If you're thinking about getting an Earth Science degree, you're probably curious about the details involved in obtaining it, as well as the payoff at the end. Fortunately, a degree in Earth Science is what you make it. It can provide a wide foundation, or narrow focus, and allow you to be involved in anything from researching newly emerging topics to working for the largest industries in the world.
What Kind of Jobs Can You Get?
Because an Earth Science degree can specialize in any one of a broad range of topics, it can also lead to a huge variety of job opportunities. The most classic job titles associated with an Earth Science degree are probably geologist, geophysicist, seismologist, meteorologist, geographer, and hydrologist. But the depths of specialization in Earth Science are practically endless.
So whatever it is about Earth Science that interests you, there is a profession that centers around it. Although some jobs are certainly more common and easier to obtain than others. Geologists and geophysicists are necessities in energy companies, working on tracking down oil, gas, geothermal, and hydroelectric energy sources. Seismologists and meteorologists work on describing and predicting everything from the mundane daily weather to catastrophic disasters.
Other jobs aren't as obvious, and may surprise you. For example, Earth Science is one of the first skills needed in an astronaut. Given that the astronaut is either studying from afar or landing directly on another terrestrial body, it is useful for them to know how to analyze and understand it. Bill Muehlberger of the University of Texas at Austin has a history of training astronauts for this purpose. He teaches them to take scientifically useful photos when in low orbit for studying landforms, as well as how to collect samples and analyze data on the ground.
Bringing ourselves back to down to Earth, many Earth Science degrees provide a base from which to build knowledge in a variety of fields. An Earth Science degree could lead to a job in academia, government work, environmentalism, city planning, wildlife preservation, and more. Especially in the face of climate change and population growth, Earth Scientists help determine how best to develop as a species without further damaging the planet.
What Does a Career in the Field Entail?
Some people get into Earth Science because they enjoy the outdoors and doing hands-on work with samples in the field. These people will find comfort knowing that many Earth Science jobs are heavy in field work and data collection in the great outdoors. Some Earth Scientists spend weeks in rugged terrain, getting their hands dirty and experiencing the Earth in its natural state.
But that way of life isn't for everyone. For those who enjoy the calm office environment, there are plenty of opportunities. Much of the data collected by scientists in the field gets studied by other specialists in the office. While some geophysicists and technicians may use equipment in the field to blast seismic waves into rock, geophysicists in the office can take the readings obtained from those waves and put them together in a computer to form a picture of what lies under the surface.
Lab work also plays a role in many Earth Science careers. Samples go from the field to the lab to be studied more in depth. Or, some lab experiments test what cannot be found in the field at all. These labs recreate conditions of the Earth's mantle, the insides of volcanoes, outer space, and other exotic unreachable places.
Another key part of Earth Science as a career is the integration with other disciplines and professions. Earth Scientists work alongside engineers, computer scientists, economists, and more. These other disciplines are often building off of the work done by the Earth Scientists to apply it to their own field. An environmental economist may take the data collected by a climatologist and use it to study climate change. A petroleum engineer will take the data collected by geologists and geophysicists to determine how to pump oil and gas out of rock formations.
How Much Do Earth Scientists Make?
Salary of Earth Science positions varies almost as much as the specifications of the jobs. But, in general, an Earth Science degree is technical in nature and provides specialized knowledge most people don't have. This makes Earth Scientists valuable and often rare assets for an organization.
Factors which affect the pay scale include the level of the degree, title of the job position, hiring company, and field of work. A bachelor's degree is often sufficient for many careers in the Earth Sciences, such as geologist or meteorologist. Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com put the average entry level geologist pay at about 50,000 dollars per year. But some jobs show preference for master's degrees, earning them higher pay from the start. Entry level geophysicist positions, which typically require a master's degree, hit an average annual salary closer to 75,000 dollars.
However, while the degree you hold is important, it may be overridden by the title you hold upon being hired. A degree in geophysics won't get you higher pay if you're applying for a generic staff scientist position. Specialized degrees pay more for performing specialized tasks. And the more experience you have working in your specialization, the higher the pay becomes. Experienced Earth Science degree holders can earn above 200,000 dollars per year.
Apart from these aspects, the company and its field are significant factors in pay scale for a job. A company's size often dictates its spending, with large companies capable of paying more than small ones. Similarly, companies in large fields will pay more. Oil and gas are still critical industries, with huge benefits from business and even governmental sectors. Environmental industries aren't seen as money-making machines in comparison, but they are catching up. The pressure of climate change and switching to renewables is making them more vital and profitable.
What Are the Courses in Earth Science?
An Earth Science degree usually builds off a foundation in math and science. Basic introductory courses in calculus, physics, and even chemistry and biology are the norm before branching out into Earth Science-Specific courses. Geology follows after or in conjunction with these basics, providing and introduction to the Earth and its structure and composition.
From there, each specialization takes its own path. A degree in geophysics will continue to focus heavily on physics and math, as well as the computer software used in geophysical analysis. Geology will continue concentrating on composition of the surface of the Earth. Climatology will have classes looking into the atmosphere, and oceanography will peer into the depths of the oceans.
Most of the degrees will have classes with field work components, although some more than others. These courses ensure you have hands-on experience with the materials you're studying, and they allow you to use equipment which may be essential in the associated professional career.
The higher the level of the Earth Science degree, the more specific the courses will be. But at the same time, there will be more diversity of the overall scope of study. For example, a master's program in environmental science may have a very specialized course called “Business for Geoscientists Working in Renewables.” This course both specializes in a very specific subject, as well as adds diversity to the degree by encouraging interdisciplinary study. It bridges the divide between pure Earth Science and the fields of business and technology.
It is a good idea to look into the course catalogs of specific Earth Science Degrees you may be interested in. The program likely lists required courses online, as well as the various options available for elective courses.
Can You Get an Earth Science Degree Online?
Speaking of online, many Earth Science degrees provide the convenience of being attainable through the web. Although not all Earth Science degrees can be obtained this way, there are a variety to choose from. Particularly in the fields of teaching, as well as flexible programs suited to continuing your education into more specialized higher degrees.
These degrees are typically bachelor's programs which stay on the less technical side of things. This is in part because online courses cannot provide the hands-on experience of field-work classes offered at most universities. However, some online courses may offer certain classes in person in order to fulfill field work credits and add more value to the program.
Online programs may accept, or even require, previous credits from programs such as an associate's degree. Be sure to look into the specific program that interests you to see what their requirements are beforehand. It is also worth checking what level of accreditation the program offers. Some programs provide the same degree you would receive from an in-person program. Meanwhile, others only grant certificates or diplomas rather than fully recognized degrees. The U.S. Department of Education website is a good place to check for accreditation at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation.
It's also important to remember that if a university offers the degree both online and in person, you do not need to distinguish between the two in your resume. That is, if you are worried about how a potential employer may view an online degree, there is no reason to fear. They are essentially the same degree as long as you have fulfilled all requirements. That being said, the institution the degree is coming from will still be important, and employers will know which ones are notorious diploma mills handing out certificates for profit rather than quality education.