Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Get Rich Being a Geologist! But...?

I could have had an MBA and a corner office!


Geology as a profession gets mentioned on National Public Radio! You can get $80,000 a year to start, with a four-year degree! Mining companies and Petroleum companies are fighting over newly-minted graduates, with some people receiving multiple offers! Hear it all here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88772878.

But...I wonder if this is a very useful thing to have happen in our profession? I maybe have a unique point of view, in that I got into geology as a profession out of a love of all things earth-related, and it makes me wonder whether that is the case for all the other geologists out there? Maybe the geoblogosphere is the wrong place to ask, because running a blog on geological topics suggests a love of things geological as well. But there are a lot of students out here. Are your friends and colleagues in geology for love or money?

Does anyone break into this field, facing four years and more of calculus, chemistry and physics, as well as years of hydrology, structural geology, mineralogy, geochemistry, micropaleontology, just to pick up $80,000 to start? I see a lot of people who go into real estate, banking, accounting and the like and they make good money, but they don't generally like what they do, and build their lives around the weekends and times away from the job. That's not generally the case with the geologists and teachers that I know. They live for weekend field trips so they can get out and see even more geology!

So, are we ready for a flood of students whose motivation is primarily financial? Or will they even make it past the first hurdle of chemistry 101? Geology tends to be a boom and bust economical field; will a flood of graduates saturate the field just in time for the next economic bust? What do you think?

22 comments:

Ron Schott said...

As a professor, whose job depends in part on recruiting students, I don't lose a lot of sleep over rising salaries in geology. First and foremost, because it'd be really nice to see those of us who really do love geology finally reaping the rewards of sticking with it (including those of us who did all that undergrad work you describe, plus grad school for a Ph.D. and a $40,000 starting salary). I've always believed that you ought to do what you love, regardless of the pay. But I'm sure not going to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes along.

Maria said...

Love and money aren't mutually exclusive motivations. I love geology, but I also love music, creative writing, and arcane social theory... I pursued geology instead of other passions because it's easy to make a living at it.

Most people look for a career that combines interestingness with financial security. I don't think it's a bad thing to attract students who are looking for this kind of balance, or to have people in the industry who aren't monomaniacal about their jobs - there's quite a lot of space between the kind of passion that drives you back into the field on weekends, and eyeing the clock counting the minutes until you retire.

BrianR said...

I would agree with Maria, more-or-less ... I wouldn't pose it as an either/or decision regarding love or money.

As someone who recently graduated with a PhD, I wanted to find work that let me do what I love - sedimentary research. Here's the deal - there's only so many professor positions and tons of PhDs - it's a simple math problem. Not everybody has what it takes (or is willing to move wherever there's an opening) to get these jobs. I tried (and may try again, I don't know).

So, what do the rest of us do? One option is the private sector. I can't speak for those coming right out of undergrad, but pretty much everyone I know with a graduate degree that chose the same path as me, absolutely loves what they do.

Most of us would do this job for lower salaries. In fact, knowing the boom-bust cyclicity, we probably will be.

The Lost Geologist said...

From the other side of the atlantic I must admit large salaries like these seem unbelievable. Though the job market has been improving in germany for geologists, salaries are nothing special here. I don't know anyone from my graduating friends and colleagues who would get even close to 80.000 US dollars. I think starting salaries of 50 to 55.000 US dollars would be a really good deal over here already. So in my eyes this is just a local event limited to the US and perhaps Canada.

Unfortunately truck loads of students are swarming the universities here these days because a lot of publicity work has been done for the geosciences. I am afraid though once these people graduate most will neither find a job within the geosciences nor get these high salaries. There are simple way more geos then jobs for them.

Kim said...

I like seeing my students graduate and have an option other than building houses, flipping burgers, or postponing unemployment by going to grad school. I still remember the first student to come to me, halfway through an intro class, and ask what she could do with a degree in geology. (I was fresh out of grad school, and knew that I was incredibly lucky to be employed in a job I enjoyed - most of my fellow grad students were fighting for post-docs, or contemplating MBAs, or writing books about how science PhDs could go into other fields.) I stared at her like a deer caught in the headlights, and I hated the feeling. Should I lie to her, and tell her she could get a great job and spend her life doing all the outdoor things that she loved about the intro class? Or should I tell her the truth, that the job market was tough?

She has a tenure-track job right now, so (fingers crossed) things are going well for her. But most of my students haven't had that kind of success.

I eventually got comfortable telling students that it wasn't any different from majoring in English - that you did it because you loved it, and if you could write, do math, and think critically, you could find a job.

