How to Become a Geologist
Petroleum geologists use their know-how in a variety of settings and in a multitude of applications worldwide. Their work can be exciting and challenging, but becoming a geoscientist in the oil and natural gas industry demands that one acquire a broad set of technical, conceptual and practical skills.
Aspiring geologists who decide early on that they want to work in the oil and gas industry often choose to matriculate at colleges and universities with well-established petroleum geology programs, said Allyson Anderson Book, executive director of the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) and a petroleum geologist by training.
“Some programs have strong petroleum coursework,” explained Anderson Book. “If a student decides they want to pursue an oil and gas career, there are schools whose students are routinely sought after by employers.”
To be sure, some geoscience students only begin to consider oil and gas career options midway through their studies. In fact, Anderson Book – who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology and has worked as a petrophysicist/senior geoscientist with ExxonMobil – counts herself among that group.
An accredited geology program often will require students to complete field work as well as fundamental coursework in areas such as:
- Structural geology
- Surficial processes (geomorphology)
- Historical geology
Beyond fulfilling core geology course requirements, would-be petroleum geologists take courses emphasizing oil and gas industry applications within these and other branches of geology. In addition, geology students build their analytical skills by completing courses in subjects such as math, chemistry and physics.
“Geoscience is really the nexus of all scientific disciplines, so it is no surprise that to be successful you need strong analytical skills and a broad knowledge of all sciences,” said Anderson Book.
After Earning a Bachelor’s in Geology
With a bachelor’s degree, an entry-level petroleum geoscientist can work for a service company in a wellsite capacity – such as mudlogger – or in a computer-support position, Anderson Book said. She added that an oil and gas operating company, meanwhile, might hire such individuals for technical support-type roles. Geology graduates can also work for government agencies as program managers, wellsite inspectors and other, less technical roles, said Anderson Book. This joint website of the UK-based The Geological Society and University Geoscience UK provides an overview of geology specialty areas applicable to oil and gas roles.
After earning their bachelor’s, newly minted petroleum geoscientists may also wish to pursue more specialized training in master’s and doctoral degree programs. The additional credential can help one to qualify for positions of greater responsibility. Given the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry, getting an advanced degree might also give one an edge during bust periods.
“Frankly, in tough market conditions, hiring is restricted and in order to be competitive most candidates will need a master’s level education for the majority of upstream technical positions,” said Anderson Book. “My advice for any individual who really wants a career in the oil patch as a geoscientist is to acquire a master’s level geoscience degree.”
Educational credentials notwithstanding, completing one or more relevant internships while in school can boost one’s marketability with oil and gas employers, added Anderson Book.
“At some point in the academic experience, aspiring petroleum geoscientists need to get some on the-job-experience,” Anderson Book pointed out, adding that student interns enjoy a variety of options for gaining “real-world” exposure.
For instance, Anderson Book noted that students can hone their technical skills over a summer or two by working on a drilling rig, interpreting seismic or conducting site characterization. Anderson Book herself completed a “conventional” internship with ExxonMobil that helped her to build her proficiency – and get noticed by the company. She pointed out that interning is “essentially one long job interview.”
The internship “really expanded my knowledge of gravity/magnetics surveying – something I had no applied experience with,” Anderson Book recalled. “In that internship, it was reiterated to me that I need to focus on technical excellence first. I did and learned a lot at that summer internship – it led directly to full-time employment at ExxonMobil several months after the internship ended.”
Less traditional internship paths may emphasize other areas such as oil and gas policy, added Anderson Book. For instance, her Alexandria, Va.-based organization hires interns who get the opportunity to meet with government officials at the federal, state and local levels while working on policy and issues that are critical to geoscience professionals. Other AGI interns work as science writers for AGI’s magazine, EARTH.
Internships can also provide clarity about one’s geoscience career path, noted Anderson Book.
“Often students do not know ‘for sure’ what specialty to pursue,” Anderson Book said. “For many students, an internship can be illustrative in what a student may ‘not’ want to pursue for a long-term career. How wonderful that is to know so early on that a particular focus area or job is not what you want to do!”
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