Careers in Geoscience

The American Geosciences Institute predicts a shortage of 135,000 geoscientists in the U.S. workforce over the next decade. Many geoscientists working today are nearing retirement age, and their departure will result in a major loss in the knowledge and skills of the geosciences workforce. At the same time, many jobs will open up for future generations of scientists.

What can you do with a geology degree?

Geoscience is a very diverse field. Geoscientists protect people from natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and flooding and protect everyone’s health through understanding and reducing the impact of pollution and climate change. Geoscientists also use their knowledge of the Earth to help better extract and make use of the natural resources we rely on, such as copper, oil and alternative energy sources, and to engineer stronger, better buildings, bridges and dams. Geoscientists also spark curiosity and imagination by exploring topics like dinosaurs, the deep ocean and other planets.  Geology is science for anyone who is interested in understanding the Earth and in helping the people who live here.

Geologists study the materials, processes and history of the Earth. They investigate how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. There are subgroups of geologists as well, such as stratigraphers, who study stratified rock, and mineralogists, who study the structure and composition of minerals. Geologic studies may combine both field and laboratory work.

  • Engineering geologists apply geologic principles to civil and environmental engineering. They offer advice on major construction projects and help with other projects, such as environmental cleanup and reducing natural hazards.
  • Environmental geologists use their knowledge of Earth's systems to protect the environment and human health. They do this by cleaning up contaminated areas, making policy recommendations or working with industry to reduce pollution and waste. They may also investigate the source of an environmental or health problem and devise strategies to combat it.
  • Marine geologists study the history and the processes of the ocean floor. Their study includes not only the spread of the continents over millions of years but also in our understanding of short-term events such as tsunamis.
  • Mining geologists are responsible for studying the relationship between geology and ore formation to be able to locate new resources.
  • Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations in order to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.
  • Petroleum geologists explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits. They analyze geological information to identify sites that should be explored. They collect rock and sediment samples from sites through drilling and other methods and test the samples for the presence of oil and gas. They also estimate the size of oil and gas deposits and work to develop sites to extract oil and gas.

Geophysicists use the principles of physics to learn about the Earth’s surface and interior. They also study the properties of Earth’s magnetic, electric and gravitational fields.

Seismologists study earthquakes and vibrations in the Earth as well as related phenomena, such as tsunamis and landslides. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.

Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in groundwater, such as water from wells or aquifers, and of earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.

Hydrologists study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources, groundwater contamination and environmental watershed sustainability. 

Meteorologists study of the atmosphere. They use science and math to understand and predict weather and climate.

Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters, the physical and chemical properties of the oceans and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate and weather.

Where are geology graduates finding geoscience jobs?

Geoscientists are in high demand and have employment opportunities everywhere – you can work in your own community or travel the world. Geoscientists are employed by many different sectors, including state and federal government, private companies and academia. Geoscientists work in the field, the laboratory, the office or a combination of all three. Field work may consist of making observations, collecting samples and making measurements that will be analyzed in the laboratory. Geoscientists may also conduct experiments or design computer models to test theories about geologic phenomena and processes. In the office, they integrate field and laboratory data and prepare reports and presentations to inform their peers and the public of their studies.

The American Geosciences Institute's most recent annual Student Exit Survey revealed that (for the first time in the history of the survey) BA/BS graduates are finding the most employment success outside of the oil and gas sector. Jobs within the environmental services industry have become a viable industry for graduates with a bachelor’s degree.

Geoscience employment sectors

  State government Federal government Private companies Academia
Geologists x x x x
       Engineering X X X x
       Environmental x X x x
       Marine   x x x
       Mining   x X x
       Paleontology x x x X
       Petroleum   x X x
Geochemistry x x x x
Geophysics x x X x
       Seismology x x X x
Hydrology X x X x
Meteorology x X x x
Oceanography   X x X
Key: x – employment opportunities exist X – major employer

What do geoscientists make in the real world?

The American Geosciences Institute has reported the median annual salaries for geoscience-related careers in the U.S., and most have increased since 2011. Petroleum engineers are at the top, with managers in engineering and natural sciences taking second and third.

The United States Department of Labor can help you find information on education and training, pay and an outlook for geoscience careers and more. The department states, "Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists in the future."

How do I get involved? Professional societies and networking

Get involved in the geology community, whether in a geology club (Wake Tech’s AEG chapter), a professional association (AGI, AEG, GSA) or through local field trips. Collaborate with others who share your interests and network to find out where potential jobs are. Take advantage of opportunities to complete undergraduate research and participate in local and national conferences and field trips. These activities will improve your research skills and expose you to opportunities in geology.

Learn more about geoscience career resources, professional meetings, field trip and memberships: