Geology is a subset of geoscience, the area of study regarding Earth's material composition and its past and present geological activity. Geology zeroes in on the formation and extraction of rocks, minerals, oils and natural gases, as well as the analysis of fossils. Government departments and insurance companies also employ geologists to predict where volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves and other natural disasters are likely to strike in order to prevent loss of life and to calculate risk formulas for insurance policies. Geology's area of expertise excludes the study of the water table and its properties, which is more properly assigned to hydrologists, another subset of geoscience.
What Working in Geology Entails
Geologists can find themselves performing a wide array of tasks, from working with complex climate change equations in a lab to taking mineral samples in a remote location. Others prefer to teach the subject to aspiring geologists in universities. Successful geologists need prodigious writing, science and math skills to perform their daily tasks. Some geologists may even find themselves helping with archeological expeditions and using their skills to put a date to specimens.
Although a bachelor's degree may be enough for certain entry-level positions, better positions require at least a master's degree. Geologists who desire a teaching or high caliber research position are advised to earn a PhD in geology. In addition to the basic bachelor's degree requirement, some states require geologists offering their services publicly to obtain a license from that state. Requirements for this license vary from state to state, but can include a certain level of education prior to the test, some related geological experience and a passing mark on an examination given by the state requiring the license.
Entry-level and Highest-Level Earnings
The 10% lowest paid geologists earned under $41,700, and the 10% highest paid earned more than $155,430, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2008 report. In March 2009, the US Federal Government reported that their geologists' average wage was $94,085 annually. Overall, the geoscience field is growing quicker than other employment areas, meaning that job security is higher than average and wages are likely to increase for geologists who keep their skills and education up to date.
Other Factors Affecting Salaries
Geologists should enjoy excellent job security provided that they have at least a master's degree; employers may hire applicants with a bachelor's, but generally prefer a master's. The wage average fluctuates considerably depending upon the area of expertise. Almost any position related to the oil and natural gas industry pays considerably better than other geological occupations, but these positions are more likely to be in remote locations and tend to have less job security as the market changes and as various petrochemical areas are tapped out. Oil and gas geologists looking to either increase their job security at their current position or to improve their overall job prospects should consider learning a foreign language, preferably one used in a country rich in oil and gas deposits.
2016 Salary Information for Geoscientists
Geoscientists earned a median annual salary of $89,780 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, geoscientists earned a 25th percentile salary of $62,830, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $127,620, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 32,000 people were employed in the U.S. as geoscientists.
- US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Geoscientists and Hydrologists
- Geology: Geologist Salaries and the Economic Slowdown
- Geology: What is Geology? What Does a Geologist Do?
- School of Earth Sciences, University of Birmingham: The Role of Ore Geology and Ores in the Archaeological Provenancing of Metals
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Geoscientists
- Career Trend: Geoscientists
- volcano image by rrruss from Fotolia.com