Perspective students who have been accepted to graduate school in a participating department (currently PGE, ME, or AE) are welcome to send their resume and statement of interest to Mitch Pryor. If you have not yet applied for graduate school, please click here to learn more about (and apply to) graduate programs at UT.

Recruitment, Teaching & Education

One of RAPID’s main goals is to develop future engineering researchers with the requisite background and experience to bring advanced, flexible automation technologies to the oil and gas industry. To meet this objective, our program addresses with four key elements:

  • A customized interdisciplinary curriculum in the Petroleum and Geosystems (PGE), Aerospace Engineering & Engineering Mechanics (ASE-EM) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) Departments. Thus, students develop a solid foundation in domain fundamentals as well as an expertise in automation to address industry challenges.
  • Engineering-based research projects co-supervised by PGE, ASE-EM, and ME faculty that address the fundamental technological challenges associated with remote, unmanned and/or automated drilling processes.
  • Continual collaboration with industry mentors where students complete supervised internships in relevant application areas.
  • Actively recruit women and underrepresented minorities to participate in the program. Like many other industries, oil companies are looking to develop an internal demographic that better aligns with the community(s) they serve. By doing so, such companies are better positioned to improve their community relations, broaden their recruitment base, and increase their multicultural awareness. This in turn provides a competitive advantage as markets shift locally and expand globally.

To deploy automation and make a positive difference in energy exploration and production, universities and industry must collaboratively develop the ability to deploy these technologies given the already challenging requirements faced by the oil industry. This program provides a unique opportunity to recruit top-tier students[1] and give them the training necessary to bridge this gap. There are several advantages the proposed program has over traditional graduate degrees or on-the-job training.

  • Improved cross-pollination of domain knowledge. Typically new engineers arrive with a standard template of skills from a single department. Relevant information from other domains is then learned ad hoc on the job. We offer a customized curriculum that ensures students have core capabilities in all relevant domains.
  • Early coordination with industry leads to more relevant research topics and understanding student expectations.
  • Students hit the ground running in the industry setting since preliminary milestones and training relative to specific projects is completed prior to full employment.
  • Fundamental research and proof-of-concepts are done at the university supervised by individuals with a vested interest in its success.
  • Detailed engineering is done by industry and NOT the university where certifications for use in critical processes cannot be fully addressed.
  • University research is embedded in solutions and is not itself the sole deliverable. Industry personnel often acknowledge the value of the university research, but do not have the short-term resources to pursue it.

Early opportunities to recruit and evaluate potential employers based on intimate and exclusive knowledge of their domain knowledge, engineering capabilities, and communication skills.

RAPID’s management team has a proven record of success with interdisciplinary programs. Robotics researchers created a similar program for deploying automation in the nuclear domain[2]. The PGE Department has created multiple research consortiums[3] that have been embraced by industry with other research topics.

Graduate Program

The graduate curriculum for RAPID students will draw on courses from multiple departments. Individuals recruited will likely have varied levels of industrial experience and/or a PGE, ME or similar undergraduate degree. Thus some modifications or prerequisites to the proposed course work will likely be necessary, but all students will graduate with the core competencies inferred from the course listing. This curriculum illustrates integrating automation with drilling processes, but courses could also be selected for areas.

Example Mechanical Engineering Masters level curricula (30 total hours include 6 hours MS thesis). Early courses will focus on setting a strong foundation in domain fundamentals as well as in automation and control.
Example Mechanical Engineering PhD Curriculums (estimated 6 additional courses) will by highly customizable. Additional options possible for students in other departments including the Aerospace and Petroleum Engineering Departments.

Three tracks are proposed where the number of students in each track will be determined by discussions with sponsors and the availability of mentors. The hardware track will focus on system hardware design. The operational track will focus on command and control of automated systems. The data processing and decision making track will focus interpretation of sensor data and other input parameters. Below is an example of the curriculum for students who complete a PhD. UT Austin has broad range of courses in ME, ASE-EM, ECE, and PGE Departments so the curricula is highly customizable. The Masters and Ph.D. are decoupled since we suspect there will be interest in graduating students at both levels.

Undergraduate Program

The RAPID management team recognizes the importance of including undergraduate engineers in this effort as they make up a large majority of the workforce in the oil industry. Examples of undergraduate programs RAPID will sponsor and facilitate. A large number of undergraduate engineers in multiple departments will be exposed concepts in drilling automation with multiple outreach efforts.

  • Senior design projects in drilling automation
  • Undergraduate staff for RAPID’s RTOC
  • Undergraduate Research Program
  • Case-based undergraduate drilling course using HIL Simulator

Senior Design Projects in Drilling Automation. RAPID will sponsoring and mentoring senior level design projects in multiple departments. UT Austin has many nationally recognized senior design programs that we will leverage to bring large numbers outstanding undergraduate students bringing fresh eyes and minds to bear on our most challenging problems. In a similar program sponsored by the Nuclear Robotics Group, over 50 undergraduates have completed over 15 semester long projects in the last 5 years that have led to novel concept designs and operational prototypes. This, in turn, has let to follow-on engineering projects at Los Alamos National Labs and undergraduate recruitment opportunities. An early undergraduate design effort led by the RAPID management resulted in a team of 4 mechanical engineers seniors developing an automation concept for pipe doping and experimentally validating some of their key design features. All 4 members of the design team accepted jobs in the oil industry.

RAPID will sponsor at least one project every semester at UT Austin and all design presentations will be open to consortium members. This exposes at least 12 undergraduate students per year. We envision at least 5 projects per year involving at least 20 undergraduates.

Undergraduate staff for RAPID’s Real-Time Operational Center (RTOC) Undergraduate students currently perform the bulk of the data analysis in the RTOC under the close supervision of RAPID’s management and graduate students. This provides them the opportunity to gain firsthand experience using a large number of popular, but complex data acquisition and analysis software packages. More importantly the consortium provides them the opportunity to use these packages to analyze drilling data collected from rigs in real-time. Thus, their participation provides them experience valuable to industry, it also compliments the efforts of graduate researchers who can delegate and thus broaden the experimental analysis and validation of models they propose for drilling monitoring, event detection, analysis, and drilling optimization.

RAPID Undergraduate Research Program. In addition to the efforts above, RAPID management will hire and mentor outstanding undergraduate students to perform independent research topics with the guidance of industrial partners. Our goal here is to provide a link between graduate research and undergraduate accessibility. A critical component of this program will be outreach to outstanding women and underrepresented minority engineering students.

Case-based undergraduate drilling course using HIL Simulator. The HIL simulator at the UT Austin provides a unique opportunity to capture and validate proposed automation and downhole models in a way that also excites young engineers about the challenges and rewards of a career in drilling engineering. The HIL (and RTOC) will be used to teach drilling and completions beyond simple pen, paper, and spreadsheets. Student will be asked in teams to complete well plans they create using the simulator. Additional team members can monitor the “driller” and “assistant driller” from the RTOC and identify anomalies, machine failures, or other unplanned events included in the scenario. This approach exposes entire classes of undergraduates to drilling automation in a way that no textbook (or even internship) can do.

[1] Our students are top tier. The Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering is ranked #1 by US News & World Report. Mechanical Engineering is ranked #13 and Aerospace Engineering is currently ranked #8. 

[2] Nuclear & Applied Robotics Group (NRG) has graduated 3 PhD and 7 Masters leading to 5 full-time engineers with training in both nuclear instrumentation and automation working at Los Alamos National Labs. There are 7 additional students in the pipeline.

[3] The Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering – the research center of the Petroleum and Geosystems Department – supports a variety of Industry Affiliated Programs (