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Geoscience Careers

Career Description

Geoscientists study the composition, structure, and other physical aspects of the Earth. They study the Earth’s geologic past and present by using sophisticated instruments to analyze the composition of earth, rock,  and water. Many geoscientists help to search for natural resources such as groundwater, metals, and petroleum. Others work closely with environmental and other scientists to preserve and clean up the environment.

Common Work Tasks

  • Study the composition, processes, and history of the Earth
  • Use the principles of physics, mathematics, and chemistry to study not only the Earth’s surface, but also its internal composition, ground and surface waters, atmosphere, oceans, and magnetic,  electrical, and gravitational forces
  • Map the subsurface of the ocean or land as they explore the terrain for oil and gas deposits
  • Use sophisticated instrumentation and computers to interpret geological information
  • Analyze and classify minerals and precious stones according to their composition and structure
  • Study the nature, origin, distribution, and alteration of sediments, such as sand, silt, and mud
  • Study fossils found in geological formations to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth
  • Examine the formation and layering of rocks to understand the environment which formed them

Other Job Titles

Geoscientists are also known by other titles, including:

  • Geologists
  • Geophysicists
  • Paleontologists
  • Seismologists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree is adequate for a few entry-level positions, but most geoscientists need a master’s degree in geology or earth science. A master’s degree is the preferred educational requirement for most entry-level research positions in private industry, Federal agencies, and State geological surveys. A Ph.D. is necessary for most high-level research and college teaching positions, but it may not be preferred for other jobs.

Many colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s or higher degree in a geoscience. Traditional geoscience courses emphasizing classical geologic methods and topics (such as mineralogy,  petrology, paleontology, stratigraphy, and structural geology) are important for all geoscientists. People who study physics, chemistry, biology,  mathematics, engineering, or computer science may also qualify for some geoscience positions if their course work includes geology.

Licensure and Certification
A number of States require geoscientists who offer their services directly to the public,  particularly geologists, to obtain a license from a State licensing board.  Licensing requirements vary but often include education, experience, and a passing score on an examination.

Computer skills are essential for prospective geoscientists; students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis and integration, digital mapping, remote sensing, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will be the most prepared entering the job market. Knowledge of the Global Positioning System (GPS)—a locator system that uses satellites—has also become essential. Some employers seek applicants with field experience, so a summer internship is often helpful.

Geoscientists must have good interpersonal skills because they usually work as part of a team with other geoscientists and with environmental scientists, engineers, and technicians.  Strong oral and written communication skills also are important because writing technical reports and research proposals and explaining research results in person are important aspects of the work. Because many jobs require foreign travel,  knowledge of a second language is becoming increasingly beneficial.


The median annual salary for a Geoscientist is $75,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $144,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $41,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of geoscientists are:

  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services - $73,540
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services - $72,780
  • Oil and Gas Extraction - $119,430
  • State Government - $55,390
  • Federal Executive Branch - $88,820

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  22%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 6,800
  • Employment 2006 : 31,000
  • Employment 2016:  38,000
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