IN THIS SECTION
Prospective Undergraduate Students
Earth and atmospheric scientists are curious about the Earth. They are stewards of the Earth’s resources and natural processes and its soils, oceans, atmosphere and lands.
Geologists develop land-use plans, explore other planets and the solar system, determe environmental impacts, and find new sources of useful Earth materials.
Geoscience is the study of the Earth-its past, present, and future. Through the integration of basic chemical, physical, and biological principles, geoscientists seek to understand how the earth was formed, how it has changed in the past, and how it may change in the near future as well as the distant future.
We seek to discover, use and manage Earth’s resources in clean and environmentally friendly ways. In the twenty-first century, the role of geology in society is, in a large measure, the "stewardship of the Earth." Indeed, it will be atmospheric and geoscientists who will ensure that energy resources are exploited prudently and that our water resources are managed in a renewable way and not squandered as limitless. Our challenges will grow as we confront problems that face humankind, including global warming, environmental pollution, dwindling energy resources (and mining accidents), and natural disasters from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, coastal subsidence, and tsunamis.
Careers in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
There are a lot of career options for people who study geological and earth sciences. For more details on what each professional career does see AGIWeb’s Careers in the Geosciences page.
- Atmospheric scientists
- Economic geologists
- Engineering geologists
- Environmental geologists
- Glacial geologists
- Marine geologists
- Petroleum geologists
- Planetary geologists
- Soil scientists
- Structural geologists
Careers Specific to the Bachelor’s Degree
Skills developed during a geological sciences training are applicable in various career paths. Many geoscientists fill positions in the oil industry and environmental science. Others choose careers in government (local, state, and federal), education, independent consultancy, and industry. In general, economic geologists work for energy companies on problems of the exploration for, and management of coal, oil, and gas resources. These positions tend to be filled as technical support personnel. Environmental geologists work for mining and consulting companies involved in site characterization for landfills or other industrial, commercial, and mining operations, and wetland and watershed restoration.
Numerous federal and state laboratories and agencies employ geologists along with chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers to work on such varied projects as the refinement of traditional energy resource technologies (coal, oil, and natural gas), permitting and oversight of any activities that might have detrimental effects on the environment, and surface and ground water management.
Geologists gain field training that also allows them to work for the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) as snow hydrologists, the USGS (US Geological Survey) and USFS (U.S. Forest Service) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture as hydrologic technicians, and for state reclamation departments as hydrologists and soil geomorphologists. Several of these agencies are involved with the development of new energy technologies (geothermal and solar power), the forecasting and eventual prediction of such natural disasters as earthquakes, landslides, and floods, and the isolation and permanent storage of hazardous nuclear waste. (See also: http://www.earthscienceworld.org/careers/brochure.html )
Other Career Possibilities with a Bachelor’s Degree
Geologists with Bachelor’s degrees also gain employment with archaeological consulting companies for site assessment purposes, the military as terrain analysts, and as secondary-school teachers specializing in the Earth Sciences.
Careers that Normally Require a Graduate Degree
In all of the above fields and career paths, a graduate degree (typically a Masters Degree) ensures a higher entry-level position, and enables advancement to upper level management positions. For selected research oriented positions, and college-level teaching, a graduate degree is usually required.
Employment Opportunities: Job Outlook
The job outlook for the near future is quite good because the demand for earth scientists is growing. Several pressures on the domestic market include the rising demand for energy, the increasing needs for clean water resources and associated environmental management. Our domestic employment is also affected by the increase needs for mineral, metal, and energy products in the rapidly developing markets of Asia. On top of this, many earth scientists are nearing retirement, which will only boost demand for geoscientists to replace them. Thus a student beginning an earth science concentration now will be well poised to take advantage of the strong market in five years. Positions in the future will increasingly emphasize the integration of geological data acquisition (from soils, water, and rocks), analysis, synthesis, and response. This is especially true of volcanic and earthquake hazards. In addition more attention is being given to predicting and mitigating the effects of flooding and this will require a new generation of geologists trained in the quantitative aspects of watershed hydrology, river mechanics and wetland function and restoration.
The numbers in this figure are from the most recent AAPG salary survey. Overall the best salaries are in the energy and mineral industry, with other geologists averaging a good, but lower starting salary (these are 2014-15 data).
Starting annual salaries for students with a Bachelor’s degree are up to $92K. For Masters the typical range is over $104K, and at the PhD level the amounts are up to $117K. Even better is the news that these numbers are likely to increase in the near future, because demand for raw materials is rapidly increasing.
Potential Career Growth
Many geologists begin their careers working for industry, for energy companies (currently a rapid growth sector), environmental consulting companies, or for government agencies (there are 100s of positions in each state). After gaining experience they may move into upper management positions with private sector companies that pay $140K+.
Placement Statistics for IU Graduates with this Major
Virtually all geology majors who are interested in pursuing a career in the geosciences are successful. Some move directly into private industry, or begin graduate studies either within the state or at the most competitive schools in the country.
High School Preparation
Because the geological sciences are rooted in physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics, individuals who study these subjects as intensively as possible in high school will be able to save time in college. Training in high school-level mathematics and chemistry are especially important to facilitate the transition from high school science to the study of the geosciences at the college level.
Skills & Knowledge Developed in this Field of Study
Skills: Above all, integrative thinking, ability to decipher complex interrelationships in the natural world through geological, geochemical, geophysical, and geobiological foundations.
Knowledge: Evaluating complex data sets to identify causes and affects. Understanding ancient life and life in extreme environments. Identification and knowledge of the significance of Earth materials: rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, ores, petroleum products, and water resources.
Minors and Second Majors that Expand Career Options with this Major
Many students majoring in Geological Sciences elect minors in related fields, and students majoring in other departments or schools elect to minor in Geological Sciences. To complete a minor, students must complete 15 credit hours. The wide range of classes in Geological Sciences makes it easy to design a minor that is especially germane to many related fields. Some fields that are especially germane to minors or double majors in Geosciences are: Anthropology, Astronomy, Biology and evolution, Chemistry, Geography, Physics, SPEA, and Recreation and Park Administration. See the College Of Arts and Sciences Bulletin for details of these classes.
An honors program is available to qualified students. Honors students may enroll in honors sections of regular undergraduate courses, and they may take special reading courses as well. To graduate with honors, students complete a research project that they present before the end of the senior year.
Individual Instruction. All classes in the geological sciences are taught by faculty, and classes for majors typically have fewer than 20 students. This high faculty-student ratio fosters highly personalized, individual instruction at all levels. The department encourages and facilitates through financial support the involvement of undergraduates in a research. Opportunities for independent and often interdisciplinary research projects exist within many areas, and provide invaluable world-wide field experience, and cutting edge laboratory training. The geological sciences department’s facilities and faculty rival those found anywhere else in the country.