Geophysicist

The Job and What's Involved

Geophysicists use complex equipment to collect data on the earth and its environment in order to manage exploration and development projects on land and at sea. They plan, oversee and analyse land and marine surveys. Their main responsibility is controlling data quality. To do this, they monitor displays and perform some initial interpretation.

Their work may involve:

  • Designing geophysical surveys.
  • Setting up and operating geophysical survey equipment in the field.
  • The quality control of the geophysical survey data.
  • The interpretation of the geophysical survey data.
  • Survey report writing.

Geophysicists usually work in four key roles, though these activities may sometimes overlap in one job:

Engineering Geophysicists analyse the shallow structure of the earth in preparation for the development of buildings, pipelines and cables. They also investigate potential hazards such as subsidence.

Exploration/Development Geophysicists explore and identify sources of energy such as oil and gas, and assist in the exploration of new mineral deposits.

Interpretation/Processing Geophysicists analyse detailed information from sites on land or at sea, and produce profiles and models using specialist computer software.

Seismologists investigate earthquakes. They use this information to study the internal structure of the earth and develop seismic hazard maps that help in the planning and development of new construction projects in earthquake-prone areas.

Geophysicists usually work as part of a team with engineers, geologists and engineering geologists, and often supervise the work of geophysical technicians.

Working conditions vary according to the type of company. Geophysicists employed by environmental and engineering companies on land usually work about 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday.

They spend time in an office analysing data on a computer, or they may be based in a laboratory, carrying out sample tests and research. Those involved in data collection may operate from a field camp, where they spend their day outside, sometimes in poor weather conditions.

Geophysicists are employed all over the world and some jobs are done on a short-term contract.

Geophysicists also work offshore (at sea) based on ships or oil or gas platforms. They may stay on an offshore installation for a month or more at a time. They have limited space and need to be able to cope with living and working in close contact with others.

Geophysical technicians may spend time outside collecting samples, and spend the rest of their time in the laboratory.

Starting salaries for geophysicists may be around £22,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The largest employers of geophysicists are companies involved in the exploration and production of oil and gas. They need the specialist skills of geophysicists to identify and assess oil and gas reserves.

Geophysicists also do engineering, environmental and marine surveys for companies involved in construction, mining and minerals extraction, land development, and environmental monitoring and development. Organisations doing archaeological explorations also need geophysicists, and some geophysicists teach at universities. Employment may be found in most areas of the world.

Geophysical technicians are employed in the same areas, though the number of vacancies is smaller.

Vacancies are advertised through the national press, and through specialist publications, agencies, and websites for particular sectors, such as the offshore industry.

Education and Training

There are two levels of geophysicist:

Technician level: Most geophysical technicians have an A level/H grade in physics, or the equivalent. It is also possible to enter with qualifications such as a BTEC First or National Diploma or Certificate in Science.

With four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), it can be possible to start on an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Professional level: Professional geophysicists need a degree in a subject such as geology, physics, geophysics or geophysical sciences.

Entry requirements for a degree course vary according to the subject and university. Generally for a geophysics degree, A levels/H grades in maths and physics at grades B/C or above, plus one other A level/H grade, or two AS levels, are required. For entry to a geology degree, at least two A levels/H grades are required in subjects including biology, chemistry, maths, physics, geography or geology.

It is also possible to do a four-year Masters degree in geophysics. Many geophysicists also have a relevant postgraduate qualification such as an MSc in petroleum geoscience and exploration geophysics. They may also gain a PhD in specific areas of geophysics.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training depends on the type of employer or company. Many employers provide induction training including an introduction to relevant company systems. Larger companies may provide a long-term training programme.

Geophysical technicians may be able to study part-time for technical NVQ's/SVQ's (Levels 2, 3 or 4), BTEC National or HNC's/HND's in their subject, or a geophysics degree on a part-time basis. Technicians can also gain relevant qualifications through the Institute of Science Technology including an institute-validated Ordinary Diploma and Ordinary Certificate.

Geophysicists need to keep up to date with industry developments and with their technical skills. Professional organisations provide the opportunity for geophysicists to do this through attending conferences, workshops and courses.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Geophysicists need:

  • The ability to work with complex software packages to manage information.
  • Good scientific and technical skills and knowledge.
  • Good numeracy skills.
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills.
  • To be able to work as part of a team.
  • To pay careful attention to detail.
  • Good observational skills.
  • A methodical approach to problem solving.
  • Physical stamina for doing site visits or working offshore.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is a wide range of opportunities, but career progression may depend on the nature of the company and the sector. With experience, geophysicists may progress to take on further management and supervisory responsibilities.

Experienced geophysicists employed by large international oil and gas exploration and production companies may have the opportunity to work overseas.

Some move into consultancy work or become self-employed.

Experienced geophysical technicians may be able to progress into supervisory/management roles, overseeing the work of a team of technicians.

Get Further Information

British Geological Survey, Kingsley Dunham Centre,
Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG
Tel: 0115 936 3100
Website: www.bgs.ac.uk

Energy Institute,
61 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7AR
Tel: 020 7467 7100
Website: www.energyinst.org.uk

The Geological Society, Burlington House,
Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944
Website: www.geolsoc.org.uk

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3),
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
Website: www.iom3.org

The Institute of Science Technology,
Kingfisher House, 90 Rockingham Street, Sheffield SE1 4EB
Tel: 0114 276 3196
Website: www.istonline.org.uk

The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA),
5 Lower Belgrave Street, London W1W 8QJ
Tel: 020 7824 5520
Website: www.imca-int.com

Society of Petroleum Engineers, Part Third Floor East,
Portland House, 4 Great Portland Street, London W1W 8QJ
Tel: 020 7299 3300
Website: www.spe.org

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