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Career Corner: Michael Lawson

The place where former Manchester students report back from the ‘real world.’ This week, we chat to research geochemist Michael Lawson.


Michael graduated in 2005 with a BSc(Hons) in Environmental Science. He then went on to do a PhD in isotope geochemistry, also at Manchester, graduating in 2010.

Currently living in Houston, Texas, he works as a Research Geochemist at ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.

What does your current job involve?

We assess new techniques and applications in geochemistry, and develop more traditional technologies to find out where to drill, what the quality of oil or gas is likely to be, and what challenges we might face in getting the oil and gas out of the ground.

What do you most enjoy about working for ExxonMobil?

The opportunities are massive at a company like ExxonMobil. At the moment, I’m applying cutting edge technology to challenges that have a big impact on the way we do things. I get to attend international conferences and scope out interesting and exciting geochemistry to identify future areas of research for our group. Training is first rate, and the chance to work with really smart people from all kinds of backgrounds is second to none.

What did you most value about your course at Manchester?

The Earth Science department has a great atmosphere at Manchester – all of the faculty and students get along and socialize, which is really important when you’re going to spend the next few years of your life living and working with them.

My time at Manchester gave me the opportunity to work with the top people in my field, and there are excellent analytical facilities on offer. The skills I developed during my undergrad and PhD have given me a really solid platform to understanding and contributing to the requests we receive at the research company.

While I was doing my PhD, I attended many international conferences and gave talks about my own research, and through this I gained a lot of confidence in public speaking. This has been particularly useful when working in a field like mine – you have to be able to get your message across to people who don’t speak geochemistry!

What advice would you give to Environmental Science undergrads, or those thinking of applying for the Isotope Geochemistry PhD at Manchester?

I’d encourage anyone to make the most of doing research at Manchester by agreeing to working on what may seem like unrelated projects. These actually give you a much broader knowledge than you would otherwise have, and the people you work with may be the ones that help get you a position in academia or industry in the future.

Networking outside of the group at conferences is really useful – these are the people that you’ll see year in, year out at conferences, so it’s nice to know a friendly face should you move on to another university later in your career.

But most of all, enjoy your time at Manchester – it’s a great city.

With thanks to Rosie Haynes at the Alumni Association.

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