It is critical that we strike a healthy balance between energy consumption and economic development by exploring sustainable, affordable and adequate energy and mineral resources for our societal needs.

Sudeep Kanungo, our next pathbreaker, Scientist and Researcher at the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute, leads a technical research division in exploration geoscience with a consortium of integrated energy companies.

Sudeep talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking up micropaleontology as a specialization due to its applications in the energy industry (oil & gas).

For students, almost everything that we use comes directly from the Earth and almost every human activity consumes Earth’s energy. You can contribute to solving some of the biggest challenges related to ocean, climate, and energy production through geoscience.

Sudeep, Your background?

I graduated from Air Force Bal Bharati School in New Delhi where I grew up, including my entire childhood. I don’t recall having specific extra-curricular activities that shaped my career other than a passion for swimming!

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I graduated with a BSc (Hons.) in Geology and MSc Geology from the University of Delhi. I did a second Masters in Micropaleontology from University College London (UK), followed by a PhD from the same university (UCL).

Who were your early mentors/ influencers? Where did you meet them?

I had incredibly good teachers in school and university whose names I recall with the deepest gratitude and the fondest memories. Equally important were my parents and my sister who went to the University of Cambridge (UK) for her PhD in biotechnology and encouraged me to follow her path.

During my MSc days in Delhi, I used to visit education fairs at the British Council, where I had the opportunity to interact with faculty and peers from a variety of British institutions. I was inspired by some amazing people I met there, especially Dr. Sally Radford, who encouraged me to study abroad and opened the door for me.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

The idea was to take my chosen discipline to its highest order by getting a doctorate in applied geoscience.

I did micropaleontology as my specialization for MSc in Delhi University. By then, I had learned about this discipline and its application in the energy industry (oil & gas).

My internship at the ONGC Joint Research Centre, Delhi (MSc, Delhi), influenced my decision to pursue micropaleontology as a career.

Later, I received the Shell Centenary Scholarship at UCL for a one-year MSc degree in Micropaleontology – this scholarship proved to be the vehicle that launched my career. This was a significant turning point. I also did a second internship at Shell UK in Aberdeen through my MSc at UCL.

The second masters in Micropaleontology left me wanting more as I knew I had developed the ability to excel in the field and therefore decided to pursue a PhD specializing in calcareous nannoplankton (or nannofossils), a sub-discipline of micropaleontology. Fortuitously, at the time, a professor in UCL had returned from India after completing a field study and asked me if I wanted to do a PhD on the rock samples he had brought from India (Cauvery Basin, Tamil Nadu). That sealed the deal for me. I started looking for scholarships and after a few months of struggle, I got lucky in getting a scholarship through my mentor, Prof. Alan Lord, who supported me wholeheartedly.

For my PhD, I received a double scholarship covering both tuition and living expenses through the Overseas Research Scholarship and the Thomas Witherden Batt Scholarship from UCL. 

My PhD topic was decided after several consultations with my principal advisor, Prof. Paul Bown. He is a world-renowned expert on calcareous nannoplankton and suggested that I focus my research on a comparative study of calcareous nannofossils from India, Europe, the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean with a view to improve their applicability in advancing global correlation of sediments. This became the subject of my PhD thesis/dissertation.

Upon completion of my PhD from UCL, which took 5 years, I was approached by another mentor from Imperial College London, who asked me if I was interested in relocating to Utah in the United States of America. Though I was initially reluctant, I soon received an interview call for a post-doctoral research position in the University of Utah (USA). I visited the U.S. for the first time for this interview and got selected for this position eventually. There was no looking back after that, and one thing catapulted another in establishing my career. Prof. Raymond Levey, the former director of the Energy & Geoscience Institute, and my mentor, Dr. Paul Sikora were instrumental in hiring and bringing me to the USA.

My post-doctoral assignment advanced my PhD work in calcareous nannofossils with an exclusive focus on industry samples obtained from oil and gas drilling platforms from all over the world.

