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From underdog to powerhouse: How UTP became a formidable force in the PetroBowl


A huge round of applause for Abdul Haziq Abdul Yazid, Cheah Jason, Felicia Lam, Low Han Lun and Lim Yi Jie!

This fabulous five, who recently represented UTP in the World PetroBowl Championship 2020, emerged first runner up in the competition – the highest position ever for a team from Malaysia AND Asia Pacific.





If you’re a petroleum engineering (pet eng) student, you would be familiar with the Petrobowl. Considered the Olympics of pet eng competitions, PetroBowl pits SPE student chapter teams against one another in a fiercely-contested, fast-paced quiz covering broad aspects of the oil and gas industry.


A huge part of PetroBowl’s appeal, other than its prestige? Contestants who make it to the final round also have a chance to attend the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, the largest technical event in the oil and gas industry, and establish networks with international industry players.


Unlike previous years, the latest PetroBowl edition was conducted fully virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no physical training sessions, no smashing the buzzer, not even a stage or audience. All these changes made the environment much less engaging and diminished the competitive atmosphere somewhat.



Despite less than ideal circumstances, UTP’s team pulled off the university’s best ever performance at the Asia Pacific Regional Qualifier (APRQ) competition, which decides who goes into the final round of Petrobowl. UTP emerged 1st runner up among 30 university teams, a huge improvement from the previous year’s fourth runner-up position.

Elated by this encouraging win, the team was all fired up going into the finals, although they faced an uphill battle.

“The quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals were held on the same day so you can imagine the enormous toll that the time difference took on us,” shares team captain Haziq. The quarterfinals began at 8 pm Malaysian time while the finals was held at an unearthly 5 am the next day!”

But UTP was undeterred. In a surprise win, the team upset triple PetroBowl world champion Colorado School of Mines USA 30-20 in the first round and went on to dispatch the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, moving into the Top 8 for the first time in its history. University of Uyo Nigeria and Venezuelan Petroleum Engineering School, University of Zulia were no match for UTP in the subsequent qualifiers.


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The scene was set for a showdown against Oklahama University (OU) USA – who also happened to be a three-time PetroBowl World Championship title-holder.


After a gruelling battle in the two-round quiz final, UTP’s fairytale run finally came to an end, but not before putting up a valiant fight.


Captain Haziq was over the moon despite stumbling at the last hurdle. “We have proved that UTP is a force to be reckoned with by defeating world powerhouse teams en route to the finals,” he said.


He credits the strong performance to the team’s all-rounder base, which helped to cover all the categories of questions asked, supported by the fact that all were strong clutch players who could pull out wins from losing positions.


“Jason is very strong on the non-technical aspects such as the history of the oil and gas industry, oil and gas corporate structures, and hydrocarbon resources throughout the world. Felicia, a specialist in reservoir engineering and oil and gas trivia, has the uncanny ability to recall even the most obscure pieces of information! Han Lun is specialised in drilling and well engineering while being very well-rounded in all technical aspects, being the strongest academically in the team. Cai Ning, and also later, Yi Jie, are strong in production technology, completions engineering, and facilities engineering aspects and have industry experience.”

As for Haziq, he considers himself a well-rounded generalist who’s quick on his toes. Throughout his participation in all PetroBowl competitions, he has had the highest number of correct buzz-ins.



Since making its debut in PetroBowl in 2017, UTP has gradually established itself as a formidable force in the world of student-level competition in petroleum engineering.

Part of this success can be attributed to SPE Academy, a programme that Haziq conceived in 2018 to make UTP a powerhouse in competitive pursuits.


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He shares, “I have always been passionate about PetroBowl since joining as a committee member for the PetroBowl APRQ 2017. I felt it was such a shame for us to put in so much effort to organise a prestigious international event, bringing together students from so many universities and gathering so much engineering talent in one place, only to have our very own UTP team eliminated in the 2nd round.”


“I worked hard to join the upper ranks of our SPE student chapter so that I could become a part of the decision-making process. This way, I could be given the resources and the authority to create a programme and work on it. After I managed to secure the position of vice secretary for the 2018 term, I immediately began work on a programme that would later be called SPE Academy.”

The programme involved weekly sessions where lecturers would be invited to conduct crash courses, special lectures, and in-depth tutorials on various aspects of petroleum engineering. The programme also included training sessions for PetroBowl, where we would organise mock competitions as practice.


“All this required lecturers’ input as we needed them to be the mock adjudicators, lending their expertise in accurately judging responses to questions or the output that is produced from a specific case study. We were extremely fortunate to have lecturers who willingly sacrified their free time and energy to teach us for no financial compensation, especially Mr Juhairi who has been with us every step of the way,” says Haziq.

Credit must also be given to the strength of UTP’s petroleum engineering programme, currently ranked 21st in the world by Quacquarelli Symonds, says Haziq. Everything that we learned in the UTP syllabus has at some point or another shown up in PetroBowl and other competitions. Our results is a testament to the strength of the petroleum engineering programme at UTP that students trained within that system can compete with the best in the world.”

Haziq cites UTP’s solid support as another key factor to their competitive success. “With the generosity of the Centre for Student Development and Yayasan UTP, we would not have been able to make it as far as we have.”




As a Petrobowl veteran, what tips does he have to share with aspiring competitors?


“The competition is very much akin to game shows like Jeopardy, where the participants’ knowledge in various areas is tested in three ways: breadth and depth of knowledge, accuracy of retained knowledge, and finally speed in interpreting questions and recalling answers. It can seem very much like a competition where rote memorisation is all that is required to do well.

On the surface, this is true. However at higher levels of competition, like at the regional qualifiers and world championships, what I learned was that the understanding of the participants on the subject matter is much more important. This is compared to local tournaments where question banks tend to be recycled. The tournament organisers have gotten increasingly better at writing questions that require the participants to correctly interpret the structure of the question and choice of vocabulary to give the correct answer. While this doesn’t mean that the grind to cover as much material as possible during our preparation time should stop, it means that incorporating discussions and going through case studies into our practice becomes a must to improve performance.”


For Haziq, who was recently recruited as a reservoir engineer by ExxonMobil, this represents a crowning achievement before graduation. “Studying at the University and being involved with SPE has opened up so many learning and development opportunities for me, and I would encourage any new students to make the most of the opportunities here by getting involved with the chapter,” says Haziq.

“Carrying UTP’s banner - and even Malaysia’s banner - at the competition is our way of contributing back to the institution that has trained us to become the people and engineers we are today.”

UTP’s sterling performance in Petrobowl 2020 will definitely inspire our students to greater heights. As for Haziq and his teammates, we wish them all the very best in their future undertakings!


Published: 17 March 2021