Schools in the USA
Back to Career Search     



Rocks are the most common material on Earth, occurring naturally in combinations of one or more minerals. A knowledge of mineralogy is required for an understanding of rocks, and hence for an understanding of how the Earth and other planets operate. Petrology is the study of the origin and genesis of rocks through description, analysis, classification, modes of occurrence, and theories of origin. Petrologists look at the properties of rocks including luster, cleavage, streak, specific gravity, hardness, and sometimes color to determine the above research.

Until the 1970s, the field of petrology was mainly concerned with the description, identification and classification of rocks and rock associations. Geochemical and isotopic analyses were available, but these data were quite expensive to obtain. These days, petrology focuses on taking observational, chemical, and physical data and using them to develop theories on the origin of rocks.

Petrologists use these different analyses of rocks to determine the root names of fine-grained igneous rocks, quantify and understand differentiation trends, understand the origin and genesis of igneous magmas, and correlate physical properties such as viscosity and density with chemical composition. Constant advances in analytical technology make experimental, geochemical and isotopic data available faster and cheaper to obtain.

Petrologists investigate the composition, structure, and history of rock masses forming the Earth's crust. They usually study the differences between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. They apply their findings to such fields of investigation as causes of formations, breaking down and weathering, chemical composition and forms of deposition of sedimentary rocks, methods of eruption, and origin and causes of metamorphosis.

The primary goal of fieldwork is to ascertain the manner in which rocks are spatially related to each other, including the geometry of bodies, contact and age relationships, spatial variations in texture or mineralogy within bodies and size variations. Description and identification of rocks in hand samples yields information on mineral assemblage, proportions, and textures.

Petrology is a multidisciplinary field that incorporates knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics, geophysics, structural geology, and geochemistry. Petrologists use tools ranging from hand lenses and maps to complex analytical instruments such as the electron microprobe and high P-T apparatus.
View Schools for this Career: 
         Related Careers
arrow Blaster
arrow Environmental Analyst
arrow Environmental Geologist
arrow [ view all related careers ]

Program Spotlight
Matching School Ad


  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Besides having a love for rocks and minerals, petrologists must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with technicians, engineers and business clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task. Petrologists should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or mine site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct research and analyze the quantity and distribution of minerals in rocks
  • Examine interactions between minerals and rocks and any changes to their chemical makeup that result
  • Classify and identify fossilized life forms and minerals in rocks to assess depositional environments and geological age
  • Explore mining areas to determine the structure and the types of minerals and rocks that exist
  • Determine the most suitable means of safely extracting ore and minerals
  • Assess the size, orientation and composition of rocks, ore bodies and hydrocarbon deposits
  • Collect and analyze rock samples in petrological surveys
  • Consult with scientists and engineers about mineral and rock projects
  • Write reports and present papers to help plan mining and petroleum operations, environmental programs, and resource management
  • Use computers to integrate and interpret data sets of geological information
  • Petrologists spend the majority of their working time in the field, collecting data, and analyzing mineral samples. There is some time is spent in the lab, but this is a field for people who like to work outdoors. Travel can be quite extensive and foreign, particularly since much of the new mineral and rock exploration work is happening overseas. Those working for the government will generally work standard hours, however petrologists in private companies and in environmental management will find themselves working long hours, which may include weekend emergency work.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Petrologists work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by rock mineral and mining companies, geochemical companies, petroleum and oil companies, and geology, geophysics and engineering consulting firms. Some petrologists 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 postsecondary institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced petrologists may decide set up their own consulting businesses or partner up with geological and metallurgical engineers and open up a large consulting firm that specializes in rocks, mining, metals and other gems. They can also become business rock and mineral analysts, engineers, move into a new speciality area of geology or become teachers at a postsecondary institution with further education.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for petrologists is a Bachelor of Science (BS) honors degree in geology. A master's or doctoral degree in petrology may be required for employment as a postsecondary instructor or petrology researcher and quality control expert. Petrologists are eligible for professional registration as a petrology geologist following graduation from an accredited educational program and after several years of supervised work experience and, in some places, after passing a professional practice examination.

Before choosing a university, make sure the school's geology department has classes with a good selection of courses in petrology. Another idea is to volunteer doing geology work in a mine, or visiting a mine site -- one of the best things you can do to see if you can picture yourself in that role.

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,

Featured Schools

Matching School Ads
Matching School Ads
  Universities and Colleges
Clarkson UniversityColorado School of MinesDalhousie University
Oral Roberts UniversityPenn State HarrisburgTemple University
The University of HoustonThompson Rivers UniversityUNB Saint John
University of AlabamaUniversity of ArkansasUniversity of British Columbia
University of IowaUniversity of New BrunswickUniversity of Ottawa
York University
Agriculture and Bio-resources | Allied Health and Health Sciences | Applied Business Technology | Architecture
Business Administration | Computer Science | Cosmetology and Esthetics | Culinary, Travel &Hospitality | Dance 
Engineering Technology & Applied Technology |Engineering | Film | Fine Arts and Design | Humanities and Liberal ArtsJustice and Security
| Natural and Applied Sciences | Naturopathic and Holistic MedicineNursingPublic Administration & PolicyReligious and Theological Studies
Sport Sciences and Physical Education | Teacher Education | Theatre
Articles | College News | Videos | Feedback | Career Search
Home | About Us | Contact Us | Faq | Terms of Use | Privacy Notice | Site Map | Cities Site Map | California - Do Not Sell My Info

Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved.