Geoscience, or geology, is the scientific study of the structure, evolution and dynamics of the Earth and its natural resources.
Geoscientists work in a wide variety of different areas, including:
The Energy Sector. This is dominated by the exploration/production of oil and gas, but there are also opportunities related to uranium production and alternative sources of energy, such as geothermal power. For example, wellsite geoscientists produce geological maps, select sites for surveys and production, conduct seismic surveys and interpret results.
The Extraction Sector. Geoscientists are employed to work on the exploration, development and production of mine, pit and quarry sites. Geochemistry and geophysics are used extensively to search for mineral deposits.
Engineering, where geoscientists are essential to many projects, including the construction of buildings and dams, slope stability, mine and quarry design, and tunnelling. They may advise on how to avoid or reduce problems caused by subsidence, landslides and earthquakes, and assist in assessing the level of hazard to the human population posed by volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. They may be concerned with the impact of developments on surrounding areas and populations.
Water Supplies. Geoscientists study the movement, behaviour and quality of groundwater (water beneath the Earth's surface), and potential sources of pollution. They also design exploration programmes for new water supplies, especially in developing countries.
Environmental Geoscience, which is concerned with the air, water and land in or on which people, animals or plants live. Many environmental geoscientists are concerned with the protection of these environments against damage as a result of geological activities, such as oil exploration, mining and waste disposal.
Geoscientists use laboratory techniques for testing and evaluating samples, as well as computer modelling, analysis and databases. They also write technical reports.
Working hours and conditions vary considerably. Some geoscientists work normal office hours, although evening and weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines. Geoscientists involved in exploration, surveys and production may work very long hours.
The work is both indoors, in laboratories and offices, and outdoors, on land or at sea. Some outdoor work takes place in very demanding conditions and in remote locations. Mining geoscientists often work underground in wet and dirty conditions. For some activities, geoscientists have to wear protective clothing and safety equipment.
Many geoscientists spend time away from home, ranging from a few days to several months. Work and travel abroad is required for some jobs.
Starting salaries may range from around £20,000 a year. Salaries vary considerably between sectors. Geoscientists working for oil companies and consultancies tend to be the most highly paid.
There are about 10,000 geoscientists and technical support staff in the UK, a number that has remained fairly stable in recent years. Entry is competitive.
Vacancies for geoscientists are advertised in BGS Earthwise, Geology Today, Geoscientist and New Scientist, in national newspapers and on the internet.
The minimum requirement for becoming a professional geoscientist is normally a first degree in one of the geosciences - geology, geophysics, geochemistry, petroleum geology, engineering geology or exploration geology.
Entry is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades. Subject requirements vary between courses and universities, although physics, chemistry, biology, geology and maths are the most commonly required or preferred. Geography is also useful. Many universities demand more than the minimum requirements, and applicants should check specific entry requirements.
Many employers prefer candidates with a postgraduate qualification. Entry to postgraduate courses is usually with a first degree (typically a first or upper second) in a relevant subject.
Work experience is useful. All undergraduate courses include fieldwork, and some include practical placements. Although not essential, knowledge of foreign languages may be useful in some jobs.
On starting work, geoscientists are usually trained on the job by their employers.
Geoscientists who are fellows of the Geological Society can work towards becoming a chartered geoscientist. At least five years' relevant experience is required. Some geoscientists study part time for a postgraduate qualification.
Postgraduate courses include one-year full-time Masters degree courses that provide training for employment in fields such as mining geology, petroleum geology, hydrogeology and civil engineering.
There are also PhD research degrees that are normally required for research jobs in industry or universities. PhD studies usually take at least three years.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A geoscientist should:
In some organisations, progression may be possible to a senior scientific or managerial level. Movement between employers may be necessary to progress.
Some experienced geoscientists become self-employed and work as consultants, offering their services to other organisations. Others go into research or higher education lecturing.
Opportunities for overseas work may be available.
British Geological Survey, Kingsley Dunham Centre,
Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG
Tel: 0115 936 3143
The Geological Society,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG
Tel: 020 7434 9944
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),
Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411500
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.