Why Choose Geology?

Why Choose Geology?

There are many reasons to choose Geology as a major, including economic, lifestyle, intellectual, and societal factors. Most geoscientists chose the field based on some combination of these.

Economic

The economic argument for geoscience is a strong one, especially in this economy. There is a strong demand for new geoscientists, because many employers have an aging workforce, and global economic cycles have driven up the cost of commodities, increasing demand, and leading to high-paying jobs.

This is a difficult economy in which to be job-hunting, but geoscientists get hired! Please check out Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, McCourt School of Public Policy. There are many publications that give statistics on today's educational and workforce challenges in today's economy.

The reason for this is clear: the geoscience workforce is retiring, and the demand for geoscientists is rising! The American Geosciences Institute characterized the situation in this way:

The majority of the geoscience workforce will be retiring over the next decade and data from federal sources, professional societies, and industry indicate this growing imbalance in the profession's age demographics. Over the past three years, the age demographics for geoscientists in academia and the federal government indicate an acceleration in the loss of senior geoscientists from the profession.

Because of increasing pressure to address issues such as energy supply, climate and other environmental concerns, and as seen with the Japan disaster, hazard mitigation, it is estimated that there will be 23 percent increase in geoscience jobs over the next decade on top of a wave of nearly 50 percent of existing geoscientists retiring during the same time. The U.S. is beginning to see the loss of fundamental technical skills in the geoscience workforce, both within academia and in the applied sectors.

Because of this, salaries are generally high in geoscience jobs, and future job security appears high.

Lifestyle

Geology offers the prospect of a career doing much more than sitting behind a desk. Although writing and computer skills are vital, many geology jobs involve some component of fieldwork: getting outside and examining the earth. It might be hiking through the wilderness mapping the different rock types to locate mineral deposits, sampling groundwater for lab analysis, analyzing subsurface materials brought up during drilling to infer soil stability, or something else entirely.

This aspect of geology helps one lead a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

Intellectual

Geology is a very diverse discipline, incorporating aspects of physics, chemistry, biology and natural history (description) in the attempt to solve earth-related problems. The thinking is driven by data, which may include maps, chemical analyses, observed structures (from the megascopic to the microscopic) of rocks, magnetic signatures, among a host of others. Combining many different sets of data to draw inferences is the hallmark of geological thinking.

The problems the geologist encounters are diverse, which offers a rich intellectual life. Depending on the career you choose, you might be asked to determine the likelihood of flooding during the next 50 years at a particular location, or to find the best location to extend the tunneling in a gold mine, or how long it would take contaminants in the groundwater to migrate out of a polluted area to a nearby drinking water well, or how best to communicate the risk of a volcanic eruption to a town living near a volcano.

Because of these demands, a geologist needs a range of skills. These include spatial reasoning, critical thinking, numerical reasoning, clear communication, careful observations at a range of scales, among others. Bringing different skills to bear on a problem keeps one's mind sharp and agile.

Societal

Will Durant (a historian) once said "Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice."

The fact that geology underpins our society should be clear to anyone paying attention, but the numerous ways in which this is true may not be apparent. Geology is societally relevant in three broad ways: resources, hazards, and environment.

Society relies on geological resources. Some are obvious, such as petroleum, which not only runs factories and transports people and goods, but also is the feedstock for plastics, fertilizers, and many other products. In addition, some very scarce resources are vital to our advanced technology, such as rare earth elements, which have allowed the dramatic shrinking of technology (this is why your cell phone is no longer the size of a brick, as were the first such devices). The continued supply of these and other elements are required for our standard of living to continue. Anything that cannot be grown from plants or extracted from the atmosphere, must be mined from the earth, and geologists are the ones who find new deposits, and help us efficiently and cleanly extract ores from the known deposits.

There are a number of hazards posed to us by the earth, and geologists work to understand these hazards so we can predict them, reduce the harm they cause, and/or possibly prevent them. The geologist working to understand the history of movement along a fault is helping to understand how often it moves and how big the resulting quakes are, is doing so in order that we can decide how strong we must build the next elementary school in the area. The geologist making a map of ancient landslides allows us to build landslide mitigation structures so the highway doesn't get washed away. The geologist determining the age of flood deposits allows us to figure out whether it is safe to put the new development there or not.

Finally, we all rely on having a clean, healthy environment. Understanding past climate change provides guidance to governments in designing their response to future climate change, and where best to devote scarce resources. Geologists are the ones who work to develop that understanding. Geologists are the ones who determine where our activities have polluted the groundwater, and how we might best work to clean it up. Geologists often play a part in answering other environmental questions, such as whether it is better to dredge up polluted sediment from the bottom of a river, or to leave it in place.

 

The life of most geologists is a fulfilling one, both morally, intellectually, personally, and financially; we work on issues of importance to society, bringing all our intellectual resources to bear, get to be outside while we are doing it, and are paid well for our work.