Employment for Geologists.
‘When news reports begin, "Scientists say..." and then continue with…..
"an earthquake occurred today off Japan," or "landslides will threaten the city," or "contaminants from the proposed toxic waste dump are destroying the town‘s water supply," or "there‘s only a limited supply of oil left," the scientists referred to are geologists.‘
[Stephen Marshak (Prelude to "Earth: Portrait of a planet" published by W.W. Norton, New York, 2001)]
Geologists play a fundamental role in various commercial sectors. Given the highly technical demands of vocational geologists, most enter employment with a higher degree, either a vocational MSc or a PhD. Many companies also have intern schemes that provide work experience during a degree but, equally critically, help potential employees and employers to "test-drive" one another. There is an annual conference on Careers in Earth Science run jointly by the various university departments in Scotland, which gives uptodate information and a chance to network with employers.
Oil and Gas
Even as the UK, along with other countries, is increasing the role of renewables, hydrocarbons will still play a critical role in the country’s energy portfolio for at least the next few decades. Employment prospects for highly motivated, enthusiastic and competent Earth Scientists are excellent and offer global opportunities. As oil and gas become more challenging to discover and produce, the roles for geologists are increasing. The sector also leads the way in carbon capture and storage, an area of rapidly-expanding research activity and a future industry in its own right. The oil and gas sector is hugely diverse, with most geologists not employed by the super-major corporations but in the plethora of smaller operating companies and the myriad of service companies. Salaries vary between these organizations but are generally well ahead of most employers of science graduates. Internationally, starting salaries can be very attractive (well over 100K USD for masters students in the US, for example). In the UK expect major companies and some specialised consultancies to offer >30K GBP from MSc or PhD. Smaller consultancies are likely to start at 20+K GBP for entry with BSc but with increases to match MSc or PhD entry.
Minerals and Mining
As new economies continue to grow, especially in China and India, natural resources are in increasing demand, and so too are the geologists who are essential for these industries. As with oil and gas, it’s a global market. Opportunities and salaries are especially good in Australia.
Engineering, Hydrology and Environmental sectors
The broad engineering geology sector is the greatest employer of geologists in the UK. The general route in is through a vocational masters course. This sector is increasingly regulated so that the ability to practice as a professional geologist increasingly demands achieving Chartered status. This process is managed by the Geological Society of London, the subject’s professional body. In general, the starting point for this process is graduation from an Accredited degree programme. This is why our degrees in Aberdeen are accredited – maximising the future opportunities for our graduates. Starting salaries in this sector are likely to be in the mid 20sK GBP, rising after many years experience to the mid 30sK GBP.
Research institutes, universities
Given the expansion of the UK university sector in the late 60s and early 70s, the next few years are seeing a wave of retirements and corresponding new-hires. Following this path will require a PhD and generally, a string of research publications. Most successful academic geologists (as with other scientists) will be obsessive in their early years, forsaking holidays, weekends and much else of a normal life to build an independent research identity. You need to strive to be the best – in the World. In most cases a permanent position will only arise after a couple of contracted research positions (so-called postdocs) – so job insecurity is a real issue in early career. Salaries generally rise on an annual basis, with the same pay scale for fixed-term researchers and lecturers. Expect to start on c. 30K GBP after PhD, rising to around 38K GBP, with the opportunities for promotion to senior staff later.
Government-funding research institutions (e.g. the British Geological Survey) offer opportunities for geologists – although don’t expect to spend your time making maps! Salaries are equivalent to academia but without the crazy work ethic seen in most universities.
Beyond the specific technical skills you will acquire during your degree, geologists also develop a number of generic attributes that are highly prized by a wide range of employers. Earth Science commonly involves problem-solving with incomplete datasets – it’s the nature of the geological record. So we place special store on developing robust interpretation strategies. Testing ideas often involved leaps of lateral thinking. Beyond the problem-solving, Earth Scientists commonly develop high levels of self-reliance and perseverance, often learnt through fieldwork. So many employers value the confident self-starters that come through this learning process. No wonder Earth Scientists are actively recruited into management training schemes and the more numerate become market analysts.