Geology as a Career

Geology is the study of the Earth, its structure, its processes, its history, and the history of its plant and animal inhabitants. The realm of Geology includes the movement of continents across the surface of the globe, the raising up and wearing down of mountains, the coming and going of the ice ages, the life and times of the dinosaurs, the discovery and use of mineral deposits, and the prediction of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Geologists identify and examine rocks, study information collected by remote sensing instruments in satellites, conduct geological surveys, construct maps, and use instruments to measure the earth's gravity and magnetic field.

Geologists travel throughout the world searching for new oil and gas reserves and mineral deposits, but they also work with state agencies to develop ecologically sound environmental policies. Many geologists are involved in managing the use of land, water, and mineral resources, as well as protecting society from the natural hazards of earthquakes, landslides, floods, and volcanoes. Such information is vital for planning housing developments, highways, dams, and power plants that will have minimal impact on our stressed environment. Other geologists design and monitor waste disposal sites, preserve water supplies, and reclaim contaminated land and water to comply with stricter environmental rules. They also help locate safe sites for hazardous waste facilities and landfills.

Professional careers in geology have been built with only a B.S. degree, although many geologists in top positions have earned graduate degrees. Geology majors should take course work in related science–physics, chemistry, engineering and in mathematics, statistics, and computer sciences–which enhance employability. Geologists and geophysicists need to be able to work as part of a team. Computer modeling, data processing, and effective oral and written communication skills are important, as well as the ability to think independently and creatively. Those involved in fieldwork must have physical stamina.

Career opportunities for Earth Science teachers, at both elementary and high school level, are expanding enormously. A B.S. in Geology and a suitable teaching credential practically assure the new teacher his/her choice of working locations.

Typical Employers 

Colleges and universities, engineering and consulting firms, government agencies, manufacturers, mining companies, petroleum companies, research and consulting firms, and utilities.

Working Conditions

Some geologists spend the majority of their time in an office, while others divide their time between fieldwork and office or laboratory work. Geologists often travel to remote field sites by helicopter or four-wheel drive vehicles and cover large areas by foot. Exploration geologists and geophysicists often work overseas or in remote areas, and job relocation is not unusual. Oceanographers may spend considerable time at sea. 

Employment and Salary Outlook

Employment of geologists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2010. The demand for geologist and geophysicists in environmental protection and reclamation has been growing rapidly. Jobs requiring training in engineering geology, hydrology and geochemistry should be in demand. Jobs are becoming rapidly available in the petroleum industry–especially in the exploration of oil and gas–, and in the mineral exploration industry, both domestic and overseas.

Salaries can only be referred to in a general way. Much depends on the supply and demand in the market place. Salaries also vary according to specialization within the earth sciences and from employer to employer. In 2005 starting salaries for graduates with Bachelor's degrees were about $30,000 to $35,000. Students with Masters degrees could expect salaries in the $40,000 to $50,000 range in engineering/hydrogeology and environmental geology, whereas the oil and mineral exploration industries are offering starting salaries on the $60,000 to $80,000 range. Doctoral students might expect starting salaries from $45,000 to $55,000. Average salaries in most ranks of the profession are probably in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. Salaries in senior positions could go considerably higher.

A Geology Major at California State University Stanislaus

The Physics and Geology Department of California State University, Stanislaus offers a B.S. degree for students that want to pursue a career as a geologist. Some of our students have obtained their B.S. and then obtained a single-subject high school teaching credential.

We are a small department, where faculty (four full-time professors and three part-time instructors) and students get to know each other very well. We pride ourselves on having a field-oriented program, so our students spend a fair amount of time working and studying in the great outdoors.


Contact our outreach coordinator:

Prof. Horacio Ferriz (English or Spanish)
Phone: (209) 667-3874

Also see:

Careers in the Geosciences from
the American Geological Institute