Geochemists study the chemicals that make up the Earth, including in rocks, soil, sediment and water. They produce maps to show the location and concentration of chemicals, and advise on the exploration and development of resources like oil, coal and gas. Most of their work is based in a laboratory, although they also collect information during fieldwork.
As a Geochemist, you will study the type and distribution of chemicals that make up the Earth, in rocks, soil, sediment and water. You will also study the chemical processes that take place on and beneath the Earth's surface.
In fieldwork, you will take samples and bring them back to the laboratory. This is where analytical chemistry is used to find out which chemicals are in the samples.
You will also load a number of samples into automated testing equipment. This allows you to save time by analysing hundreds of samples at once, and running tests overnight. There are also more intricate and complex types of analysis, for example, using gas chromatography to separate compounds in a sample.
Geochemists use computers to display and analyse the results. You will use computers to model and simulate the generation and movement of chemicals such as hydrocarbon.
When you publish your studies, this can develop our knowledge about the origin, age and nature of rocks and other structures.
You will also use your findings to map the location, concentration and movement of chemicals over large areas of land. This information helps you to find the probable location of resources such as oil, coal or uranium, and leads to mining or drilling.
In oil and gas companies, Geochemists trace the formation and movement of oil and natural gas. You will work out how much gas or oil is present and where it can be extracted.
Geochemists also have a role in monitoring and protecting the environment. You might identify the presence of chemical pollution, in soil or in water below the Earth's surface. You might also investigate landfill and disused industrial sites, for example, to find out if pollution has seeped into rocks, soil or water.
Your work is very important to agriculture. You might help assess the lime content of soil. Lime is a very cheap and abundant source of alkalinity, and can be used by Farmers to reduce soil acidity. As a Geochemist, you might identify chemicals in the soil that can harm crops. Pollutants react with minerals in the soil, and can stop plants taking up certain nutrients.
While you might spend time alone in activities like fieldwork and data analysis, you are also likely to be involved in lots of teamwork. This could be working with general Geologists, Mineral or Mining Geologists, Petroleum Engineers and Site Managers.
Your work involves laboratory and desk-based research, and data analysis. You need to keep up to date with advances in geochemistry by reading scientific journals and information on websites, and going to conferences.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Geochemist, you'll need:
- strong analytical skills
- a thorough, logical and methodical approach to research
- to enjoy laboratory and desk-based research, as well as fieldwork
- the ability to work independently, as well as in a team
- computer skills, and maths skills for analysis work
- the ability to explain things clearly and concisely, including in written reports
- practical skills and the ability to use a wide range of technology to analyse samples
- the ability to read and produce geochemical maps (more often using a computer than traditional drawing methods)
Good colour vision is very important, because of the need to describe and recognise the subtle colour characteristics of rocks and minerals, and to read geological and geochemical maps, which can depend on colour to indicate different chemicals and rock types.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate:
- Starting: £29,500 - £34,000
- With experience: £36,000 - £43,000
- Senior Geochemists earn £45,000
Hours of work
Geochemists usually work around 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday. However, you might have early starts, late finishes and some weekend work.
Where could I work?
Geochemists work for companies in the oil, gas and coal industries, and for geological consultancies, research companies and government-supported scientific institutions.
Opportunities for Geochemists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK. Most Geochemists are office-based but have opportunities to travel for fieldwork, meetings and conferences.
Geochemists can become self-employed consultants, for example, providing environmental risk management advice to oil, coal and gas companies.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the Geological Society website, in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards for the oil, gas and coal industries such as rigzone.com, oilandgaspeople.com and Earthworks-Jobs.com, and in national newspapers.
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Geochemist, you'll usually need to complete a relevant first or undergraduate degree. Many entrants also have a postgraduate qualification such as a MSc (a PhD is normally essential for a research appointment in industry or for a university or museum post).
Other degrees include:
- earth science
- minerals/mining engineering
A small number of universities offer integrated science degrees (ISciences), aiming to give graduates interdisciplinary skills and knowledge through a problem-based approach.
The Geological Society accredits a large number of first degree courses.
Accreditation demonstrates that the university department's teaching is of a high quality. Having an accredited degree reduces the amount of experience you need before you can achieve Chartered Geologist and Chartered Scientist status through the Society.
But firstly, you will need to apply using an application form. The cost of the fellowship fees can range from £72 - £210, which is dependant on your age.
Following your first degree, you could take a specialist postgraduate qualification in geochemistry. These are available at a small number of universities in the UK. The Geological Society also accredits postgraduate courses, including in geochemistry.
Before entry to this career, you can develop skills through experience, for example, spending university vacation time with an oil or gas company.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You might have on-the-job training, combined with short courses and going to conferences and seminars. Some employers enable Geochemists to complete a postgraduate qualification while working.
The Geological Society runs a continuing professional development scheme.
Some entrants have developed relevant skills through working as Geological Technicians. Others have gained skills on industrial work placements or through relevant fieldwork.
You could be promoted to a senior position or a management role.
Usually with a degree in geochemistry or another geological subject, you can become a Fellow of the Geological Society. Then, with at least five years' relevant experience, you can apply for Chartered Geologist (CGeol) status. You can also achieve Chartered Scientist (CSci) status through the Society.
Experienced Geochemists can become self-employed consultants. For example, you carry out environmental risk assessments and give advice to engineering, oil, coal and gas companies.
For entry to the degree in geochemistry, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including chemistry
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including English and maths
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed relevant skills through working as geological technicians. Others have gained skills on industrial work placements or through relevant fieldwork.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree or HND is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Birkbeck, University of London offers degree and postgraduate courses in geology and Earth sciences on a flexible basis: part-time (evenings) or by distance learning.
A number of other universities offer part-time degrees in geology and Earth sciences.
The Open University offers a degree in Geosciences and a postgraduate degree in Earth Science, by distance learning.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
- 6% of people in occupations such as geochemistry work part-time.
- 14% have flexible hours.
- 8% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
Address: 15 John Street, London WC1N 2EB
Tel: 020 7831 3110
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944
Address: Rockwatch at the GA, Burlington House, Piccadilly London W1J 0DU
Tel: 020 7734 5398
Tel: 0207 997 7624