Becoming a Geoscientist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a geoscience career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects, and salary info to see if becoming a geoscientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Geoscientist

If you'd like to become an Earth scientist, you may be glad to hear that job availability is on the rise, especially in consulting and petroleum geology. The pros and cons chart below may help you evaluate whether this is an ideal career path for you.

Pros of a Geoscientist Career
Mean yearly salary in 2014 (about $105,390) is higher than the national average for all occupations*
Faster-than-average job growth (16 % increase) expected between 2012 and 2022*
Multiple specialization areas to choose among (environmental geoscience, oceanography, geochemistry)*
Must keep up-to-date with advances in sophisticated equipment and software*

Cons of a Geoscientist Career
Fieldwork may involve rugged conditions, extreme weather, physical demands, and remote locations*
A master's degree is necessary for the best job opportunities*
The profession is regulated by licensure in many states*
Unconventional hours and overtime may be necessary, particularly during fieldwork*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Geoscience is a broad field of study centered on the physical examination of the Earth. Geoscientists typically specialize in areas ranging from mineralogy and oceanography to hydrology and climate science, and they usually work among a team of scientists and technicians. You can land an entry-level position with a bachelor's degree and move up to advanced geoscientist research positions with graduate education and/or experience. Among the projects you could work on are environmental conservation, water pollution remediation, natural resource exploration, natural hazard awareness, waste disposal, earthquake monitoring, and fossil classification. You could strive to put together pieces of the geological past or endeavor to predict future geological occurrences.

Working as a geoscientist involves splitting your time among the field, laboratory, and office. You may go out to survey land, collect rock samples, or take photographs. Depending on your specialization, you may have to travel quite a bit, maybe even to foreign countries. An oceanographer's job could require months at sea, while a seismologist may hike mountain chains prone to earthquakes. Remote sensing and radar technology may be employed in the field, while electron microscopes and computer modeling programs may be used to analyze the data in the lab. In your office, you may write reports on your findings, review research from other geoscientists, create charts, and plan new field projects.

Specializations

Geoscientists hone in on their interests to choose their areas of concentration. As a geologist, you would focus on the creation of rocks and Earth structures as well as the changes that affect them; as a geophysicist, you would explore the properties of Earth's electric, gravitational, and magnetic fields; and as a seismologist, you would study the conditions related to earthquakes and tsunamis. Engineering geology, environmental science, geochemistry, paleontology, meteorology, geographic information science, hydrology, atmospheric science, and oceanography are additional disciplines within geoscience.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of geoscientists was expected to increase at a faster-than-average rate of 16% between 2012 and 2022, and your job prospects should be excellent if you have a master's degree. The consulting and petroleum industries should have plenty of job opportunities, though positions for government organizations, like the U.S. Geological Survey, were predicted to be limited. Be aware that you'll likely face strong competition for academic jobs that require you to have a doctorate.

The BLS reported that, as of May 2014, geoscientists' mean annual wage was about $105,390 and those in the 10th-90th percentile earned salaries ranging from approximately $46,400 to $187,199. Company and enterprise management was the most lucrative geoscience sector, with a median annual wage of around $153,700. Careers related to oil and gas extraction, as well as mining support and manufacturing, all paid average annual wages over $120,000.

Requirements

Education

Entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree in geoscience or a related field, like chemistry or engineering, provided that the curriculum incorporated several geoscience courses. A master's degree in an area of geoscience is the standard level of education for geoscience jobs, and a doctorate may be required for senior-level, project management positions.

You'll need to build a foundation in chemistry, physics, and statistics, as well as geoscience research and fieldwork methods. Some geoscience classes you may take include mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, climate science, geomorphology, biogeography, environmental planning, atmospheric modeling, and space geodesy. An internship or research project may be part of program requirements. Master's programs often require a thesis, and doctoral programs mandate a dissertation. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of geoscience, programs typically give you the liberty to tailor the curriculum to your education and career goals.

Licensure

Several states mandate licensure for geoscientists who would like to work for the public. You usually need a geoscience degree or undergraduate education with a significant number of geoscience course plus five years of work experience to be eligible for licensure. Professional letters of recommendation may be requested as well. The Fundamentals of Geology (FG) and Practice of Geology (PS) are two tests that licensing boards may administer, and the National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG) test is another standard exam. Specialty licensure in engineering geology and hydrogeology may also be available in certain states. Periodic continuing education is often required to keep your license valid.

Important Qualifications and Technical Skills

To be a geoscientist, you need multi-disciplinary knowledge of physical sciences, mathematics, and computers. Geoscientists rely on a handful of other qualities to do their jobs well; these include sharp observation, attention to detail, critical thinking, written and oral communication, physical endurance, and teamwork. Furthermore, technical skills are essential, and you may have to learn to use various types of equipment, including:

  • Microscopes
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Topographic and aerial maps
  • Magnetic susceptibility systems
  • Gravimeters
  • Hydrometers
  • Seismographs
  • Echosounders
  • Water quality sensors
  • Sediment coring equipment

What Employers Are Looking For

A search of online job postings in August 2012 revealed that jobs related to resource exploration and environmental recovery were in demand. You should know that most jobs require several years of experience. The summaries of online job postings below give you a snapshot of the job market.

  • A resource company in Texas was searching for a geophysicist specialist to work on a project related to seismic activity on the Gulf Coast. Though a specific degree was not required, at least five years of experience were necessary.
  • A petroleum business based in Houston was seeking a geoscientist with a master's degree or doctorate in geophysics or petroleum geology to join oil exploration teams in Brazil. The position required knowledge of seismic reports, well drilling, and resource appraisal.
  • A Texas consulting company was looking for someone with training in geological engineering to conduct site assessments, create reports, and plan environmental restoration projects. A job candidate needed a bachelor's degree in geology, a current P.G. licensure valid in the state, and at least three years of experience. Knowledge of various types of waste, including wastewater and hazardous solid waste, was necessary.
  • A mining business in Missouri sought an exploration geologist to discover new resources and plan mining ventures in the U.S. and internationally. An applicant must have a bachelor's degree and ten years of work experience or a master's degree and five years of geological practice, competency in AutoCAD and ArcGIS software, and 3-D geology modeling skills.
  • A Pittsburgh engineering company advertised for a hydrogeologist for consulting and project management. The job involved studying groundwater flow and directing remediation endeavors. One needed a geosciences doctorate and a minimum of ten years of experience to apply, and having a license was preferred.

Stand Out

As suggested by the BLS, you'll have an advantage in the job market if you have experience conducting fieldwork and analyzing data. You might obtain this through summer field projects. It would be to your benefit to know how to use scientific data analysis, modeling, and map creation computer programs. Software programs commonly used in geoscience include:

  • Atoll GeoCAD
  • Earthworks Downhole Explorer
  • GeoPLUS Petra
  • ERSI ArcView
  • ArcGIS

Something else to consider is the location of your school. Being situated in the mountains, marshes, or coastal regions affects the practical experiences and opportunities you'll have.

Alternative Careers

Geographer

If you're interested in studying the Earth's features and you enjoy working with information, but you'd like to incorporate the place of society and culture in your career, you might be interested in a geographer career. The job involves collecting data via photographs, surveys, maps, interviews, and satellite images and then analyzing the characteristics and creating maps and charts. You might study resource distribution and economic trends, the prevalence of diseases around the globe, environmental degradation, or urban layout. You can relate phenomena you observe to human factors and provide advice to solve problems.

A bachelor's degree in geography is the education required for an entry-level job, though a master's degree is necessary for the majority of positions. The mean annual wage was about $74,000 in May 2011, less than that of geoscientists but still higher than the national average. Job prospects are excellent: employment is expected to increase at a much-faster-than-average rate of 35% between 2010 and 2010, per the BLS.

Environmental Engineer

Perhaps you're very science- and math-oriented and would like to play a part in creating solutions to environmental issues, but you aren't sure you would like to spend so much time out in the field, in which case an environmental engineering career could be suitable for you. You would need a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or a similar field to get started in your career. Job duties could include reviewing environmental investigations, designing equipment to manage air pollution and reclaim water, providing consulting services, or conducting environmental inspections at industrial settings. Obtaining your professional engineer (P.E.) license is recommended, and you could also earn certification to demonstrate your expertise.

The employment growth rate is similar to that for geoscientists, with a faster-than-average increase of 22% predicted for the 2010-2020 decade, as reported by the BLS. The average salary for environmental engineers was approximately $83,000 as of May 2011.

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