Becoming a Geologist

Artistic concept of field of geology

Becoming a geologist requires more than just a college degree. You need to have certain natural abilities in order to master the required skills.

What Is a Geologist?

A geologist studies rocks, sediment formations and any kind of natural or manmade processes or activities that can affect these.the term natural includes volcanoes, earthquakes, gas and oil pockets, water tables, sediments deposits and layers, and much more.

Mining operations depend on a geologist to determine the appropriate places to drill for mineral deposits, oil and sometimes water. Companies often consult geologists to make sure none of their drilling or other activities threaten to the area's water table or will have any negative environmental impact.

Personal Attributes

If you want to become a geologist, you'll need patience since you'll be engaged in very tedious methodical scientific processes and evaluations. You also need to be in good physical shape, since you'll be required to go on various field trips as part of your degree work and later as part of your job. Most internships include field work. Some of the work may require better than average physical strength and stamina, since you may need to hike up mountains and travel by foot for miles through different terrains in various climates.

College Education Requirements

You need to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Geology or a closely related scientific field in order to enter this profession. Don't expect to go right into a high-level position immediately following graduation. This field is highly competitive. For example, you definitely need a Master's Degree to climb rank in your career and receive promotions in your industry. In fact, if you decide you enjoy research or want to teach at a college or university, you'll need a Ph.D. degree. Many of the government positions offered on federal and state level also require a Ph.D..

Subfields of Specialization

Working as a geologist can be a meaningful career, but a degree isn't enough for success in this profession. You will need to specialize in what is termed as a subfield.

Examples of Jobs Available to Geologists

You may not be certain what a geologist does or what types of jobs that a geologist can fill. Many people assume a geologist works with only oil companies or for anthropologists in archeological digs. While both jobs are certainly ones a geologist can perform, there are other career options in different subfields.

  • Exploration: This field encompasses site determination for coal, ores, minerals, and stones extraction from the Earth. Working with gas wells and oil drilling are a possible fields of exploration expertise.
  • Geoengineer: A geoengineer is another specialization path that a geologist might take. This career is highly involved in environmental issues such as the planning of water supply development and all of the issues related to environmental impact and hazards. A Geoengineer might work in waste treatment or pollution control.
  • Geotechnical: This science is concerned with the structural behavior of various soils and rocks. You might be involved in investigative work or observatory projects for foundation constructions projects. These could be commercial or even residential developments.

Other subfields include:

  • Atmospheric science
  • Climate science
  • Environmental science
  • Geochemistry
  • Geology
  • Geophysics
  • Hydrology
  • Marine geology
  • Paleontology
  • Planetary geology

Professional Organizations

You can gain quite a bit of information about your chosen career through professional organizations serving geologists.

  • American Geological Institute (AGI): The AGI is a nonprofit organization that encompasses 47 geoscientific and professional associations. There are over 120,000 earth scientists, geophysicists and geologist members in the AGI. AGI offers several programs such as the AGI Geoscience Workforce Program, the EDMAP a matching-funds grant program for geologic mappers students, and the NSF Graduate Fellowship are offered to life sciences and engineering graduate students.
  • American Geophysical Union (AGU): The purpose of the AGU is to support and further the advancements of geophysical sciences through its membership in other scientific groups and organizations. The AGU website offers various professional publications, news, and educational programs. In addition, the AGU holds national conferences, offers opportunities for professional development through various workshops designed specifically for teachers, and special programs offered for pre-college students and others for post-secondary students. The AGU Careers is a recruitment service the organization offers to members and employers engaged in Earth and Space Sciences. You can upload your resume and search through the posted jobs.

Proteges and Mentors Matching

One of the best ways to encourage a student to pursue becoming a geologist is through mentorship. AGU partners with MentorNet, which encourages diversity and matches students and mentors in the engineering and science professions.


Whether or not your job is a government or private sector position, if the public is involved, you need a license to work in this field. Requirements vary from state to state. The criteria for licensing usually include degree, level of experience and passing an exam. Corporations are also required to hold licenses.

Income Potential

The average annual geologist salary ranges between $50,000 and $100,000. As you advance and gain a professional reputation and experience, your income can increase accordingly.

Career Outlook for Becoming a Geologist

The Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2009 Report concludes that the crop of Baby Boomer scientists will leave a gap in the field as they begin to retire. Those positions will need to be filled, so many young scientists are being encouraged to seek a career in geosciences.

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Becoming a Geologist