2020 GSA International Distinguished Career Award

Presented to Pinar Oya Yilmaz

Pinar Oya Yilmaz

Pinar Oya Yilmaz
ExxonMobil Exploration Company


Citation by Robbie Gries

One of Dr. Pinar Yilmaz’s tips for success that she imparts to proteges is “Think ‘we’, in the background. It is not about you! You don’t need to be front and center to get credit for the background work you accomplished.”

This exemplifies what Pinar Yilmaz has done all of her career. Having worked with Pinar for over 20 years on projects around the world and in several different organizations, I have been so enthralled with her ability to keep her eye on the ball, to keep her ego out of the equation, to endeavor to do what is best for whichever purpose she was carrying forward. Quietly, in the background, she artfully brought people together who needed to be engaged in order to ensure success in geologic programs. She arranged introductions, meetings, programs, alliances, and, oftentimes, funding to facilitate the greater good. Never did she appear to want “credit” and often moved it away from herself and onto a much less involved colleague, just because it enhanced the profile of the project.

Pinar Yilmaz learned early on to be direct yet diplomatic, to be assertive yet sensitive, and learned that hard work was going to be the primary fuel for success and self-satisfaction.

As a student she overcame amazing obstacles in Turkey to do field work alone in an area that was rugged and socially difficult for a single woman. Three years negotiating this environment produced her PhD dissertation. Her career in petroleum geology was not in her aspirations at all, but when she was made an offer to work in a company, she sought out advice, and made the life-altering decision to join industry by listening to good advice. Her career in petroleum led her to wellsites in areas where women could be compromised, where women were rare, but she never stopped her forward progress and her responsibilities to the job.

She would persist her entire career to listen to people who were knowledgeable, she would synthesize the input, and make up her own mind about the best course forward. Soon, she was the one whose advice was sought—not just by her proteges, but by her colleagues and her managers. Outside organizations, companies and professional organizations alike have sought her input and energy and gained value from that collaboration.

This has resulted in many recognitions which were not sought, but which were earned. The Geological Society of America was one of the first organizations she joined and led to benefits from her membership as she enjoyed the benefits it provided to her career. She has worked behind the scenes to enhance opportunities for students, to expand GSA’s international footprint, and to encourage the interaction of industry and academia. This award recognizes her lifelong efforts for the benefit of GSA and for geoscience itself. She further advices her proteges, 1) Never turn down an opportunity because you think you are not ready, 2) Take a seat at the table and have your voice heard, and, 3) Don’t ignore professional competition and people’s ambitions.

All the while she was also leader with the global expansion of efforts of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, where she is an Honorary Member, was recognized for Distinguished Service, served on numerous committees and where she created and carried countless sessions and conferences worldwide (Egypt, Brazil, China, Turkey, Bahrain, Nigeria, Spain, Greece, Venezuela, France, Saudi Arabia, to name a few). She has been a mover and shaker in the World Petroleum Congress and the World Petroleum Council, the International Petroleum Technology Conference (Distinguished Service), and the Leadership Excellence for Women awards & Symposium.

Recently retired from a 40-year career with ExxonMobil, she was awarded ExxonMobil President’s Award. Most significantly Pinar had garnered the appreciation and respect of her cohorts in the company for improving the relationships of ExxonMobil’s leaders with leaders from other companies and countries.

Pinar Yilmaz exemplifies the difference one geologist can make in the world.


Response by Pinar Oya Yilmaz

Today’s international geoscience requires extensive communication, networks and relationships. We should not even say international to this group but think global geoscience. Many have benefited from geoscientists colleagues, field partners, research collaborators, and life-long friendships. We established networks before the term was in vogue, took time to develop relationships, and nurtured friendships. And these came in handy both professionally and personally in life. We learned from each other, approached life with enthusiasm and energy, being kind to those around us. We leaned in to each other, supported diversity of thought, culture, and background. I feel lucky to have had a global career at ExxonMobil that enabled me to be what I am— connecting people across global geoscience.

GSA is the place where global geologists first experience sharing information and knowledge, and form networks. Where science abounds without country borders, research ideas exchanged and mentors are ready to extend a hand. World-class events advance multidisciplinary science and technology in solving global issues. There we found out data and information in long-lost publications in unique languages, delighted in the discovery, and having made a new friend. And learned of a new field outcrop that will impact our research. We are better when working globally with our contacts, networks and relationships and GSA provides us this platform.

I thank the Council, International Committee for this award, and Robbie Gries, a great friend and colleague  for my wonderful citation.