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first break in the USA through my network at UCL. I therefore believe that good networking is very important for a successful landing of your career.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

Articulating myself in concise English used to be very challenging in those days. I overcame this weakness by writing multiple drafts and asking my sister to read and approve my writing. The ability to articulate your ideas is a valuable skill which is the foundation for gaining credibility in your application.  

Challenge 2: 

Maintaining communication with professors in the UK was another challenge in those days when the internet and email were in a nascent stage. I remember sending documents via regular mail as a backup. If needed, I didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and speak to people directly.

Challenge 3:

Preparing for interviews. Mock interviews, reading, listening, speaking slowly and clearly, anticipating questions, and meditation helped me prepare for interviews.

Where do you work now?  

I am a scientist and researcher in the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute.

What problems do you solve?

As a micropaleontologist, I specialize in the geologic age dating application of a group of microscopic marine algae, called calcareous nannoplankton, which have an abundant fossil record and underpin the carbon cycle and food web system of our planet. I use these microfossils for sediment correlation globally, as well as enhancing our understanding of the Earth’s past climate (paleoclimate research).

I am a principal investigator who connects academia with industry to conduct research on critical aspects of sedimentary basin analysis and productivity. This includes basin correlation and geochemistry of source (e.g., shale and mudstones) and reservoir rocks (e.g., sandstones and limestones) that contribute directly to our energy production and reserves. Through my work, I liaise with integrated energy companies such as Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, to name a few. 

What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?

Specialized microscopy techniques including slide preparation (of microfossils from rock samples), data generation, verifying authenticity of data, documentation, analysis and interpretation, solving geological problems, and some patience!

I learned these skills through education starting from my Bachelors’ all the way up to my doctoral years.

What’s a typical day like?

Reading a variety of research papers (including popular science), laboratory work, microscopy, critical thinking, emailing, advising students, and delivering seminars/lectures.

What is it you love about this job? 

I love the fact that I contribute to understanding and solving societal challenges related to ocean, climate, and energy production through geoscience.

How does your work benefit society? 

Geoscience is often referred to as the first science in human history. Earth materials such as water, rocks, minerals, soil, etc. have sparked human curiosity since the birth of mankind and have played a fundamental role in all civilizations. Almost everything we use comes directly from the Earth and almost every human activity consumes Earth’s energy. Energy consumption and economic development are therefore intimately linked to each other. However, due to the adverse effects of anthropogenic climate change on our planet, we must ensure environmental protection and sustainability.

Geoscientists play a critical role in this area. Not only do they help provide affordable and adequate energy and mineral resources for economic development of our society, but they also explore new techniques and technologies to protect Earth’s sustainability and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and global warming. Striking a healthy balance between economic development and environmental sustainability is a key responsibility of geoscientists and engineers. 

In essence, geoscience and geoscientists contribute to both material and intellectual development of human society (Gabrielsen, 2021).

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

My research on the Cauvery Basin of India (Kanungo et al., 2021) is one of my favorite works as it gave me a wonderful opportunity to contribute to Indian geology.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

i) Follow your dream career – don’t settle for anything less. When you love what you do, you never get bored. Find honor and joy in whatever you choose to do.

ii) Listen to and appreciate alternative perspectives (not just your own) to a problem or issue. There is always another side to a situation that you may be unaware of. 

iii) Build and cultivate relationships with people everywhere because you never know who will help you ultimately. Start by building a strong network on LinkedIn (aim for at least 1000+ contacts).

iv) Don’t be rigid about Plan A – if it doesn’t work out, follow Plan B. Endeavor to reinvent yourself continuously by learning from your mistakes and acquiring a new skill or talent. For example, I like learning a new word or phrase, or a place or animal name every day.

v) Excellence comes only through a combination of passion, knowledge, practice and humility.

Future Plans?

I would like to become a science and energy policy advisor and an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to help create science that is just to everyone regardless of their background. 


Gabrielsen, P., 2021. Why Geoscience Matters. Interview by University of Utah Communications:

Kanungo, S., Bown, P. & Gale, A. 2021. Cretaceous (Albian-Turonian) calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy of the onshore Cauvery Basin, southeastern India. Cretaceous Research,118: