Visiting & Prospective Students

Why become a geology major at Western?

Because the natural setting of WWU adjacent to the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound provides an ideal environment for discovering the excitement of geology. Moreover, because the department is committed to both quality teaching and research. We care about the learning process and experience.

At the present time the department consists of 13 faculty members who have a broad range of research interests.Our department boasts faculty that have been honored by WWU: three for teaching and two for research excellence. Our program offers small class sizes and faculty who encourage students to learn through field experiences and by involving them in active research. Students in our program develop an interdisciplinary background in the physical sciences and become environmentally responsible, scientifically literate citizens.

Nature of the Work

Geology is very interdisciplinary in that it involves many disciplines of science and mathematics to solve problems related to the Earth. Increasingly, geologists, geophysicists, geochemists and other Earth scientists are becoming known as geological scientists or geoscientists, terms which better describe their role in studying all aspects of the Earth. Geoscientists identify and examine rocks, construct maps, investigate glaciers and climate change, study information collected by remote sensing instruments in satellites, conduct geophysical surveys to measure the Earth's gravity, magnetic, seismic, and electrical properties and examine the chemical properties of rocks and fluids. Many geologists search for oil, natural gas, minerals, and underground water. Geoscientists also apply geological knowledge to engineering problems in constructing large buildings, dams, tunnels, and highways. Geoscientists play an increasingly important part in studying, preserving, and cleaning up the environment and characterizing natural hazards. Many design and monitor waste disposal sites, preserve water supplies, and reclaim contaminated land and water to comply with stricter Federal environmental rules. They also help locate safe sites for hazardous waste facilities and landfills and experiment with the flow of water and oil through rocks. Some geoscientists use two or three dimensional computer modeling to simulate the flow of water or other fluids through rock cracks and porous materials.

Training

A bachelor's degree in geology or geophysics is adequate for entry into some lower level geology jobs, but better jobs with good advancement potential usually require at least a master’s degree. Geologists and geophysicists need to be able to work as part of a team. Computer modeling, data processing, and effective oral and written communication skills are important, as well as the ability to think independently and creatively. Those involved in fieldwork must have physical stamina. Traditional geoscience courses emphasizing classical geologic methods and concepts (such as mineralogy, paleontology, stratigraphy, and structural geology) are important for all geoscientists. However, those students interested in working in the environmental or regulatory field should take courses in hydrology, hazardous waste management, computer methods/modeling, environmental legislation, chemistry, and fluid mechanics.

Job Outlook

The job prospects for geologists truly depends upon the geologic specialty. The prospects for those in the petroleum or metallic minerals fields fluctuates with the price of the commodity. If gold or gas prices go up, exploration and development jobs increase; conversely, if prices drop, the jobs dry up. Given the recent cutbacks in the Federal Government (particularly the USGS), job prospects there appear to be limited. However, the job prospects for those in the environmental field are growing rapidly. In particular, those jobs requiring training in hydrology, computer methods, and geochemistry.

Visit the American Geological Institute (AGI) Careers in the Geosciences web page for more information.