University of Southern Indiana

Geology Careers

Who is a Geologist?

A geologist is a scientist interested in the comprehensive study of the Earth.  This includes the detailed study of earthquakes, volcanoes, rivers, lakes, glaciers, deserts, and the oceans to name a few.  Geologists combine their understanding of earth materials (minerals and rocks) with processes to discover natural resources and solve real-world problems. 

Geologists have a natural curiosity about the Earth.  How was it formed?  What impact will melting glaciers have on the oceans and climate? How do volcanoes form? What makes a mountain? Why did trilobites go extinct?  What will be the impact on society of depleted resources, such as fresh water?

Geologists are concerned about the Earth. How and where will we dispose of industrial and nuclear wastes, such as what remediation can be done to clean up polluted areas? How can we meet society's growing demands for energy and conserve natural resources for future generations?

In summary, geologists enjoy the outdoors, understand risks and causes of natural disasters, comprehend temporal and/or spatial relationships, and are responsible stewards of the Earth.  At USI, the geology program focuses on hands-on learning, including field trips that build a student's passion for and knowledge of geology.

What’s my job outlook as a Geologist?

Geoscientists are employed in a wide range of academic, industrial, and governmental positions. Salary varies greatly, but is generally more than $35,000 a year for entering geoscientists. Some petroleum geologists have a beginning salary of $75,000 per year.  Starting salaries increase significantly with completion of a Master’s degree in geology, with environmental consulting positions starting at $45,000 and petroleum geologists starting at $102,900 per year (AAPG 2015 Salary Survey).  In most cases, high performing geology students will be able to complete a M.S. degree at no additional cost via tuition waiver, along with a stipend for conducting research or teaching at the University.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.  Employment opportunities will also be spurred from increasing retirements of current geoscientists (mean age of 58 years) over the next ten years.  Along with the need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management, the demand for geoscientists will continue to increase into the future.

Geologists at Work

Geologists may be found sampling the deep ocean floor or collecting rock specimens on the Moon. But the work of most geoscientists is more "down to earth."  They work as explorers for new mineral or hydrocarbon resources, consultants on engineering or environmental problems, researchers, teachers, writers, editors, museum curators and in many other challenging occupations. They often divide their time among the joys of working in the outdoor environment, the laboratory and the office.

Field work may entail the preparation of geologic maps and collecting samples that will later be analyzed in the laboratory. Geoscientists may also conduct experiments or design computer models to test hypotheses in order to provide data which will mitigate the effects of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flooding.

In the office, they integrate field and laboratory data to write reports that include maps and diagrams that illustrate the results of their investigations. Such maps can pinpoint areas favorable to the occurrence of ores, coal, oil, natural gas or underground water, or indicate subsurface conditions of construction sites.

Preparation of a Geologist

High school students planning to major in geology need to complete two years of algebra, one year of geometry/trigonometry, and one year of chemistry.  They are also encouraged to complete courses in Pre-Calculus and Calculus.  The ability of students to express ideas and concepts clearly and concisely, both orally and in written form, is fundamental to all sciences, and especially geology.

Transfer students electing to major in geology at USI need to contact a geology faculty member as soon as possible. Early completion of the chemistry sequence is especially important for beginning geology majors.

Additional Resources

The following organizations and web sites are useful in finding more information about career opportunities in geology:

American Association of Petroleum Geologists 

American Geological Institute

American Geophysical Union

American Institute of Professional Geologists

Geological Society of America

Contact Dr. William S. Elliott, Jr.


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