A career as a geoscientist will suit you if you are interested in the structure of the earth and have an analytical mind

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:

  • geophysicist
  • geologist
  • geochemist
  • hydrogeologist
  • sedimentologist.

A geoscientist is 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.

Responsibilities

As a geoscientist, you'll need to:

  • collect information in the field, from seismic and well data and other sources
  • monitor the acquisition of data to ensure consistent quality
  • interpret data to determine subsurface geology and the economic importance of natural resources, using sophisticated technical software
  • develop geological models of the earth's subsurface to understand the geological structure, rock characteristics and the likely distribution of oil/gas/mineral-bearing strata
  • interpret the results in consultation with other earth science professionals
  • assess the potential quality of mineral and hydrocarbon resources
  • collaborate with drilling engineers to determine drilling locations on the basis of the interpretation of the data and models developed
  • produce and presenting geological maps and reports
  • perform detailed geological risk analysis of proposed exploration targets
  • plan and undertake an exploration drilling programme, after collecting and modelling all available data
  • plan the location and trajectory of development wells and putting well proposals together in conjunction with the multidisciplinary team
  • create new opportunities to access remaining reserves
  • implement new technologies in geological modelling and seismic processing
  • advise engineers and senior management on geological factors affecting exploration
  • use satellite imagery, gravity and magnetic surveys for evaluation purposes - this may be part of your role if you're working in exploration
  • make assessments through study of well core and well fluid samples - in some roles.

Salary

  • 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

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.

Qualifications

Relevant degree subjects include physical, mathematical and applied sciences. The following degree subjects may increase your chances of entry:

  • earth sciences
  • geochemistry
  • geology
  • geophysics/geotechnology
  • geoscience
  • mathematics
  • physics.

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.

Skills

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
  • good project-management skills
  • attention to detail and the ability to record information accurately
  • a commitment to continual learning.

Work experience

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 project work, 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.

Employers

Geoscientists often find work in the oil and gas industry. Principal employers include:

  • international oil companies
  • specialist geophysical companies
  • petroleum exploration companies
  • mining companies
  • contractors
  • consultants
  • the water industry
  • software companies.

Exploration and extraction is a worldwide business and many jobs are based overseas. 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:

It's worth making speculative applications and you can find details of companies to apply to in The Geologist's Directory Online.

The Geological Society run Careers Days which cover the full range of geoscience careers and are usually attended by a number of key industry employers. It's also useful to attend geological meetings (for example those held by the Geologists' Association) and to get involved in local clubs and geoconservation activities.

Professional development

You will receive on-the-job training and this will include induction, and safety and survival training. Some major oil and gas companies, and engineering and environmental consultancies offer structured training programmes, whereby training is delivered 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.

If you wish to apply for a research post in industry, university or museum, you will usually need a PhD or DPhil (Doctorate) research degree.

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.

Career prospects

Your 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's also possible to move into a specialist technical role or a generalist role with increased responsibility. With experience, it is usually possible to move into consultancy.

You'll need to show that you regularly undertake a range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities and many geoscientists choose to become chartered with a relevant professional body, such as the Geological Society.

If you can be flexible about relocating this can put you at an advantage for career progression as many larger companies offer chances to take overseas assignments at an early stage.

Other options include specialising in an area such as environmental policy development or hazard prediction, and moving into a related area of geoscience (for example from geophysics into seismology or engineering geology). You could also carry out research in an academic or industry setting.