Geologist Salary and Job Outlook

Name: Dr. Jim Reynolds
Job Title: Geologist and Associate Professor of Geology Division of Science & Mathematics
Where: Brevard, North Carolina
Employer: Brevard College
Years of Experience: 30
Education: BA, Master’s, and PhD from Dartmouth College
Salary: See PayScale's Research Center for median geologist salaries.

Geologist Salary and Job Outlook

What is a petroleum geologist? What are different options for geology careers? For readers interested in the job outlook for future geologists and geologist salaries, this Salary Story provides an insider's look into a rarely examined profession.

Dr. Jim Reynolds works as a geologist, teaches geology, and has 30 years of experience in the field. He recently took time out from his busy geology career to explain the definition of a geologist and what it takes to become a successful geologist. He gave us insight into oil and gas jobs, environmental geologist jobs, as well as a academic geology careers. For those who love to travel, Dr. Reynolds also described some international opportunities for geology careers.

If you want to become a geologist, or want more info on current geologist salaries, don't miss this earth-shaking interview!

Geologist Job Description:

A geologist studies how society interfaces with the earth, searches for minerals or hydrocarbon resources and investigates geological hazards. I am also a volcanologist - someone with expertise in volcanoes. Ideally, a geologist would be called to a location to investigate potential hazards before they occur, but more often they are contacted after a disaster occurs, and then geologists are asked when "it" will happen again.

I did a fair amount of work with coal mines, and I've performed quite a bit of consulting for oil companies in Argentina. I would give them data to determine if areas might be suitable for oil drilling. I’ve also done consulting for mineral exploration companies in the USA, Argentina, and Chile.

In addition, I also teach geology at Brevard College where I teach all the geology courses. Almost all my field research and teaching is based on my international work. My career is a combination of education and field work.

For those interested in geology careers, can you describe the steps of your career?

When I was about 3 or 4 years-old, Trix cereal boxes had these toy dinosaurs inside them. One day a toy dinosaur fell into my cereal bowl and I have been fascinated with dinosaurs ever since.  My parents took me to a dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. We lived in Pittsburgh, so we also went to the Carnegie Museum to see more dinosaurs. From age 3, I was always interested in the earth.

I went to Dartmouth to be a geology major. As an undergrad, I went to Central America and climbed volcanoes in Guatamela, El Salvador and Nicaragua. I stayed at Dartmouth and earned my Master's. I then went back down to Central America and worked in older volcanics in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

After receiving my Master’s Degree, I went to work at the West Virginia Geological Survey. I was introduced to teaching at Colgate University and then went to the University of Massachusetts. Unexpectedly, I had a stroke at age 27. I went back to Dartmouth and earned my PhD. A professor there was starting a research program in Argentina, so I started working there to do field research.

Then I started teaching at Norwich University, a military college in Vermont. I subsequently moved to Western Carolina University, then to Brevard College, where I am today.

Do geology careers include the study of global warming?

Yes, geology is part of earth sciences. The consequences of global warming will probably be severe. We will most likely experience another ice age in 10,000 years but global warming will make it happen a lot sooner. We are in a normal warming cycle, but man-made emissions do exacerbate the situation.

As the polar ice caps melt, dry winds that go across the North Pole will pick up excess moisture from the Arctic Ocean and transfer that moisture across Northern Eurasia and North America. Tips offered to limit global warming are good to slow it, but it's probably too late.

What advice would you give to those interested in becoming a geologist?

Take as much science, chemistry, physics, and biology classes as you can. Earth sciences are a conglomerate of all the other sciences. As far as education, you should try to earn a Master's degree. An undergraduate degree will get you started, but with a Master’s, you can do most anything, unless you want to teach at the university level. You can teach at some places with a Master’s, but if you really want to teach, you should earn a PhD.

What is the job outlook for future geologists?

The job market for geologists is very cyclic. The immediate outlook for future geologists is great, as our society seems to think we can cure our oil addiction by looking for more oil. There is a huge market working for oil companies. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists is the largest geological society; the second largest is the Geological Society of America. I'm a member of both.

There is a large job market in the environmental field, working for environmental consulting firms.  They provide geological expertise to companies that are building new structures. There are different regulations that builders must comply to; some regulations even require a survey by a geologist.

Many of these geologists check for contaminants and measure poisons in ground water and in run-offs from contaminated sites. There is also the mineral industry. Coal mines don't usually hire geologists, as coal is pretty easy to find. Environmental regulations and labor unions have largely squeezed metal mining out of the American economy.

Also, more and more countries are hiring Americans because of their expertise and training.   If you love traveling, you can have an exciting career outside the United States.

What factors affect geologist salaries?

Education affects geologist salaries, that's why I recommend a Master’s degree. Expertise can affect geologist salaries. One of my college roommates discovered some uranium mines in Alaska and retired at age 35. Petroleum companies pay the best salaries for geologists, right now.

Environmental consulting firms pay in the upper 5-figures. These firms help people and companies comply with regulations. For instance, there are California state regulations on the San Andreas fault which limit the number of houses.

Government agencies also pay well. These are government agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Forestry Service Bureau of Land Management as well as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Government geologists check for contaminants and measure poisons in ground water and in run-offs from contanimated sites.

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