The Job and What's Involved

Geoscience, or geology, is the scientific study of the structure, evolution and dynamics of the Earth and its natural resources.

Geoscientists work in a wide variety of different areas, including:

The Energy Sector. This is dominated by the exploration/production of oil and gas, but there are also opportunities related to uranium production and alternative sources of energy, such as geothermal power. For example, wellsite geoscientists produce geological maps, select sites for surveys and production, conduct seismic surveys and interpret results.

The Extraction Sector. Geoscientists are employed to work on the exploration, development and production of mine, pit and quarry sites. Geochemistry and geophysics are used extensively to search for mineral deposits.

Engineering, where geoscientists are essential to many projects, including the construction of buildings and dams, slope stability, mine and quarry design, and tunnelling. They may advise on how to avoid or reduce problems caused by subsidence, landslides and earthquakes, and assist in assessing the level of hazard to the human population posed by volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. They may be concerned with the impact of developments on surrounding areas and populations.

Water Supplies. Geoscientists study the movement, behaviour and quality of groundwater (water beneath the Earth's surface), and potential sources of pollution. They also design exploration programmes for new water supplies, especially in developing countries.

Environmental Geoscience, which is concerned with the air, water and land in or on which people, animals or plants live. Many environmental geoscientists are concerned with the protection of these environments against damage as a result of geological activities, such as oil exploration, mining and waste disposal.

Geoscientists use laboratory techniques for testing and evaluating samples, as well as computer modelling, analysis and databases. They also write technical reports.

Working hours and conditions vary considerably. Some geoscientists work normal office hours, although evening and weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines. Geoscientists involved in exploration, surveys and production may work very long hours.

The work is both indoors, in laboratories and offices, and outdoors, on land or at sea. Some outdoor work takes place in very demanding conditions and in remote locations. Mining geoscientists often work underground in wet and dirty conditions. For some activities, geoscientists have to wear protective clothing and safety equipment.

Many geoscientists spend time away from home, ranging from a few days to several months. Work and travel abroad is required for some jobs.

Starting salaries may range from around £20,000 a year. Salaries vary considerably between sectors. Geoscientists working for oil companies and consultancies tend to be the most highly paid.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 10,000 geoscientists and technical support staff in the UK, a number that has remained fairly stable in recent years. Entry is competitive.

Employers include:

  • Oil and gas companies.
  • Water companies.
  • Mining and quarrying companies.
  • Engineering and construction companies.
  • Consultancies and service companies that support exploration and production, and advise on environmental issues.
  • Local authorities.
  • National Environment Research Council (NERC) centres, such as the British Geological Survey.
  • Specialist agencies, such as the Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
  • University departments of geology, geoscience or earth science and, to a lesser extent, departments of oceanography, engineering and environmental science.
  • Secondary schools, where geoscientists are likely to be employed as either science or geography teachers.

Vacancies for geoscientists are advertised in BGS Earthwise, Geology Today, Geoscientist and New Scientist, in national newspapers and on the internet.

Education and Training

The minimum requirement for becoming a professional geoscientist is normally a first degree in one of the geosciences - geology, geophysics, geochemistry, petroleum geology, engineering geology or exploration geology.

Entry is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades. Subject requirements vary between courses and universities, although physics, chemistry, biology, geology and maths are the most commonly required or preferred. Geography is also useful. Many universities demand more than the minimum requirements, and applicants should check specific entry requirements.

Many employers prefer candidates with a postgraduate qualification. Entry to postgraduate courses is usually with a first degree (typically a first or upper second) in a relevant subject.

Work experience is useful. All undergraduate courses include fieldwork, and some include practical placements. Although not essential, knowledge of foreign languages may be useful in some jobs.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

On starting work, geoscientists are usually trained on the job by their employers.

Geoscientists who are fellows of the Geological Society can work towards becoming a chartered geoscientist. At least five years' relevant experience is required. Some geoscientists study part time for a postgraduate qualification.

Postgraduate courses include one-year full-time Masters degree courses that provide training for employment in fields such as mining geology, petroleum geology, hydrogeology and civil engineering.

There are also PhD research degrees that are normally required for research jobs in industry or universities. PhD studies usually take at least three years.

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Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A geoscientist should:

  • Have practical skills for using instruments and technical equipment.
  • Have good communication skills, both spoken and written.
  • Be able to work both independently and as part of a team.
  • Have good powers of observation.
  • Have a methodical approach to problem solving.
  • Be able to take responsibility for important decisions.
  • In some cases, have normal colour vision.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

In some organisations, progression may be possible to a senior scientific or managerial level. Movement between employers may be necessary to progress.

Some experienced geoscientists become self-employed and work as consultants, offering their services to other organisations. Others go into research or higher education lecturing.

Opportunities for overseas work may be available.

Get Further Information

British Geological Survey, Kingsley Dunham Centre,
Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG
Tel: 0115 936 3143

The Geological Society,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),
Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500

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