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Geologists and Geophysicists

At a Glance

  • Geologists study how rocks were formed
  • Geophysicists study the earth's interior
  • Many specialize in one area
  • Spend time alone performing research
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree

Career summary

Geologists and geophysicists study the earth.

#checked 2/18/15 lh

Geologists study the history of the earth. They look at how rocks were formed and how they have changed since they were created.

Geophysicists use physics to study the earth’s surface and interior. In addition, they study forces that affect the earth, such as magnetism and gravity.

Geologists and geophysicists are sometimes called earth scientists and geoscientists. Other geoscientists include:

Geologists and geophysicists conduct research to find ways to:

Geologists and geophysicists share many tasks. They gather and analyze information. They use aerial photographs to see what an area looks like and what it contains.

They use machines to measure physical aspects of the earth, such as temperature and earthquake activity. They may use tools to take samples from rocks and ice sheets. They study the samples for data on climate conditions. They compare this data with current climate data to understand changes in climate.

In the lab, geologists analyze the makeup of rocks. Some geophysicists use computers to create models of what they are studying. For example, they may study how water flows through different layers of rock. On the computer, they can vary the type of rock, the amount of water, and other relevant factors. This information helps them understand how pollution affects ground water.

They often prepare maps, charts, and diagrams to show their data and explain the results. In addition, they write reports or give presentations about their findings. Some geologists and geophysicists teach at the college or university level.

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to geologists and geophysicists.

Common work activities

Geologists and geophysicists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, geologists and geophysicists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Geologists and geophysicists frequently:

It is important for geologists and geophysicists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for geologists and geophysicists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Geologists and geophysicists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a geologist or geophysicist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

A bachelor's degree is usually enough for an entry-level job in this field. Although the trend in the field is for workers to have a master's degree. In geology programs, you study mineralogy, paleontology, and structural geology. You also learn about environmental laws, mapping, and hazardous waste management.

You need a doctoral degree (PhD) to lead research projects or teach at a college or university. When working on a doctoral degree you can focus on an area of study such as geophysical engineering.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in geology. Fewer offer geophysics degrees.

Work experience

After completing a doctoral degree, some geologists work as postdoctoral fellows (postdocs). These university positions last for several years. Postdocs get extensive field experience. This research can lead to a teaching or research job at a university.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to geologists or geophysicists who have a master's degree or higher.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Geologists and Geophysicists use math frequently so you should take as many math classes as possible.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Many employers, especially in research, prefer to hire applicants who have a PhD or at least a master's degree. A solid background in geologic methods and topics is important for all geoscientists. Employers also look for knowledge specific to their field. For example, employers in the environmental or regulatory fields prefer applicants who understand pollution control laws and the ways pollution spreads. Employers in mining or oil and gas drilling prefer applicants who have a good understanding of the regulations that govern these industries. Universities choose candidates based on their area of research and the quality of their published articles.

Employers prefer applicants who have good communication skills. This is because geoscientists frequently share their findings with others. In addition, the ability to work with a team is very important. Almost all employers prefer candidates who have solid computer skills. They look for skills in advanced mathematical modeling and statistical analysis applications. The ability to speak and understand foreign languages is also important. Many geoscientist jobs require travel to other countries.


Summer field work and internships will provide valuable experience. Training in computer programming may be helpful.

Costs to workers

After entering this field, most workers join professional associations and pay annual dues.


Geologists who practice, offer to practice, or advertise geological services for others in this state must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Licensing. (There are some geological work activities that do not require a license, however. Contact the licensing agency at the address listed below for more information about these activities.)

General licensing requirements include:

For licensure in a specialty of geology, additional requirements must be met.

State licensing fees for geologists are $100 for the initial license. Testing fees are required for the Fundamentals of Geology exam, and for the Practice of Geology exam. There are additional fees for specialty examinations.

#modifed fee statement 3/27/13 lh

For further and more detailed information on licensing requirements and costs, contact:

Washington State Department of Licensing
Geologist Licensing Program (external link)

PO Box 9012
Olympia, WA 98507-9012

#fine. 3/27/13 lh. Checked licensing info 3/17/14 & 4/19/16 cj. Added info about grad study & teaching/research in lieu of experience; rest ok 4/2/18 cj. 2/25/19 lh

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Geoscientists, except hydrologists and geographers (SOC 19-2042)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $26.31 $31.62 $42.34 $54.59 $71.83
Monthly $4,560 $5,480 $7,338 $9,460 $12,448
Yearly $54,730 $65,770 $88,060 $113,540 $149,410
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $28.00 $32.03 $37.99 $46.71 $70.14
Monthly $4,852 $5,551 $6,584 $8,095 $12,155
Yearly $58,241 $66,622 $79,026 $97,150 $145,886
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $25.23 $30.57 $42.42 $57.52 $76.75
Monthly $4,372 $5,298 $7,351 $9,968 $13,301
Yearly $52,480 $63,585 $88,217 $119,648 $159,654
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $26.72 $32.29 $44.15 $57.09 $74.70
Monthly $4,631 $5,596 $7,651 $9,894 $12,946
Yearly $55,578 $67,158 $91,819 $118,736 $155,370
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $31.54 $35.88 $42.61 $48.11 $68.07
Monthly $5,466 $6,218 $7,384 $8,337 $11,797
Yearly $65,606 $74,642 $88,634 $100,071 $141,592
    Vancouver Hourly $22.13 $27.65 $35.55 $44.47 $57.66
Monthly $3,835 $4,792 $6,161 $7,707 $9,992
Yearly $46,031 $57,510 $73,931 $92,491 $119,935
United States Hourly $23.76 $30.96 $43.81 $61.82 $90.38
Monthly $4,118 $5,365 $7,592 $10,713 $15,663
Yearly $49,430 $64,390 $91,130 $128,580 $187,990

Hydrologists (SOC 19-2043)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $31.47 $35.19 $40.96 $47.19 $59.14
Monthly $5,454 $6,098 $7,098 $8,178 $10,249
Yearly $65,470 $73,190 $85,190 $98,160 $123,000
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $31.92 $35.25 $38.89 $42.93 $47.68
Monthly $5,532 $6,109 $6,740 $7,440 $8,263
Yearly $66,382 $73,330 $80,879 $89,312 $99,156
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $32.48 $36.67 $42.32 $49.84 $60.17
Monthly $5,629 $6,355 $7,334 $8,637 $10,427
Yearly $67,543 $76,274 $88,029 $103,675 $125,153
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $30.37 $34.36 $37.96 $41.88 $42.94
Monthly $5,263 $5,955 $6,578 $7,258 $7,442
Yearly $63,178 $71,466 $78,948 $87,099 $89,323
    Vancouver Hourly $30.34 $35.63 $43.78 $50.35 $58.92
Monthly $5,258 $6,175 $7,587 $8,726 $10,211
Yearly $63,111 $74,112 $91,066 $104,734 $122,554
United States Hourly $23.47 $29.46 $38.16 $48.12 $59.08
Monthly $4,067 $5,105 $6,613 $8,339 $10,239
Yearly $48,820 $61,280 $79,370 $100,090 $122,890

Wages for geologists and geophysicists vary by employer and area of the country. The worker's level of education and responsibility also affect wages.

Geologists and geophysicists who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, health insurance, and a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings. 

Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers (SOC 19-2042)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 953 17.8% 16.1% 128
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 31 0.0% 8.6% 3
    Benton and Franklin Counties 84 34.5% 15.0% 14
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 49 2.0% 11.9% 5
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 73 19.2% 15.2% 10
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 17 35.3% 14.6% 3
    King County 555 19.5% 19.6% 76
    Pierce County 36 16.7% 15.2% 4
    Snohomish County 29 20.7% 12.4% 4
    Spokane County 16 12.5% 13.9% 2
United States 31,000 5.8% 5.2% 3,600

Hydrologists (SOC 19-2043)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 409 21.8% 16.1% 59
    Benton and Franklin Counties 33 54.5% 15.0% 7
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 11 9.1% 11.9% 1
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 65 18.5% 14.1% 8
    King County 155 30.3% 19.6% 25
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 19 0.0% 13.8% 2
    Pierce County 40 35.0% 15.2% 6
    Spokane County 25 8.0% 13.9% 3
United States 6,700 6.0% 5.2% 800

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for geoscientists will be strong. An increase in hydraulic fracturing will create more jobs as the US looks for new ways to extract gas and oil and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Employment in management, scientific, and technical consulting will also provide more jobs for geoscientists. Government jobs will be limited due to budget cuts.

Opportunities will be best for those with a master's degree.

This employment and outlook data does not include geologists and geophysicists who teach at colleges and universities.

Other resources

About Petroleum Geology (external link)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (external link)
1200 New York Ave, NW
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (external link)
PO Box 979
Tulsa, OK 74119-0979
American Geophysical Union (external link)
2000 Florida Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
American Geosciences Institute (external link)
4220 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22302
American Institute of Hydrology (external link)
Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 1230 Lincoln Drive
Engineering D - Mail Code 6603
Carbondale, IL 62901
American Institute of Physics (external link)
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740
American Institute of Professional Geologists (external link)
1333 W. 120th Avenue
Suite 211
Westminster, Colorado 80234-2710
Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists (external link)
Become a Geophysicist…A What? (external link)
Careers in the Geosciences (external link)
Environmental & Engineering Geophysical Society (external link)
1391 Speer Blvd., Ste 450
Denver, CO 80204
Environmental Career Center (external link)
P.O. Box 3387
Hampton, Virginia 23663
Geochemical Society (external link)
5241 Broad Branch Road, NW
Washington, DC 20015-1305
Geology Careers (external link)
(From the Society of Petroleum Engineers)
International Association of Hydrogeologists (external link)
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
National Ground Water Association (external link)
601 Dempsey Road
Westerville, OH 43081
National Science Foundation (external link)
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 2231
Profiles in Ocean Careers (external link)
Science Careers (external link)
Scripps Institution of Oceanography (external link)
Society of Exploration Geophysicists (external link)
8801 South Yale Avenue, Suite 500
Tulsa, OK 74137
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
The Geological Society of America (external link)
PO Box 9140
Boulder, CO 80301-9140
The Oceanography Society (external link)
1 Research Court, Suite 450
Rockville, MD, 20850
US Geological Survey (external link)
Washington State Division of Geology and Earth Resources (external link)
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)
What Do Earth and Space Scientists Do? (external link)
(from the American Geophysical Union)
What Does a Geologist Do? (external link)
Women Exploring the Oceans (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupations

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational clusters