Past Messages


Kevin Schofield, Spring 2007

schofieldQuo Vadis GCSSEPM?

It’s just like my old Mum used to say…you can’t beat a bit of Latin to give an essay some gravitas (see, there I go again). Even if, in this particular case, it’s about all you’re going to get and the Latin derives from the epic movie featuring the dashing Robert Taylor and gorgeous Deborah Kerr rather than the satires of Juvenal. So what, apart from the dashingness and gorgeousness exemplified by your Executive Council (I hear you ask) does this palaeolinguistic snippet have to do with GCSSEPM?

Well, for a learned society with a history stretching back over half-a-century, this past year has seen a good deal of introspective discussion in the Executive Council, as we have pondered what exactly we do, why we do it, how well we do it, who we do it with, what we deliver to you, our members, and whether we could and/or should be doing any or all of the above differently. I can only assume that if we at the heart of the matter are actively debating these fundamentals, then those of you out there receiving this newsletter must be positively baffled as to why you fork out your membership each year, other than that you get to receive splendid newsletters and have a nice website to browse. Yes? Well, actually, I sincerely hope not, but just in case, let me in my first Presidential Message take you through some of the discussion and let you know where we’ve ended up.

What do we do? We are the local Section of the Society of Economic Palaeontologists and Mineralogists. However, other than a link from the parent website and the fact that various of our Council members serve or have served on the Council and various committees (my illustrious predecessor Lesli Wood being a stand-out there), our relationship to the mother ship is really rather tenuous. Somewhere between kissing cousins and the duty Christmas card list. No, our real responsibilities are much more local, and fall into two distinct areas.

Most importantly, there is The Foundation. This is effectively the Executive Branch of the society, a not-for-profit organization run by an appointed group of trustees, the primary objective of which is to promote the science of stratigraphy in the Gulf Coast region through research in sedimentary petrology, reservoir quality, paleontology, and any other related geological and geophysical fields, especially as it relates to petroleum geology. It is responsible for the stewardship of an endowment that provides funding for scholarships (the Ed Picou Fellowships), the ad hoc support of local geological societies, and for the running of the annual Bob F. Perkins Research Conference.

The Foundation and Trustees are aided, abetted by the Executive Council (to continue the civics analogy, the Legislature), a body elected by the membership to run the day-to-day affairs and periodic conferences of the Society, keep the members informed of Society events, and generally act as the centre of a professional network of academic and business-oriented sedimentary geoscientists across the Gulf Coast.

Why do we do it? I am sure that we all have our reasons, but with most I suspect that it is a question of “giving back”. Whether as academics or corporate geoscientists, we have all benefited from the knowledge-sharing and networks provided by the professional societies of which we are members, and eventually many of us seek ways that we can keep the big wheel turning. Or, as in my case, the big wheel came to rest on my toe and refused to move on until I agreed to serve. But hey, better one pressed man than no volunteers.

How well do we do it? Looking at the track record of this society over the 15 years or so that I have been in Houston and involved with at least the Research Conferences, I would say that my predecessors have done a magnificent job. They have organized, year-upon-year, world class research conferences that have resulted in the publication of some fundamental sedimentary geoscience, particularly with respect to the geology and hydrocarbon systems of the Gulf Coast. They have stewarded a foundation with a canny eye, and have dispensed funding to numerous deserving individuals and societies in pursuit of the charter values of promoting sedimentary geology. On the other hand, “how well we do it” was at the centre of much of the debate this year, with discussions on how well we connect to the membership, whether we choose the right topics for the Research Conference, and whether our liaisons with sister societies in the Gulf Coast region are as they should be. This has led to one or two changes in our modus operandi that I will come to near the end of this encyclical.

Who do we do it with? As noted above, we occasionally give grants to our AAPG-affiliated sister societies, but our “big’ interaction is in helping to organize and run the annual GCSSEPM-GCAGS conference. This generated a great deal of discussion this year, around how much effort we put into this, and whether we should continue to do so, given the relatively small number of activist volunteers we have...the fact is really that our input tends to fall heavily on the shoulders of a few very devoted stalwarts, and occasionally finding sufficient of our members to pitch in can be difficult. At the end of the day, however, when we had thoroughly aired all thoughts on the matter, it was decided that this is a valuable activity that raises our profile, is right in line with our mission statement, and provides the membership with another venue to advance their knowledge of Gulf Coast geoscience. If anything, we need to seek ways of galvanizing more of our members than cutting our activity slate!

What do we deliver to our membership? Again, an ongoing topic of debate. Should we, or could we, do more to be a sedimentary geology service provider in the Gulf Coast region? As it is, we run or help to run two major conferences, in the past year we have laid on a short course, we provide scholarship funding and encourage young geoscientists in our local universities to take an active part in the society as student members, and our regional Business Representatives leave no stone unturned in getting the latest breaking news to us for the thrice-yearly newsletter (well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but they are out there!). So what more can we do?

What can we do better? One thing that we have resolved is that we must publicise ourselves a little better, especially when it comes to getting word out about the Research Conference, gaining sponsorship for the Research Conference, and for getting the membership more active in the society. To this end, this year will see the introduction of “Corporate Representatives” to join our cadres of Business and Student reps. We will be seeking members in all of the major companies in the region (largely Houston of course, but also in Dallas and New Orleans) who can act as focal points for us in their offices. We will be seeking “corporate news” to join the “research Notes” and “News from the Business Reps”, and maybe also encouraging individual communications… ”Letters to the President” maybe, if you have ideas about what you would like to see us doing, or editorial comments about the way we do it.

We have also discussed running further short courses, and maybe a core workshop, taking advantage of our b relationship with the BEG here in Houston. So, tell us, what can we do for you? Let us know, either by Email or by post (my contact details are summarized below, and all of our details can be found on the website, Come on in…the water’s lovely!!

Finally, as my Presidential Term gets going, I’d like to say “thanks very much” to the colleagues who served last year on the Executive Committee and as Trustees of the Foundation, and to the stalwart volunteers who ran this year’s excellent Research Conference on Reservoir Characterization, and to those who helped to put together the (also very successful) GCSSEPM-GCAGS conference last year in Lafayette, Louisiana. They are all listed at various places on the website, and know who they are, but I would particularly like to thank Bob Loucks and Beverly DeJarnett who have served their allotted terms on the Executive Committee and are returning to the peace and quiet of civilian life. To those of you who are staying on, and to newly-elected officers Janok Bhattacharya and Chris Lerch, I say “thanks in advance…and here’s to another successful year!”