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Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$68,570 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Geologists are scientists who study the earth's crust to obtain an accurate picture of its structure, history, and composition. There are many practical uses for the science of geology. Geologists' findings are used in construction, in planning environmental protection measures, and in exploring for sources of coal, metals, petroleum, and natural gas. Geologists work for private industries, the federal government, colleges and universities, and museums.

There are several different kinds of geologists. Mineralogists, for example, study rocks, minerals, and precious stones. They classify them according to their composition and structure. Paleontologists work with biologists to determine what the world was like in prehistoric times. They study fossils and layers of rock. Engineering geologists help to determine where to construct dams, lay pipelines, and build roads. Some geologists also study ecology to incorporate protection of the environment in their work. Other geologists may work with geophysicists to predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Most of the geologists in the United States work in private industry, with the majority employed in the petroleum and natural gas industry. These geologists help find new sources of oil and gas by collecting samples of rock and soil. They compare these samples with rock and soil found near known deposits of crude oil and natural gas. This helps them to select locations for new wells. Because offshore oil resources are one of the main energy supplies of the future, geologists' ability to examine samples taken from the ocean floors is becoming increasingly important. Samples of rock and soil may also be useful to geologists who search for sources of fresh water or deposits of valuable minerals and ores.

Another group of geologists in the United States are teachers or researchers in schools and colleges. In high schools they teach earth science and general science. In colleges most geologists teach introductory and advanced courses in geology. Some also instruct students in ecology and environmental studies. Geologists working for colleges usually divide their time between teaching and research.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree is necessary for most government and industry positions in the field of geology. For teaching positions, schools prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate. Because the requirements for teaching certificates vary from state to state, interested students should check with the certifying agency of their state. Some firms and government agencies seek beginners who have advanced degrees in geology—especially for jobs in research. A doctoral degree is generally required of teachers in four-year colleges and universities.

Getting the Job

Professors and career centers in colleges offer placement services and job leads in the government and private industry. Professors may also have leads on teaching positions. Positions for beginning geologists are sometimes advertised in professional journals. Candidates interested in jobs with a state or federal agency should apply to take the necessary civil service test. They should apply directly to high schools, colleges, and private companies.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced geologists, especially those with an advanced degree in geology or business administration, can advance to top positions in industry, government, and education. These positions may be in research or administration.

The need for geologists will increase about as fast as the average through the year 2012. Most jobs will result from the growing number of environmental laws and regulations. There will also be a need to replace geologists who retire.

Working Conditions

Geologists generally begin by doing fieldwork. Hard physical labor, long hours, and limited companionship are all part of fieldwork. Those who work for the mining industry may spend some of their time underground. Experienced geologists generally advance to jobs in offices and laboratories. Geologists in advanced positions usually work regular hours.

Where to Go for More Information

American Geological Institute
4220 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22302-1502
(703) 379-2480

American Institute of Professional Geologists
1400 W. 122nd Ave., Ste. 250
Westminster, CO 80234
(303) 412-6205

Association of Engineering Geologists
P.O. Box 460518
Denver, CO 80246
(303) 757-2926

Earnings and Benefits

Geologists holding a bachelor's degree earn a starting salary averaging $32,828 per year. Those holding a master's degree earn a starting salary averaging $47,981 per year. The median yearly wage for geologists is $68,570. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 geologists working in managerial, supervisory, and nonsupervisory positions for the federal government earned an average of $83,178 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pensions.

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