Geophysical Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Learn about a geophysical technician's job duties, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a geophysical technician career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Geophysical Technician

Geophysical technicians assist geophysicists and other geoscientists with the exploration and extraction of natural resources. If you think the prospect of becoming a geophysical technician is right for you, then consider the following pros and cons about the industry.

Pros of a Geophysical Technician Career
Faster than average job growth (an expected 15% from 2012-2022)*
Above-average salary ($54,810 median salary as of 2014)*
Excellent job prospects in the booming oil and gas extraction industry*
Opportunities in various industries (oil and gas, architecture, engineering, environmental science)*

Cons of a Geophysical Technician Career
Requires specialized technical training in geophysical tools and applications*
Long and irregular hours, particularly when conducting field work*
Can work in remote locations for extended periods of time*
May need to relocate for work (about 50% were employed in Texas in 2012)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Geophysics is the application of the laws of physics to study the Earth's surface, including the composition and movement of surface and sub-surface layers. Geophysical technicians assist geologists and other geoscientists with measuring geologic data and recording conditions in a variety of environments. In this career, you'll help set up and use instruments to measure the properties of rocks and soils as well as Earth's gravitational and magnetic fields. This can involve gathering samples and running scientific tests to determine the samples' contents. You'll also conduct administrative tasks, like preparing reports, maps and other documents for your employers.

Many of these scientific technicians work in the oil and gas extraction, petroleum manufacturing and mining industries, where they collect and test samples to determine the presence of natural resources. You may also work with an environmental consulting firm to determine the amount of pollution in soil or groundwater, for instance. Additionally, you could work for an architectural or engineering firm as a land surveyor or prospector.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for geophysical technicians, as well as other geological and petroleum technicians, were projected to increase by 15% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Demand for these workers is largely determined by the natural oil and gas industry; the BLS expected that the growing demand for sources of oil and gas, as well as rising gas prices, should continue to increase employment of these workers. Since most geophysical technician jobs are within the oil and gas extraction and mining industries, jobs may be concentrated in particular areas of the country. For example, the BLS reports that approximately 50% of these technicians worked in Texas in 2012.

Salary

The BLS reports that geological and petroleum technicians earned a median annual salary of nearly $54,810 as of May 2014, with the top ten percent earning over $94,750. Geophysical technicians' salaries can vary by industry. For instance, those working in the petroleum and coal manufacturing industry had a higher mean salary (about $70,070) than those in the architectural, engineering and related services industry (about $48,800).

Education and Training Requirements

To become a geophysical technician, you'll generally need an associate's degrees or at least two years of postsecondary training in a science-related applied technology field. You could, for example, earn a degree in geoscience, natural gas or environmental science technology through a community college or technical institute. You can expect to have a course load concentrated in mathematics and the physical sciences, including classes in geology, physics, chemistry and computer science.

Geophysical technicians also undergo on-the-job training under more experienced technicians and scientists to learn how to perform the specific job duties required by their companies. On-the-job training can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on your previous education and experience.

Skills

Most geophysical technician jobs entail the collection and processing of large amounts of scientific data, so you'll need strong critical-thinking, analytical and technical skills. Willingness to travel and physical fitness are also advantageous, since fieldwork can be physically demanding and require that you travel to remote locations to conduct surveys and collect geologic data. Other essential qualifications include:

  • Excellent technical writing skills
  • Strong verbal communication abilities
  • Ability to work as part of a team

Job Postings from Real Employers

While many of these technicians hold at least associate's degrees, employers tend to emphasize experience and technical knowledge over education when advertising for geophysical technicians. You'll generally be required to be familiar with the geophysical software programs used by the hiring company. Below are some examples of job postings that were available during April 2012 to help give you a better idea of what employers often look for in geophysical technicians.

  • A geophysics company in North Carolina was looking for a technician to collect field data using geophysical equipment. The requirements were a minimum of a high school diploma with emphasis in technical or scientific subjects, though an associate's or bachelor's degree in a science field was preferred. The ideal applicant is familiar with handling geophysical equipment and has knowledge of AutoCAD or MicroStation software.
  • A natural oil and gas company in Oklahoma sought an associate geological technician to provide support to geologists, particularly for managing geologic data using various software programs. The position required a bachelor's degree in a technical discipline and at least three years experience in a related industry. Preferred skills included working knowledge of GeoGraphix and SmartSection as well as GIS software, including ArcGIS, ArcView and ArcMap.
  • An oil and gas company in Texas was seeking a geoscience technician whose main responsibilities included providing technical and regulatory support to geologists, geophysicists and engineers. Qualifications included at least three years of experience in oil and gas exploration, proficiency in data management and knowledge of Petra, SMT and Microsoft Office software. Though not mandatory, a bachelor's degree in a math, science or computer science was preferred.

How to Maximize Your Skills

According to the BLS, work experience can help candidates find jobs in the field. To gain experience early on, look for degree programs that incorporate practical training opportunities through internships or offer cooperative work-study programs that can be completed while taking courses. Additionally, since employers commonly look for candidates with computer expertise in geophysical or geologic software packages, consider taking courses in geographic information systems (GIS), geologic modeling and computer programming.

Advance Your Education

Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in geology or a related science field may have an advantage when it comes to gaining employment or promotion to senior technician positions. In fact, job postings reveal that some employers favor applicants with bachelor's degrees. A bachelor's degree in the geosciences can even qualify you for an entry-level position as a geophysicist, which entails greater responsibilities and earning potential. Even after college, you can advance your knowledge in the field by pursuing continuing education. Such learning options are offered through professional organizations, like the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Alternative Careers to Consider

If you like the prospect of working outside in the field under more experienced scientists but aren't sure that the oil and natural gas industry is right for you, consider a career as a civil engineering technician. As a civil engineering technician, you'll work under licensed civil engineers to design and plan major construction projects. You'll work in lab and field settings to collect and analyze data, evaluate field conditions, ensure projects comply with building codes and regulations, estimate costs and select construction materials. You can typically enter the field with an associate's degree in civil engineering; however, keep in mind that, compared to geophysical technicians, job growth for civil engineering technicians was projected at a slightly lower rate (12%) between 2010 and 2020, and the median salary was slightly lower ($47,000 as of 2011), according to the BLS.

If you're interested in studying the Earth but not sure that geophysics is the right field, consider a career as a surveying and mapping technician. These workers help to collect spatial data and produce maps of the Earth's surface. In this career, you'll work under a surveying chief to collect data in the field and process data back in an office or lab environment. You can generally qualify for a job right after high school, though many mapping technicians complete some postsecondary training to learn industry-specific skills. According to the BLS, employment of surveying and mapping technicians was expected to grow at a rate of 16% between 2010 and 2020, which is slightly above that for geophysical technicians; however, surveying and mapping technicians earned a median salary of $39,000 as of 2011, which is about $11,000 less than geophysical technicians.

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