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What Kinds of Career Can a Geology Degree Get You Into?
Many potential geology careers are opened up by the rock solid (forgive me) foundation of a geology degree. From corporate ladders to humanitarian aid, you’re bound to find the right fit.
The most classic idea of what it means to be a geologist typically consists of a job in geological surveying for commodity markets. For resource commodity companies, the geologist plays a key role in discovery and extraction. This starts with examining the structure and composition of potential source rocks. They use tools such as geophysical surveys, seismic data, computer models, aerial photography, and more to determine if they have the right characteristics for the given resource.
When these tools suggest a formation likely contains reserves, the geologists need to communicate their findings to all the non-geologists. After convincing everyone that the formation is promising, they help decide where is best to drill or mine. The most common resources being searched for and extracted are oil, gas, minerals, and metal ores.
On the other side of the coin, geologists can steer clear of big resource commodity companies in favor of generally smaller private consultant services. Geologic consultants provide advice and solutions to problems associated with wells and mines, as well as landfills, contamination and pollution, municipal projects, and water sources.
As a consultant, clients from other organizations come to you for expert advice on the geologic aspects of whatever project they are working on. A consulting firm could work on a range of areas, or focus on particular ones. This gives the opportunity to branch into things like environmental regulation and protection, or disaster relief.
Taking a step away from the corporate sphere, geology careers are common for government agencies such as the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and many state governments. In these areas, geologists typically assist with managing resources rather than discovering or extracting them.
Government planning at local, state, and regional levels requires geologists to ensure that growing human populations are sustainable and protected from natural disasters. They take into account the water resources, land stability, agricultural potential, weather patterns, and more. This requires adhering to, and even assisting in creating environmental and resource usage regulations.
Many geologists, either immediately upon graduation from university or after a full career in other sectors, turn to educational careers. Teachers and professors can teach the next generation of geologists at the high school or college level. Professors often perform research and other academic activities in conjunction with their teaching.
But a geology degree is also a versatile scientific and technical foundation that can lead to other fields. A full career in geology isn’t for everyone, but it’s unlikely that a degree in it will provide no value for helping you find the right scientific niche.
Are Geology Careers in Demand?
Although there was a recent downturn in natural resource sectors, long-term outlook is still positive. The lower commodity prices between 2011 and 2019 actually had some positive effects on the behavior of markets and companies. They had to make changes to ensure stability and resilience in the face of these kinds of downturns, paving the way for reliable careers.
In terms of supply of geologists to the market, the number of new geology graduates is actually projected to be insufficient for expected growth. Job market for geologists is expected to continue growing by a total of about 14% between 2016 and 2026 as the large numbers of workers who started in the boom of the ’70s retire in droves.
While demand often mirrors the price of geological commodities such as fossil fuels, minerals, construction materials, and metal ores, demand for the jobs outside these resource sectors is less affected and more stable over time. However, the salaries are generally lower in these sectors. You might be left choosing between consistent but lower salary, or higher salary with potential drastic cuts and layoffs during turbulent markets.
Apart from primarily economically driven market conditions, other things can affect demand over time. For example, the number of undiscovered geologic sites is diminishing steadily over time as humans have reached every corner of the planet.
But this doesn’t mean geologists are out of work, rather, it means the nature of the work is changing. Exploration is becoming more difficult and less common, while advances in technology for extraction are increasing. Environmental areas will likely continue to grow and become primary sectors for geologists.
How Much Money Does a Geology Career Make?
When searching for average geologist salaries online, you might find something like Sokanu.com’s current estimate of $99,057. Their well-explained algorithm utilizes Bayesian statistics with not only user-reported earnings, but also data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s pretty reliable. As an average.
However, any particular job in the field could have a wildly different salary from the average or median. As with most fields, the earnings potential for geology careers depends on a couple factors. Primarily, the sector in which you work, as well as how long you have worked in the field or for a particular company.
Let’s look at the salary estimations for multiple types of geologist jobs, using Payscale.com for this example. On Payscale, the median petroleum geologist salary is currently about $109,000. Not bad, right? But the median engineering geologist salary takes a sharp dip down to $77,000, followed by the plain geologist at $59,000 and environmental geologist at $52,000.
By Experience Level
The first few years of most geologist careers are usually pretty basic, focusing on field work and lab testing. Entry-level employees work with higher-up mentors, doing some of the less glamorous work in the field and office for them. For most sectors, still according to Payscale.com, this means about $40,000 to $50,000 entry-level salary. But for a petroleum geologist it can mean something more like $60,000.
After five to ten years, the geologist is no longer such a newbie. Some have left the field, making the remaining ones more valuable. Those who stay often shift to senior positions with supervision roles and oversight responsibilities. This is where the average salaries listed by sector above are most applicable.
A decade or more out, a geology career is likely to land you in an advanced senior position. According to Payscale.com, a petroleum geologist might earn upwards of $178,000 at this time, while a classic geologist might earn about $113,000. But at advanced levels such as that, it’s hard to say the earnings potential. The career starts gaining more value through other benefits such as stocks, bonuses, pensions, and tenure.
Where Do Geologists Work?
Geologists aren’t just crazy rock people roaming across deserts and mountains in search of specimens. Well, maybe sometimes that’s an accurate depiction, but geology careers are extremely versatile. Job opportunities are available in all types of companies, overarching sectors, states, and even countries.
Geology Careers in Certain Companies and Sectors
Geologists can work in the largest multi-billion-dollar oil and gas companies, in tiny private consulting firms of less than ten people, or government offices of all sizes. Each of these offers opportunities to work in the field, in areas like natural reserves or on ships and platforms in the middle of the ocean. Or if that’s not your thing, plenty of geology careers stay safely in the office.
Careers by State
The principal areas of work for geologists are Texas, California, and Colorado, with Washington, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma following after. This is particularly true after the discovery and rapid development of shale gas reserves in these areas US. With that said, all US states contain some number of geologist jobs.
And by Country
Whether working for a US- or internationally-based company, geology careers have the potential to send you abroad for work. Oil and gas is of course an international business with offices for practically every large company existing abroad. Governmental organizations also do various forms of work for trade, international relations, and humanitarian issues in a huge array of countries. If traveling is something that interests you, then you can likely find a way to do it through work.
Is a Geology Career a Good Choice?
Most geologists are very satisfied with all of the above aspects of their career. The job is full of activity, with opportunities for field work, research, travel, and more. Collecting samples and making measurements for lab analysis can be balanced with time in a calm office environment.
The pay can also be exceptional in some cases, and even the lower end of pay is a good place to be. In some cases, lower paying positions can provide higher satisfaction from working in the area that you enjoy the most. Whether you strive for success up the corporate ladder or want to work with fascinating natural phenomena, you can do it all.
Geology careers bring geologists to a variety of interesting agencies, organizations, and sectors. Some unexpected organizations, such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense, all hire geologists. The jobs can provide opportunities to see other parts of the world, help people prepare for and evade natural disasters, or provide a stable job for the simple pleasures of peacefully raising a family.
Overall, you get to work in a subject you love with other people who love the same things you do. A geology career is what you make it, and it can be made into something truly great.