How to Become a Geologist in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for geologists. Get the facts about the education, salary, licensing requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
Career Information at a Glance
A geologist is a scientist who studies the physical attributes of the earth. The following chart provides an overview about a career in geology.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's or master's degree|
|Field of Study||Geosciences; or physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, or computer science if they include geosciences coursework|
|Key Responsibilities||Conduct surveys; collect samples; analyze aerial and geological data and samples; prepare and review scientific reports and research|
|Licensing||Some states may require geologists who do certain work to be licensed|
|Job Growth (2012-2022)||16%*|
|Median Salary (2013)||$91,920*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
What Is a Geologist?
Geologists examine the composition and structure of rocks, the processes that led to rock formation and how these processes have evolved over time. Geologists also examine plant and animal fossils for clues to the evolution of life.
A geologist's duties may include leading field studies, surveys and drilling programs, as well as collecting soil, mineral, rock or fossil samples. If you're a geologist, you may analyze chemical and physical data from bore holes, aerial photos and wells. You may also use seismographs, torsion balances and magnetometers to measure the earth's gravity and magnetic field. These processes allow you to compile field and lab data to prepare geologic charts, diagrams and maps. You may also spend time reviewing professional journals and technical reports to stay up-to-date with current research.
Step 1: Prepare in High School
While high schools don't usually offer dedicated geology courses, many schools have closely relevant courses in Earth science or environmental science. Traditional subject areas such as biology, chemistry and physics will also prepare you for the specialty. You may take computer courses to prepare for sample analysis and information processing duties when you're a geologist. Participation in outdoor or environmental clubs may familiarize you with how to function in natural or wilderness settings.
Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Bachelor's degree programs in geology integrate concepts from biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics that apply specifically to the study of the earth. Your likely course load will include meteorology, mineralogy, tectonics, stratiography and hydrology. Most programs also have you participate in one or more field study courses. Some require you to complete a senior thesis project. A bachelor's degree is typically earned in four years.
Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree
Most government agencies and private companies that hire geologists for field research prefer those who have a master's degree. In a master's degree program, you choose a specialty and conduct an advanced study of material introduced at the bachelor's level, with the aim of developing your competence in research and resource assessment. Possible specialties include environmental geology, engineering geology or geochemistry. Programs may be offered with a thesis option and non-thesis option. Master's degrees are typically earned in two years.
Step 4: Gain Employment
Architectural and engineering services firms, local, state and federal agencies, consulting firms and construction, petroleum and mining companies are your possible employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that approximately 38,200 geoscientists were employed as of 2012 (www.bls.gov). However, specific figures for geologists were not available. The BLS reported that employment was projected to grow 16% from 2012-2022, primarily due to the private sector's need for technical expertise in environmental remediation and in finding and extracting dwindling petroleum and mineral resources.
Step 5: Obtain a License
If you offer services that directly benefit the public, you might need a state license. According to the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, 31 states had licensing requirements for geologists as of June 2011 (www.aegweb.org). Common requirements for licensure include a bachelor's degree, 3-5 years of field experience and passage of a licensing exam. Experience requirements tend to be lower if you have a master's or doctoral degree.
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