Research students JonMeghanSynergy 30492

Today's students are tomorrow's scientists

Jun 27, 2017

Syncrude's Research and Development (R&D) department is already known as an incubator of technology, but did you know that R&D also helps nurture and support scientists of the future? Syncrude researchers have a long history of teaming up with students at universities near and far to spread knowledge and receive input on projects.

To get an idea of the scope of Syncrude’s student population, roughly one third of the employees currently working in R&D either had their research funded by Syncrude or were a student here before joining as employees.

At any given time, numerous research programs are being conducted by students working towards their university degrees. Syncrude has always believed strongly in education and continues to be supportive of its partnership between employees and students. R&D isn’t just about developing technologies, but future scientists and engineers.

Jon Spence, Senior Associate - Chemical, recounts some of his memories as a student. "In the early 1980s, I was a student at the University of British Columbia and we were at a chemical engineering conference in Edmonton. We got to tour Syncrude and had an engineer explain the processes. Seeing the scale of the plant really had a big impact on our whole class,” recalls Jon. “Later I completed a Master of Science degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Alberta, with Dr. Jacob Masliyah as my thesis supervisor.”

Dr. Masliyah laid the foundation for the fundamentals of bitumen extraction. He has collaborated with Syncrude for more than 30 years and was instrumental in building bridges between the academic world and the oil sands industry.

Syncrude was helpful with experimental materials and advice for Jon’s thesis and now he has mentored numerous students. One of those students is now-employee Meghan Curran.

Meghan started her Master in Chemical Engineering degree in 2012 at the University of Alberta. Her first interactions with Syncrude were through a joint project between Syncrude and the University of Alberta, where the industrial contacts were R&D employees Samson Ng, Robert Siy and Jonathan Spence. Regular meetings were set up where Meghan and other students working on the project presented experimental results and the Syncrude experts offered invaluable guidance. When there was an opening, Jonathan recommended Meghan for the position.

“Students do fundamental research that helps in understanding oil sands extraction processes. This aids companies like Syncrude in steering future applied research,” says Jon. “I’ve worked with many co-op students over the years - really bright ones - and it's amazing to watch them develop and progress. And sometimes we are lucky enough to hire them.”

“Students are able to bring fresh perspectives to the table which can help companies immensely,” adds Meghan. “Being able to pass knowledge from experienced Syncrude employees on to future generations is invaluable and mutually beneficial.”

Stories like this from Jon, Meghan and countless other students who have been influenced by Syncrude over the years, and influenced Syncrude in return, are why R&D invests as much in people as in technology.