A geophysicist/field seismologist studies physical aspects of the earth and uses complex equipment to collect data on earthquakes and seismic waves, which move through and around the earth. Their main responsibilities are controlling the quality of the seismic data collected and interpreting it in order to create maps of the build up of hydrocarbons. They also examine the physical properties of rocks, as well as gathering and evaluating well data in order to build reservoir models.
Job descriptions and job titles vary according to the area of employment. The role generally involves undertaking seismic exploration and producing controlled source seismic data for an oil company or consultancy. However, geophysicists/field seismologists may also be involved in providing environmental consultancy, e.g. investigation of landfill sites, using geophysical techniques, or working within a research institute to investigate seismological structures and provide seismological information to the public and government.
Geophysicists working in the field, which may be onshore or offshore, are typically involved in:
Salary figures are intended as a guide only.
Relevant degree subjects include physical, mathematical and applied sciences and engineering. The following degree subjects may increase your changes of entry:
An interest in geology is important, particularly for entrants without a geophysics qualification.
Entry is not possible with an HND only, although diplomates may be eligible for technician-level roles.
A Masters degree (either through a four-year first degree programme or via a postgraduate course in geophysics or geosciences) or a PhD is often considered desirable. Holders of Masters or PhD qualifications may be offered higher starting salaries than graduates, and PhD or MSc study may also provide opportunities to make useful contacts through projects within industry or attendance at conferences. It is sometimes possible to get freelance work through meeting appropriate contacts.
Practical work experience is extremely valuable. Many of the large multinationals offer paid internships. Various companies offer summer vacation work on projects of operational significance. Employers are also interested in experience gained through fieldwork or research trips. As well as providing valuable hands-on experience, these give an insight into work in the industry.
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
Good colour vision is also needed as the work may involve interpreting geological maps and differentiating between various rocks and minerals.
Physical fitness and good health are important - the work may take place in remote areas with difficult terrain. For overseas work, a second language is an advantage, as well as cultural awareness and communication skills.
Joining relevant professional bodies, such as the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) or the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB) , while you are a student will help you keep up to date with developments in the sector as well as providing networking opportunities.
The level of competition for entry varies, as recruitment is affected by oil price fluctuations.
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Some of the large oil companies offer a full two-year structured training programme across the breadth of geophysics, including the opportunity to experience work in various teams before specialising in one area. Training may include work on:
However, it is more usual for initial training to be provided on the job. Training in the first six months can be intensive and includes health and safety and field training, as well as exposure to geophysics and seismic data processing. There may be a probationary period during which a new geophysicist works alongside an experienced colleague. Competency-based appraisals take place regularly in most firms.
In smaller firms, and for academic posts, there is unlikely to be any formal training - you will be expected to start work straightaway and pick up skills as you go along.
External training may be offered to teach new skills, such as learning how to operate a new piece of equipment. If you work for a smaller company, you may find that you need to take responsibility for arranging and funding your own development and training.
There is no industry-wide professional qualification. Geophysicists/field seismologists may join a relevant professional body, such as the Geological Society , the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) or the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB) without passing examinations or having specific levels of experience, but a degree in geophysics, geology or any related discipline is essential.
Study to Masters or PhD level while working may be an option and a few courses are available on a part-time basis.
There is no specific career path within geophysics/field seismology. After a probationary period, progression might be to senior geophysicist, then team leader and then into a senior role in management. It is also possible to move into a specialist technical role or a generalist role with increased responsibility. The ease of movement between roles depends on the company structure.
The employment market within the oil industry is very dependent on the price of oil and this may affect opportunities for career progression. The amount of jobs available may also change as a consequence of mergers between large petrochemical and exploration companies. However, not all jobs are dependent on the oil industry.
Freelance consultancy offers a good route for career development as well as the possibility of specialising in a specific area of geophysics.
Geophysicists/field seismologists are likely to have several jobs throughout their working lives. Global mobility is crucial for dealing with peaks and troughs in different countries at different times. For example, if there is very little work in the UK in mining, geophysicists many choose to move to South Africa. The ability to network is vital when you are dealing with periods out of work.
It may be possible to move into seismology, as a seismic interpreter, and engineering geology, as well as into hazard prediction.
A large proportion of geophysicists/field seismologists are employed by oil companies in their exploration divisions.
This work is increasingly contracted out, so consultancies provide another source of employment. Consultancy firms vary in size, from very small companies to large multinationals. Some consultancies are quite specialised in using particular geophysical techniques or working in particular locations, while others offer a more diverse range of services to their customers.
Environmental consultancy is a growing area of employment, as many landfill site owners require geophysicists to help them ensure compliance with strict requirements related to the construction, operation and closure of landfill sites. Extraction of gas from landfill sites is likely to become another area where geophysicists may be required in the future.
Exploration companies may also undertake work for construction firms, water companies, mining companies and environmental agencies, so geophysicists/field seismologists may be employed in any of these settings.
Other employers include:
Specialist recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies. Vacancies may also be listed in the oil and gas sector press.
The Geological Society runs careers events at universities around the country.
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