Geoscience is a broad discipline and the term geoscientist can refer to anyone working on the earth's system. Geoscientists work in a variety of roles, and different job titles are used for specialist jobs within geoscience such as:
Geoscientists are often involved in interpreting geophysical, geochemical and geological data to develop models of the subsurface of the earth, with the aim of discovering commercially viable and exploitable reserves of natural resources, such as oil, gas, minerals and water.
They provide the foundation for the exploration and production of natural resources, are involved in the production of reserves and may provide specialist advice for engineering projects.
Tasks vary considerably depending on the area of geoscience you are working in. Many roles involve the discovery, exploration and development of natural resources such as gas, oil, minerals and water and typical activities may include:
- collecting information in the field, from seismic and well data and other sources;
- monitoring the acquisition of data to ensure consistent quality;
- interpreting data to determine subsurface geology and the economic importance of natural resources, using sophisticated technical software;
- developing geological models of the earth's subsurface to understand the geological structure, rock characteristics and the likely distribution of oil/gas/mineral-bearing strata;
- interpreting the results in consultation with other earth science professionals;
- assessing the potential quality of mineral and hydrocarbon resources;
- collaborating with drilling engineers to determine drilling locations on the basis of the interpretation of the data and models developed;
- producing and presenting geological maps and reports;
- performing detailed geological risk analysis of proposed exploration targets;
- planning and undertaking an exploration drilling programme, after collecting and modelling all available data;
- planning the location and trajectory of development wells and putting well proposals together in conjunction with the multidisciplinary team;
- creating new opportunities to access remaining reserves;
- implementing new technologies in geological modelling and seismic processing;
- advising engineers and senior management on geological factors affecting exploration.
Geoscientists working in exploration deal with a larger number of sites and a wide spread of data and also use satellite imagery, gravity and magnetic surveys to evaluate a whole basin.
In production, geoscientists concentrate on sites that are already operational, making assessments on the basis of well core and well fluid samples.
- Starting salaries are in the region of £28,000 to £35,000. Salaries can vary considerably depending on the type of work, employer, location, experience and qualifications held.
- Typical salaries at senior level range from £40,000 to £75,000 per year.
Salaries vary between industries and levels will be higher in commercial companies, such as the major oil and gas companies.
In addition to basic salary, benefits such as a pension, private healthcare and life insurance are often provided. Pay and bonus schemes tend to be performance-related. An allowance may be made for offshore or overseas work.
Income data from myOilandGasCareer.com. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours vary depending on the sector and employer. Some geoscientists are based in offices or laboratories and have regular working hours. Other work requires unsocial, irregular or long hours. For example, geoscientists involved in exploration can expect very different working conditions, which may involve time abroad or at sea followed by a similar length of time on leave and then the same length of time office-based.
What to expect
- Physical conditions may sometimes be tough and demanding.
- Self-employment and freelance work is possible. With experience, it is also possible to establish your own consultancy in a particular field such as base metal exploration or sedimentology.
- The availability of jobs depends on your area of specialism. For example, in the UK jobs in exploration and interpretation are mainly based in southeast England and Aberdeen. Positions are available worldwide in oil and mineral exploration and there are small specialist consultancies across the UK. Minerals exploration is almost exclusively overseas.
- Working as a geoscientist can involve lots of travel abroad or at sea depending on your area of specialism.
Relevant degree subjects include physical, mathematical and applied sciences. The following degree subjects may increase your chances of entry:
- earth sciences;
Jobs available on graduation include:
- monitoring drilling activity;
- well logging;
- site investigation;
- some posts with the Environment Agency;
- quarrying and aggregates.
However, although it's possible to enter a career in geosciences straight after your degree, many graduates go on to further study in order to learn specialist skills before applying for jobs.
A postgraduate qualification such as a Masters degree in geophysics or geoscience or a PhD in a relevant area of geosciences (such as geophysics, petroleum geology, hydrogeology or sedimentology) may improve employment prospects and long-term career development as well as enhancing salaries. It can also provide opportunities to make contacts through projects within industry or attendance at conferences. Search for postgraduate courses in geoscience.
In some companies, it is possible to start as a technical assistant and progress through to a full geoscientist role.
