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Petroleum Geologist

Denise Hodder

Hometown: Rocky Harbour
Company: ExxonMobil Canada East/Hibernia Management & Development Company

“For me, the company’s motto is “Taking on the World’s Toughest Energy Challenges” and I feel like I get to do that everyday. Each day, I have new geology puzzles to solve and new things to learn. I am never bored with my job and love the challenges. Sometimes I am truly amazed that I get paid for it because I have so much fun doing the job!”


Denise has a Bachelor of Science degree (Honours) from Memorial University and a PhD in Geology from the University of Calgary. She says her high school courses in math, physics, chemistry, geography and literature were all valuable to her post-secondary studies. Denise believes her natural curiosity, love of learning and interest in rocks helped draw her towards her chosen career.

Denise also credits her involvement in many high school and university activities with helping her develop important career skills. Through her involvement as Editor of her school newspaper and yearbook, debating and drama clubs, student council, science fairs, Lions Club speak-out, Atlantic Universities Geology Conference (Chairperson) and Geology and Geophysics Grad Student Society (Treasurer and President), she has attained valuable listening, organizational, teamwork, presentation and leadership skills. “My advice to anyone is to participate in high school and university clubs, groups and teams as you can develop a lot of additional skills and talents that will benefit you in your career, as well as having fun.”


Denise works 8 am -5 pm Monday to Friday and is a salaried employee. She commutes about 20 minutes to her office in downtown St. John’s. Denise really enjoys the travel she does for her job. She frequently travels to Houston (Texas) and Halifax (Nova Scotia), and she has also been to Ottawa, Calgary, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Denver, Monterrey (Mexico) and London (England).

Denise’s job involves working with a team of geologists, geophysicists and reservoir engineers to maximize oil and gas production from ExxonMobil Canada’s fields in eastern Canada. Some of her duties include building computer models that represent the rocks and hydrocarbons deep beneath the sea, helping design wells to target areas that have hydrocarbons and working with existing wells to maximize the recovery of oil to the well. Geologists also do fieldwork. Denise did three summers of field work (two times in Northern Labrador and once in the Northwest Territories) and says she loved the experience even though conditions were rough: she lived in tents, ate freeze-dried food, hiked everywhere she needed to go, got eaten by mosquitoes and had to watch out for polar bears.

Denise says safety is a concern in any workplace, even in an office building. Workers identify any possible safety hazards and get them fixed as soon as possible to ensure nobody gets hurt. Denise’s career began with a series of summer jobs with oil companies, the Geological Survey of Canada, the Newfoundland Geological Survey and Memorial University. She also taught a continuing education course and geology labs at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal College while completing her PhD. This experience helped her get her first permanent geology job with ExxonMobil in Calgary (she spent two years working in Calgary and then four years working on West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico projects from Houston, Texas) and leading to her position in St. John’s where she contributes to the fields in eastern Canada. Denise says “the sky is the limit” when it comes to future career opportunities. She might one day work as a manager or supervisor of a team of other geoscientists, as a company vice president or as a senior technical advisor in geology.

Compensation and Benefits

Denise says the salary range for her occupation (from figures provided by the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta) is $100,000-120,000 annually, while career compensation for a geologist can be upwards of $200,000 a year including stock options and bonuses. Denise’s employer provides her with disability, health and dental insurance, RRSPs, pension and a savings plan with company matching.

Denise’s employer promotes a constant learning environment. She says employees learn from each other and the company provides in-house and external training designed to improve skills and develop new ones. Denise feels her salary in the oil and gas industry compares exceptionally well or better than a similar position in another industry, although the mining industry is starting to offer equivalent salaries. She says the salary is also exceptionally good for this type of career compared to other careers that hire people with Master’s degrees and PhD’s.