Geologists study the structure, origin and evolution of the Earth and its natural resources. They can find out about the Earth by studying features such as rocks, minerals, crystals, sediments and fossils. Geologists apply their knowledge to areas such as oil and gas exploration, mining and quarrying, civil engineering, hydrogeology, geological surveying, and education and research.
Also known as
- Exploration Geologist
Video: - Rob: Geologist
As a Geologist, you will study the internal and external processes that have shaped the Earth over the millions of years. You will become an expert on the origins, evolution and structure of our planet, and the ways in which it continues to change today.
There many different roles, in many different industries, which Geologists can perform.
In geological surveying, you study and map the distribution, by type, of rocks and other features at the Earth's surface. You look at how rocks have been folded, fractured and otherwise changed by geological processes (such as the collision of continents).
Geologists establish the age of rocks and chart their evolution, for example, by looking at the fossils they contain or measuring the decay of radioactive elements in their mineral grains. This information leads to the production of maps and databases, which are essential tools wherever geologists apply their knowledge.
Some Geologists monitor earthquakes and volcanoes, using your research to forecast eruptions and quakes, and therefore to save lives. For example, looking at the distribution of lava and ash from past volcanic eruptions enables you to predict where the worst effects of a new eruption are most likely to be felt.
Studying the wearing down of mountain ranges by natural erosion and human activity also enables Geologists to save lives by warning of potential mudslides and landslips.
Geologists also need to know which type of structure is being drilled, and how stable and safe it is for exploration. To find this information, Geologists use a variety of techniques. You can investigate layers of rock by lowering sensitive geophysical instruments and cameras into boreholes and then creating models of the rock layers on a computer.
Geologists take rock and seabed samples to test physical properties such as the type and thickness of underlying bedrock. You must take into account faults and weaknesses in the area, which may cause drainage problems or instability.
Geologists also search for alternative sources of energy. For example, you are investigating the potential of geothermal power (stored heat from inside the Earth). Already, Iceland gets most of its energy from heat stored in recently molten volcanic rock.
Hydrogeologists are experts at finding and managing underground water resources. This work is especially important in very hot countries, where most water may be below ground.
In any type of civil engineering project, Geologists must carefully study the structures involved, to ensure the safety of the work and to minimise the environmental impact.
Geologists play an important role in tackling environmental issues. For example, you help local authorities to choose safe landfill sites, ensuring the suitability of surrounding rocks (fluid seepages from landfill can pollute nearby rivers). You advise on environmental problems to do with abandoned mine workings and land contaminated by industrial waste.
Geologists also teach and undertake research in universities and museums, and teach in schools and colleges.
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 Geologist, you'll need:
- a thorough, methodical approach to your work
- attention to detail, for things like analysing samples and producing geological maps
- good teamwork skills to work with people like Geochemists, Geophysicists, Engineers and Geologists with different specialist knowledge from your own
- willingness to do fieldwork in all types of weather and terrain, possibly on your own for a long time
- the ability to explain things clearly and concisely, including in written reports
- good computer skills, to produce reports and geological models, and to analyse data
Good colour vision is very important in most areas of geology, because of the need to describe and recognise the subtle colour characteristics of rocks and minerals, and to read geological maps, which depend on colour to indicate different rock types.
Maths skills, and the ability to use statistics, are an advantage. Some areas of geology require higher-level maths skills, including geophysics, geological engineering and volcanology.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £29,500 - £33,000
- With experience: £36,000 - £43,000
- Senior Geologists earn £44,500
Hours of work
Geologists usually work around 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday. However, early starts, late finishes and some weekend work may be required.
Where could I work?
Geologists work for companies in the oil, minerals/mining and engineering industries.
There may be opportunities in organisations such as the British Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey. Some Geologists become Teachers, Lecturers or Consultants, or work as Advisers in mining tourism.
Opportunities for Geologists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK. Most Geologists are office-based but have opportunities to travel for fieldwork, meetings and conferences.
There are opportunities to work in many other parts of the world, for example, in Australia, South America, the Middle East, India and southern Africa, either for UK-based companies or for overseas employers.
Geologists 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 OilCareers.com, oilandgaspeople.com and Earthworks-Jobs.com, academic recruitment sites and in national newspapers.
Social media websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, are a great way to network, find vacancies and get in contact with possible employers. Make sure that your profile presents you in a professional manner that will appeal to potential employers.
Take a look at our General Information Article
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Geologist, you'll usually need a degree in geology, geoscience or Earth science. Courses usually give students some opportunity to specialise in a particular area of geology during the course.
There are several types of degree courses. BSc (Hons) degrees usually take three years to complete. MGeol/MSci degrees are four-year courses, allowing for a wider range of taught subjects and research than in the BSc.
You may choose to take a first degree that specialises in a particular area, such as geophysics, engineering geology or geological oceanography.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
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 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 (see 'Progression' below). You can find a list of accredited courses on The Geological Society's website.
Many entrants also have a postgraduate qualification such as an MSc. A number of MSc courses are available, including in specialist subjects such as hydrogeology, petroleum geology and engineering geology. The Geological Society accredits a number of postgraduate courses.
A PhD is normally essential for a research appointment in industry or for a university or museum post.
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 Geologists to complete a postgraduate qualification while working.
The Geological Society also offer services that could be helpful, which include membership, publications and events that you can go to.
Previous experience working in the outdoors and have a background in geology would be really useful for this career.
You could be promoted to a senior position or a management role.
Usually with a degree or equivalent in geology (or a related 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 Geologists 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 a degree in geology, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including at least one science subject, maths or geology
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, often to include 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.
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 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. It offers these on a flexible basis: part-time (evenings) or by distance learning.
A number of other universities offer part-time degrees in geology and Earth science.
The Open University offers relevant degrees by distance learning.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
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
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