Geologist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become a geologist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, licensure and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Geologist?

Geologists study the history and composition of the Earth for a variety of reasons, such as exploration for energy resources, development of land use policies and fossil research. They conduct field studies to collect data and survey information, as well as perform laboratory analysis on their field samples. Geologists develop maps and charts, and present these and other findings in reports and presentations to clients or other scientists. They also can locate natural resource deposits using sources like photographs, field samples of rock and drilling records.

Geologists are able to work in the field with various tools, as well as in the laboratory with scientific equipment. Often these professionals supervise the work of technicians in both environments. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Master's degree; PhD for research and academia
Education Field of Study Geology
Licensure and Certification License required to work directly with the public in some states; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (for all geoscientists)*
Average Salary (2015) $105,720*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is Working as a Geologist Like?

Working as a geologist, you will spend part of your time working outdoors and part of your time working in a lab. Out in the field, you may observe and measure rock formations or dig through layers of earth. You may also collect rock, mineral, earth or fossil samples. You will then take the samples back to a lab for further testing. By analyzing the formation and composition of your samples, you will try to understand the history and current state of the location you are studying.

As a geologist, you may choose to work in one of many subspecialties. For example, you may focus on petroleum geology and help oil and gas companies determine the best land sites from which to obtain oil and gas. You may also specialize in glacial or engineering geology, studying glaciers or applying geological concepts to construction projects, respectively.

What Type of Job Outlook Is Predicted?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over the 2014-2024 decade, employment in the geoscience field is expected to grow faster than average at a rate of 10%. Growth will be due to the need for energy, sustainable resource and land management and environmental protection. New oil and gas extraction technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, will produce the most growth (www.bls.gov). In addition, more job opportunities may be found in the private sector due to budget limitations for government agencies, while the greatest demand will be for geologists with a master's degree. The BLS also reports that in May 2015, the average annual salary for geoscientists, including geologists, was $105,720.

What Level of Education Is Required?

For most positions as a geologist, you need a master's degree. However, for research and academic positions, you usually need a PhD. Regardless of which type of graduate degree you wish to pursue, you first need to earn a bachelor's degree, which may be in geology or a related subject. Once enrolled in a graduate degree program, you will likely complete both research and coursework. Some programs require that you choose an area of specialization, such as geological engineering, paleontology, sedimentology, hydrogeology or structural geology.

If you are in a position in which you directly serve the public, your state may require that you become licensed, the BLS reports. Licensure requirements usually include passing an examination, as well as completing certain education and experience requirements. If your state has no licensure requirements, you may still choose to earn voluntary certification to enhance your career prospects. For example, the Division of Professional Affairs (DPA) of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists offers certifications for petroleum geologists and coal geologists.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar to geologists, anthropologists and archaeologists require a master's degree and use archaeological remains to study cultures. Another job that may interest you is physicists and astronomers. These professionals require a doctoral or professional degree. They examine the relationship between matter and energy to help study things like time or the creation of the universe.

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