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The Earth is a wondrous phenomenon filled with oceans, rocks, valleys, mountains and green grass. Our Earth has drastically changed in form and composition over the last millions of years and geologists are tying to figure out how these changes occurred in order to better understand this planet we live on.

Geologists study the nature and history of the Earth's crust and the composition and changes that continually occur both on the surface and subsurface. They explore the earth for minerals and hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, which develop resources for production and build engineering foundations. They try to find out how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since formation. They also study the evolution of life by analyzing plant and animal fossils. Some also study ground water supplies and conduct environmental investigations.

Geologists conduct programs of exploration and research rocks, sediments, water and other natural formations to extend knowledge of the structure, composition and processes of the earth, to locate and identify hydrocarbon, mineral and groundwater resources, to plan and implement programs of hydrocarbon and mineral extraction and to assess and mitigate the effects of development and waste disposal projects on the environment.

Geologists may specialize in a number of specialty areas including geomorphology, hydrogeology, mineralogy, palaeontology, petroleum geology, sedimentology, environmental geology or in other fields. Geologists often work in teams with geophysicists, engineers and technologists working on various research and field experiments.

During the stages of their work, geologists use a wide variety of instruments including hammers, diamond drills, geopositioning devices, gravity meters, microscopes, spectroscopes and x-ray diffraction equipment. They work with computers, both in the field and in the office. They also need to be familiar with the fundamentals of science from chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics.

Some geologists work for governmental surveying projects, preparing maps that show rock types and geological structures. Others may work as advisors for contractors and builders, on whether a location is right for the construction of a dam, highway or building. Yet, most geologists work in the fossil fuel and mining industries, locating and extracting oil and minerals from fields and deposits.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
What characteristics does it take to become a geologist? They should have good communication skills, an open, inquiring, analytical mind, along with an aptitude for mathematics and science. They should have logical decision-making skills, and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings.

Geologists must be able to work both independently and in a team environment. They must be flexible because they have to work in isolated locations, often under harsh conditions. Geologists should enjoy a mixture of office and research work and being outdoors working in the field. Their work requires a great deal of precision along with problem solving, developing innovative approaches, and taking charge of situations.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct theoretical and applied research to extend knowledge of surface and subsurface features of the Earth, its history and the operation of physical, chemical and biological systems that control its evolution
  • Collect and interpret rock samples and cores from field studies, drilling and testing programs
  • Classify and identify fossilized life forms and minerals, chemicals and biological composition to assess depositional environments and geological age
  • Assess the size, orientation and composition of mineral ore bodies and hydrocarbon deposits
  • Collect and analyze soil and sediment samples in geochemical surveys
  • Study the effects of erosion, sedimentation and tectonic deformation
  • Record and interpret geological information from maps, reports, boreholes, well logs, sample repositories, air photos, satellite imagery, geochemical surveys and other sources
  • Conduct geological surveys and field studies
  • Assess the movement of ground and surface waters and advise in areas such as waste management, route and site selection and the restoration of contaminated sites
  • Participate in the study and mitigation of natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes and mudslides while identifying and anticipating natural risks
  • Develop applied software for the analysis and interpretation of data
  • Prepare geological maps, cross-sectional diagrams and reports from field work and laboratory research
  • Supervise the work of technologists and technicians
  • Most geologists spend a great deal of their time working in an office doing research. However, fieldwork is commonly required as part of educational and professional development activities. A few geologists spend three to six months each year doing fieldwork, living and working in remote areas, and covering large areas on foot, all-terrain vehicles, boats, helicopters or airplanes. Collecting samples may also involve covering considerable distances on foot. Mining geologists may work underground part of the time.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Geologists work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by petroleum and mining companies, and geology, geophysics and engineering consulting firms. Some geologists are self-employed and own their own research and consulting businesses. In the public sector they work for all levels of the government and also teach at educational institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Geologists with master's degrees and PhDs will have no problem advancing in the field of geology with experience to bigger research projects and supervising other entry-level geologists or students. Some may become full-time, tenured professors and continue to advance in the academic world. Other geologists may decide to specialize their focus in other areas of the geology field, such as paleontology or oceanography.

Geologists with extensive field experience could work as "expediters," which are people who provide geological expeditions with equipment, supplies, maps and other necessities. Others may decide to go into sales and retail, selling mining and drilling equipment or gems.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for geologists is a BS honors degree in geology. A master's or doctoral degree in geology may be required for employment as a postsecondary teacher or geology researcher. Registration as a professional geologist or professional geophysicist by an association of professional engineers or geologists and geophysicists is often required for employment and to practice. Geologists are eligible for registration following graduation from an accredited educational program and after several years of supervised work experience and, in some areas, after passing a professional practice examination.

Before choosing a university, make sure the school's geology department has the classes you are looking for. For example, if you want to be an environmental geologist, it is important to make sure the school offers a good selection of courses in this area.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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