telling us that if we don’t move location (for our studies) we won’t have great chance to get a great job! (I am talking for Geoscience)
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
DL: Meeting great people eager to share their knowledge and passion. I can say I had some great mentors.
When I fix a complex problem, I love it too…especially if I am the only one to be able to fix it.
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
DL: When I had a manager that did not trust me. I nearly gave up engineering at that time, it really put me down and made me believe I was useless in my job.
I took 3 months off to study something else (Graphic Design), I really enjoyed that time off and I worked very hard to get my certificate (that became helpful later on). It was a very rewarding experience as it taught me I could be good at something else that I did not know anything about before.
EE: How do you balance career and home life?
DL: I am a new mum, my baby is only 7 months. I was back to work when he was 3.5 months, but only part-time (3 days a week, not really a choice).
I decided to come back that “early” (for Australian standards) because where I’m from it is pretty normal to come back after 3 months but most of the reason is because I did not work last year. I wanted to be back on track fast and wanted to show my eagerness for work (and financially I needed it too).
EE: What do you consider the challenges and advantages of being a working mom?
DL: Flexibility is a big challenge compared to before (in Australia daycare is pre booked and you can not change/move the days or add extras). Daycare is expensive, so it has a financial impact.
Advantages: avoid postpartum depression. Keeping mind active. Appreciate every little precious moments with child.
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested becoming an engineer?
DL: If you can afford it, move and travel for studies (pick the most relevant subject/degree based on what you want to do/be and not because it is close to home).
EE: What advice do you have for working moms?
DL: Not lots of experience for the moment, but sharing baby care and chores with husband is a must.
EE: Would you still become an engineer if you could do it all over again?
DL: Yes I would, but if I could I would not wait that long to become a mum. You may think that you advance your career a maximum before becoming a mum but you never know what can happen on the path (such as downturn, etc…) and that could have much more impact on your career than becoming a mum.
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
DL: oooohhh I can’t say if I want to stay politically correct. And everyone has unconscious bias (new word we learnt recently at work); not only women are treated unequally but everyone that does not look a 40-year-old healthy slim white man?
EE: Any other information or stories you’d like to share?
DL: Chose a good partner that will endorse your career and expectations, that can take time…
Always treat everyone with respect, you don’t know their whole story and the world is small, you never know when you will meet them again. Be a good team player and share your knowledge and experience, it is rewarding more than what you think.
Wow, Diane has had some amazing experiences. I’m so grateful she shared her story with us on the blog. She has travelled around the world for her career, changed companies and has experienced the highs and lows of working in the energy industry. I have no doubt she has a long and successful career ahead and I know she will continue to mentor and inspire other young women engineers like she did for me.
Thank you for sharing your story today, Diane. If you are a female engineer who’s also had an interesting career path, please contact me to be featured in a future interview on the blog.