You will need to have:
- strong IT, numerical and computational skills in order to handle large data sets;
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills;
- flexibility and the ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team;
- the ability to express ideas and findings clearly, both orally and in writing, to produce reports and make presentations;
- observational skills;
- the ability to learn quickly, work to deadlines and under pressure;
- analytical and problem-solving skills;
- project management skills;
- attention to detail and the ability to record information accurately;
- commitment to continual learning.
Geoscientists need to have a wider appreciation of general science, such as physics and mathematics, and a good understanding of earth science concepts and the ability to apply them to new situations. A strong technical grounding and an understanding of industry-specific techniques (often learnt on the job) is also necessary.
Practical work experience through summer work, internships or work shadowing is extremely valuable. Many of the large multinationals offer paid internships and summer vacation work on projects of operational significance.
Opportunities are more likely to be available in industry, for example with engineering, petroleum, or environmental or water companies.
Employers are 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.
Try to get relevant work experience, for example with a seismic contractor or as a technical assistant with an oil company. Large energy companies such as BP and Shell offer geoscience summer internships. Closing dates for placements may be before Christmas.
Vacancies for summer work experience programmes and short Christmas courses are usually advertised through careers services and on companies' own websites.
Geoscientists often find work in the oil and gas industry. Principal employers include:
- international oil companies;
- specialist geophysical companies;
- petroleum exploration companies;
- mining companies;
- the water industry;
- software companies.
Exploration and extraction is a worldwide business and many jobs are based overseas. Employers recruit internationally and have many US and European applicants, so British graduates are competing with nationals of other countries.
The largest employers of geoscientists in the UK are the:
Environmental issues are of growing importance and current areas of growth include hydrogeology, waste disposal, pollution control and land quality/remediation. Opportunities in these areas may be available with private sector companies, consultancies and government bodies.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Earthworks Jobs
- Geological Society Jobs
- Nature Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- Oil and Gas Job Search
- Oil and Gas People
- Upstream Careers
- National press and scientific and technical journals.
- Careers service websites, university department job boards and recruitment events.
Specialist recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies, particularly for more senior vacancies which require several years' experience. Vacancies may be listed in the oil and gas sector press.
Speculative applications are also worthwhile. For details of companies in different sectors see The Geologist's Directory Online. You should take any opportunity to undertake relevant project work during your degree course.
Careers information days, which cover the full range of geoscience careers and are usually attended by a number of key industry employers are run by the Geological Society. It is useful to attend geological meetings (for example those held by the Geological Society's regional groups), and to get involved in local clubs and areas such as geoconservation.
Training for geoscientists is mostly carried out on the job, although some major oil and gas companies, and engineering and environmental consultancies offer structured training programmes.
These generally deliver on-the-job training through a series of projects or assignments, alongside structured modules aimed at giving an overview of the business and developing expertise in general and specialist areas.
Depending on your area of work, the projects may be based in a variety of geoscience disciplines and some may be in the form of overseas placements.
Most organisations will provide induction training. This is likely to involve some time shadowing more experienced colleagues. Subsequent training tends to be based on supervised experience through a combination of in-service courses, relating to topics such as new software, and on-the-job training alongside experienced staff.
Safety and survival training is obligatory for all staff who work on the rigs, even if only occasionally.
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.
You will usually need a PhD or DPhil (Doctorate) research degree for a research appointment in industry or for a post in a university or museum.
For those with a geology degree, membership of the Geological Society can be useful for networking and for keeping up to date with the industry. There are membership bodies for most geoscience disciplines and many employers will encourage you to become chartered with a body relevant to your area of expertise.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is vital throughout your career in order to develop your expertise and to keep up with technical advancements and new and developing areas of work.
After a probationary period, progression might be to a senior role within your chosen area of work, then team leader and then into a senior role in management. It is often 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. With experience, it is usually possible to move into consultancy.
Many geoscientists choose to become chartered with a relevant professional body. Those with a geology degree may choose to follow the Geological Society route to chartership. Obtaining chartered status demonstrates that you have a good level of experience and professionalism, as well as a commitment to the profession.
You will need to show that you regularly undertake a range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities and have relevant experience at a specific level. Check with the relevant professional body for a full list of requirements.
The flexibility to relocate, often overseas, will put you at an advantage for career progression. The larger companies offer chances to take overseas assignments at an early stage.
Depending on your chosen career path, there may be opportunities to move into related areas of geoscience, for example from geophysics into seismology or engineering geology.
Opportunities exist in research either in industry or at a higher education institution or research body. It may be possible to move into related areas such as environmental policy development and hazard prediction.