A geoscientist could...
|Locate the safest place to build a new bridge in an area that is prone to earthquakes.||Discover new ways to extract oil from rocks—needed for transportation, food, fabrics, plastics, and more.|
|Predict the next volcanic eruption, giving people who are in its path time to evacuate.||Find an underground water reserve that can be used to produce geothermal energy.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Just as a doctor uses tools and techniques, like X-rays and stethoscopes, to look inside the human body, geoscientists explore deep inside a much bigger patient—planet Earth. Geoscientists seek to better understand our planet, and to discover natural resources, like water, minerals, and petroleum oil, which are used in everything from shoes, fabrics, roads, roofs, and lotions to fertilizers, food packaging, ink, and CD's. The work of geoscientists affects everyone and everything.|
|Key Requirements||Curiosity, a love for strenuous outdoor work, an ability to visualize things in three dimensions, and solve puzzles from just a few clues.|
|Minimum Degree||Master's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, biology, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available Earth science, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
|Interview||Read interviews with real geoscientists who work for oil companies, universities, and private and governmental agencies at Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.|
Training, Other Qualifications
A master's degree is the primary educational requirement for most entry-level positions. A PhD is necessary for most high-level research and college teaching positions, but a master's degree is preferred for most other geoscience jobs.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree is adequate for a few entry-level positions, but most geoscientists need a master's degree in geology or earth science. A master's degree is the preferred educational requirement for most entry-level research positions in private industry, federal agencies, and state geological surveys. A PhD is necessary for most high-level research and college teaching positions, but it may not be preferred for other jobs.
Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor's or higher degree in a geoscience. Traditional geoscience courses emphasizing classical geologic methods and topics (such as mineralogy, petrology, paleontology, stratigraphy, and structural geology) are important for all geoscientists. People who study physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, or computer science may also qualify for some geoscience positions if their course work includes geology.
In terms of licensure, a number of states require geoscientists who offer their services directly to the public, particularly geologists, to obtain a license from a state licensing board. Licensing requirements vary, but often include education, experience, and a passing score on an examination.
Computer skills are essential for prospective geoscientists; students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis and integration, digital mapping, remote sensing, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will be the most prepared entering the job market. Knowledge of the Global Positioning System (GPS)—a locator system that uses satellites—has also become essential. Some employers seek applicants with field experience, so a summer internship is often helpful.
Geoscientists must have good interpersonal skills, because they usually work as part of a team with other geoscientists and with environmental scientists, engineers, and technicians. Strong oral and written communication skills also are important because writing technical reports and research proposals and explaining research results in person are important aspects of the work. Because many jobs require foreign travel, knowledge of a second language is becoming increasingly beneficial.
Geoscientists must be inquisitive, able to think logically, and capable of complex analytical thinking, including spatial visualization and the ability to infer conclusions from sparse data. Those involved in fieldwork must have physical stamina.
Nature of the Work
Geoscientists study the composition, structure, and other physical aspects of Earth. They study Earth's geologic past and present by using sophisticated instruments to analyze the composition of earth, rock, and water. Many geoscientists help to search for natural resources, such as groundwater, metals, and petroleum. Others work closely with environmental and other scientists to preserve and clean up the environment.
Geoscientists usually study and work in one of several closely related fields of geoscience. Geologists study the composition, processes, and history of Earth. They try to find out how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. They also study the evolution of life by analyzing plant and animal fossils. Geophysicists use the principles of physics, mathematics, and chemistry to study not only Earth's surface, but also its internal composition, ground and surface waters, atmosphere, oceans, and magnetic, electrical, and gravitational forces.
Within these two major disciplines of geology and geophysics are numerous sub-specialties. For example, engineering geologists apply geologic principles to the fields of civil and environmental engineering, offering advice on major construction projects and assisting in environmental remediation and natural hazard-reduction projects. Mineralogists analyze and classify minerals and precious stones according to their composition and structure. They study the environment surrounding rocks in order to find new mineral resources. Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth. Volcanologists investigate volcanoes and volcanic phenomena to try to predict the potential for future eruptions and hazards to human health and welfare.
Geophysicists specialize in areas such as geodesy, seismology, and magnetic geophysics. Geodesists study the Earth's size, shape, gravitational field, tides, polar motion, and rotation. Seismologists interpret data from seismographs and other geophysical instruments to detect earthquakes and locate earthquake-related faults. Paleomagnetists interpret fossil magnetization in rocks and sediments from the continents and oceans to record the spreading of the sea floor, the wandering of the continents, and the many reversals of polarity that Earth's magnetic field has undergone through time. Other geophysicists study atmospheric sciences and space physics.
Geoscientists in research positions with the federal government or in colleges and universities are frequently required to design programs and write grant proposals in order to fund their research. Geoscientists in consulting jobs face similar pressures to market their skills and write proposals so that they will have steady work.
Geoscientists can spend a large part of their time in the field, identifying and examining rocks, studying information collected by remote sensing instruments in satellites, conducting geological surveys, constructing field maps, and using instruments to measure Earth's gravity and magnetic field. They often perform seismic studies, for example, which involve bouncing energy waves off buried layers of rock, to search for oil and gas or to understand the structure of the subsurface layers. Similarly, they use seismic signals generated by an earthquake to determine the earthquake's location and intensity. In laboratories, geologists and geophysicists examine the chemical and physical properties of specimens. They study fossil remains of animal and plant life or experiment with the flow of water and oil through rocks.
Some geoscientists spend the majority of their time in an office, but many others divide their time between fieldwork and office or laboratory work. Work at remote field sites is common. Many geoscientists, such as volcanologists, often take field trips that involve physical activity. Geoscientists in the field may work in warm or cold climates and in all kinds of weather. In their research, they may dig or chip with a hammer, scoop with a net, and carry equipment in a backpack. Geologists frequently travel to remote field sites by helicopter or 4-wheel-drive vehicles and cover large areas on foot. Many exploration geologists and geophysicists work in foreign countries, sometimes in remote areas and under difficult conditions. Travel is often required to meet with prospective clients or investors. Fieldwork often requires working long hours.
On the Job
- Analyze and interpret geological, geochemical, and geophysical information from sources such as survey data, well logs, bore holes, and aerial photos.
- Locate and estimate probable natural gas, oil, and mineral ore deposits and underground water resources, using aerial photographs, charts, or research and survey results.
- Plan and conduct geological, geochemical, and geophysical field studies and surveys, sample collection, or drilling and testing programs used to collect data for research or application.
- Analyze and interpret geological data, using computer software.
- Search for and review research articles or environmental, historical, and technical reports.
- Investigate the composition, structure, and history of Earth's crust through the collection, examination, measurement, and classification of soils, minerals, rocks, or fossil remains.
- Conduct geological and geophysical studies to provide information for use in regional development, site selection, and development of public works projects.
- Measure characteristics of Earth, such as gravity and magnetic fields, using equipment such as seismographs, gravimeters, torsion balances, and magnetometers.
Companies That Hire Geoscientists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Geoscientist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
Information on training and career opportunities for geologists is available from the following organizations:
- National Center for Construction Education and Research: www.nccer.org
- American Association of Petroleum Geologists: www.aapg.org
- American Geological Institute: www.agiweb.org
Information on locating and applying for job opportunities as a geologist, geophysicist, or oceanographer with the federal government is available from this website:
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management: http://www.opm.gov/
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- TPT. (2006). Real Scientist: Karin Block. DragonflyTV, Twin Cities Public Television. Retrieved June 20, 2009.
- The Sloan Career Cornerstone Center (n.d.) Profiles of Geoscientists. Retrieved August 25, 2009.
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