Becoming a geologist in the United States
Opportunities for geologists are increasing and the USA offers a great environment to learn.
Interested in a career where there are more jobs than applicants, where the future demand will increase as the supply of qualified applicants is decreasing? Want to help solve the environmental problems mankind has created, often unknowingly? Do you love working outside? Do you want to be a part of the group of people that will help make the world a better place to live? Geology is a career path with a future full of opportunities.
The raw materials for most of what you see were discovered and/or developed by a geologist. The computer you have uses a variety of materials found by geologists - the plastic casing is made from petroleum products, the electronics inside the computer contain a variety of metals, and the glass for the monitor, if you are using an old computer, is made from sand. Look up as you read this article. What do you see in the room in which you are sitting? Anything made of metal or plastic? Geologists search for iron deposits, from which steel is made, and metals like molybdenum that are used to give metals special characteristics. Plastics and other synthetic fibres are made from petroleum and natural gas. The electricity that powers your computer or lights your room is probably generated from a power plant that burns coal, fuel oil or natural gas, or from nuclear fission of uranium, all of which are discovered by geologists. Geologists also find and exploit deposits of diamonds, rubies and emeralds - generally not critical to life, but diamond-tipped drills are used everywhere. The need for these products will not decrease in the future. Every day, geologists search for the raw materials that go into products we all use and on which life depends, and develop plans to exploit the resources they find.
Geologists interact with, and study, the environment in ways most people don’t see. Every day geologists study the behavior of our earth. We try to figure when the next disastrous earthquake will generate a tsunami, both of which can cause, as we have seen recently, death, widespread destruction and hardship. Volcanoes erupt unpredictably, but the soils on the flanks of volcanoes are wonderfully productive. Landslides occur and reoccur, often in the same place. Where should we build? How can mankind prepare for a rising sea level? Where can we safely store nuclear waste generated by power plants? Is the groundwater from your well contaminated? Do we have enough water? These are the types of topics geologists explore.
“Geologists interact with, and study, the environment in ways most people don’t see. Every day geologists study the behavior of our earth”
The opportunities for geologists are increasing, even as the number of geology programmes at universities and the number students entering geology programmes are decreasing. Surveys by the American Geological Institute (AGI) and National Association of State Boards of Geology showed that over half of the practising geologists in the US are over 50 years old. AGI noted that the increasing need for geologists, on top of replacements for those retiring, will make this shortfall even worse. Translation: increasing career opportunities for young geologists.
What do you need to pursue a career in geology? A bachelor’s degree in geology is adequate for many jobs. However, a master’s degree in geology will set you apart from the majority of the job seekers, and some companies, such as the major petroleum companies, hire only geologists with master’s degrees. As the saying goes in the US, a master’s degree will make you ‘more marketable’. Most public universities and many of the larger private universities in the US offer graduate degrees in geology. As a student, be sure to get involved in professional organisations of geologists, such as the Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists - www.aegweb.org - In meetings of these organisations, you will meet practising geologists who can provide advice and perspective.
Industry has seen the need for more qualified geologists and provides funding to universities so that they can offer financial assistance for thesis research. Universities also offer financial support through grants, scholarships, and teaching and research assistantships. Studying in the United States will allow you to explore our culture and learn its geology - from the active volcanoes of Hawaii to the Precambrian Shield rocks of Maine; from the wetlands, coastlines, carbonate platform and occasional hurricane of Florida to the earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault in California and in Alaska; from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the levees of New Orleans. Geologists are making the world a better place to live.
Written by Rick Kolb (2011)
Chair, Advocacy Committee
Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists