Putting the Earth First

You'll have a hard time saying that some task isn't in your job description if you become a geologist. The focus of this career is nothing less than the planet Earth, the materials that it is made of and the organisms that inhabit it. Only a bachelor's degree is required to start working as a geologist. You earn a good salary, and job growth in the next decade is definitely trending up.

Job Description

A geologist is a scientist with a job description as broad as the planet we live on. Geologists study Earth, learning the details of its physical history and shedding light on its future evolution. They can investigate the materials that make up the planet, like water and rocks, and their structures.

Any process that changes these materials might be included in a geologist's work, and these can include volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes and floods. Geologists investigate the changes that have occurred in Earth's materials, structures, processes and organisms over time. These scientists also study the animals and other organisms that live on Earth, or have lived here.

Education Requirements

To become a geologist, you will need at the very least a four-year college degree. Geologists usually hold a bachelor's degree in geology. Courses in math, science, computers, geography and communication are valuable.

Those geologists interested in doing research should earn a master's degree in geology. To teach at a university, a doctorate in geology is often necessary.

The median annual salary for a geologist is $59,434, according to PayScale. The term "median" means that half of all those employed in the field earn more, while the other half earn less than this amount. Those in the private sector can earn bonuses approaching $20,000 and profit sharing proceeds of around $26,000. The incomes of geologists range from between $40,000 and $115,000. Most geologists also get medical benefits and dental coverage.

Educational level impacts geologist salaries less than you might think. While someone with a doctorate earns more than someone with a master's degree or a bachelor's degree in geology, you count the annual salary difference in the hundreds, not thousands of dollars.


Any industry or agency whose work involves natural resources and/or the environment may hire geologists. You'll find geology positions in natural resource companies like oil and gas companies, coal companies, water companies and companies extracting minerals. Geologists are hired to accomplish practical tasks like preparing land-use maps and identifying risk levels for landslides or earthquakes.

Geologists are employed in the public sector to provide opinions and advice on waste management, restoration or environmental consulting. In the private sector, they may be given engineering or land-use problems to solve at construction sites. In these cases, knowledge of or a background in construction equipment is especially useful. Knowledge of public safety laws and regulations is important for a geologist as well, since safety of people and structures is a top priority.

Some geologists teach at colleges and universities. These jobs usually include some time on field research, laboratory analysis and communicating their findings by publication.

Years of Experience

Geographic location plays the largest role in influencing pay differences. The specific employer you work for and your experience level are also factors in income earned.

Those just entering the field can expect to earn some 14 percent less than the average salary in the geographic region, while those in mid-career earn 9 percent more. Experienced geologists earn about 29 percent more, while those in late career can earn 53 percent more than the average geologist salary. On the other hand, geologists working for oil and gas companies can count on a salary as high as 70 percent more than the average. The average salary for a geologist working in mineral or oil and gas extraction is $124,180.

Job Growth Trend

The job outlook for geologists is quite good. Over the next few years, experts project that the number of geology job openings will exceed the number of students graduating from university geology programs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment for geologists or geoscientists is projected to grow 14 percent over the next decade, faster than the average for all occupations. This is spurred by the public and private sector need for energy, environmental protection and responsible land and resource management.

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