Geology jobs are about much more than studying rocks. Geologists use their expert skills to solve some of the biggest issues facing us today, including tackling climate change, finding new water supplies and keeping communities safe from earthquakes.
If you’ve got a real curiosity about the world and are good at solving problems, geology could be the career for you. This post explores what geologists do, where they work and how to become a geologist.
What are geologists?
Geologists study the physical structure of the earth, and how it’s changed over time. Some work out in the field, while others work in offices; many do a combination of both. They’re specialists within the geoscience field (you’ll sometimes see the terms geologists and geoscientists used interchangeably).
Geologists work in lots of different specialised roles in various industries. They might be assessing water sources, analysing volcanoes, mapping out natural resources, or helping to figure out whether a particular mining or construction site is safe. Geology jobs also include environmental conservation and studying climate change. The oil and gas industry is one of the main employers of geoscientists.
So what do geologists actually do?
As we mentioned, geology jobs vary depending on the specific role and sector. These include engineering, energy, mining, water, environment and research, communication and teaching. Each of these areas usually requires further study after undergraduate degree (we’ll explore pathways later). You can get more specific info on each of these sectors from The Geological Society.
Depending on the role, geologists might be:
- Giving advice on suitable locations for landfill or storing nuclear waste.
- Figuring out how to search for new water supplies.
- Analysing the ground to see if it’s suitable for engineering projects like tunnel or dam building.
- Searching for energy resources and minerals.
- Studying earthquake activity to help develop early-warning systems to keep people safe.
- Field mapping, which involves examining different rock types and the geological structures of a particular area, and how they relate to each other, with the goal of creating a geological map.
- Geotechnical mapping, which means looking at the engineering properties of a rock and how stable it is, ahead of any construction projects.
- Logging, or geological drilling, in order to understand the geology beneath the surface of the earth. Logging of sedimentary or volcanic rocks above ground can also be used to study previous environmental changes.
- Doing lab work, which might include using microscopes to look at the tiny details on fossils and rocks; using chemical processes to examine samples; or carrying out geomechanical tests to examine the strength of rocks.
- Using geographical information systems (GIS) to make digital databases of the field data acquired by geologists.
- Making sure databases are up to date.
- Using specialist computer modelling programmes for different reasons, including modelling geological processes for research; making 3D models; or modelling the subsurface geology that an engineering project might affect.
- Writing reports that summarise findings – it could be a short update on drilling progress or a large document containing an economic assessment.
What skills are needed in geology jobs?
The skills, characteristics and qualities needed if you’re thinking about becoming a geologist include:
- Curiosity and an inquisitive mindset.
- Happy working on your own initiative as well as working in teams.
- Willing to travel for work – fieldwork might take you far from home.
- Adaptable and willing to work in uncomfortable or even risky situations.
- Data analysis skills: you’ll be working with large datasets.
- Excellent observation abilities.
- Problem solving and lateral thinking skills: you might be working with open-ended problems with several solutions.
- Patient: some projects can take long periods of time.
How to become a geologist
To pursue a career as a geologist you’ll need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject – such as geology, geoscience or earth science. Courses often mix theory with fieldwork and practical training. Students often do an independent research of mapping project at the end of their second year. Some courses offer a ‘Year in Industry’ work placement which is a great way to gain work experience while you’re at uni.
Many geology jobs also require you to have a master’s degree as well. This will allow you to specialise in a particular topic, for instance environmental geology.