But it's nice to have a different answer... for now. (I've advised a lot of graduating students to pay off their debts ASAP and to start saving, and not to get too used to six-figure incomes, because mining and oil & gas are cyclical industries, and the good times won't last forever.)

Silver Fox said...

I think it's a good thing, although I was surprised to hear that kind of salary for a B.S. - but that's the petroleum industry; it's always been higher than mining, even during petroleum downturns. I'm not sure what the mining industry is really paying for 4-year graduates; we didn't used to hardly hire anyone full-time unless they had a Masters. I'm not sure what is being paid for new graduates, because I only know of one person like that, and she already had a couple years of experience when hired. There simply hasn't been anyone under 45 to hire, for the most part, for a very long time. I also haven't heard of companies recruiting on campus (much or at all) since the mid- or late 1980's, maybe some in the 90's.

Finding drill rigs, drillers, and drillers helpers (not to mention parts) has also been a big problem, and is still difficult though getting better.

I got into geology because I love geology--it turned out to be in minerals exploration and mining, for a variety of mostly unplanned reasons. Everyone I currently know in the industry, got in because they love geology or because they wanted to work outdoors (or both). I know a number of people who got out of geology entirely, some at first because of family obligations and the problem of being away from home so much (not always women), and I know a lot of people who got out of geology after the Bre-X scandal and the plunge in the price of gold in 1997. A few came back, but not many.

I don't think that many will stick it out long in either academia or in industry simply for the money. And the USGS has usually been rather tough to get into and has always required a PhD.

I'm also glad, personally, that salaries are up, because as a consulting geologist, I'm finally again making what I made, in real dollars, at the end of the 1980's (that would be considering that consultants have to pay for all benefits, usually provide their own trucks, insurance, etc.). Last year, I finally made more than I made in 1991--salaries may not have dropped during the last 15+ years, but they did stay the same, and the cost of living rose.

And for the salaries overseas, I think they will rise, at least gradually, because if these booms continue (multiple: gold, copper, other metals, oil), industry will be hiring geologists from other countries, unless we graduate a lot of geologists soon who want to work in oil or metals. The current generation will be at or past retirement age in 10 years.

Silver Fox said...

And that's a really familiar-looking mine photo. Do you know what mine it is?

MJC Rocks said...

Thanks for the great discussion, everyone. Silver Fox, thanks for your insight. I was really wondering what it was like in the Nevada mining economy today. I wasn't in the mining engineering section at UNR in '84, so I don't know if much recruiting was going on at the time. I chanced into a lab teaching position, and it took four years before I saw anything more than a part-time position open up in the community college system here in California.

The mine in the photo is the Sutter Gold Mine outside Sutter Creek in the Mother Lode. It may have been called the Lincoln Mine a few years back. They are mining tourists for the most part these days with mine tours, but they talk a lot about reopening now that the price of gold is up.

Silver Fox said...

That was one of my two guesses. Was there back when they called it the Lincoln Mine. California is a hard place to get any mining started - even in that county (forgot name), which was fairly favorable to mining. Underground might be possible...

Geology Happens said...

I studied geology because it was so much fun doing science AND being outside. I ended up teaching High School for 25 years (biology mostly if you can believe it). I now teach geology for Colorado Online Learning. I have never seen a salary that high and I figure I never will.

Anonymous said...

I am going into Geology primarly because of my love for the outdoors. Being outside is something I deeply desire from a job. I did think it was a added bonus to find out that I will be able to find a job with a great pay/ benifits while doing something I am loving more daily!

farisa zaffa razak said...

i kinda know being a geologist gives u a lot of money. to me, i don't see it that way because there are other jobs that give u high pay as well. it's more the joy of being outdoor when u r a geologist. u r not confined in an office all the time. u get to go out n meet new people and spend time outdoor admiring the nature.

i'm still a student as of now, and i decided that i wanna be a geologist when i was 15. and at that time, i dont even know that this job can give me a lot of money

Schwa88 said...

I switched into Geology on a whim, from Computer Science, a degree which would have netted me an equal or greater salary, because I didn't like what I was doing even though I was great at it. I sincerely hope that people would have the same sort of foresight for Geology. I went from total apathy about what I was doing to borderline obsession. Not to mention a penchant for geology jokes, which I always find hilarious. I think that the jokes are how you can tell a real geologist from a "job" geologist...

Anonymous said...

I don't know about entry pay these days (that was almost 30 years ago for me)but there are a lot of experienced engineering geologist, both geotechnical and environmental) earning in the $90K-$110K range, if you include bonuses.

Anonymous said...

Geology (as a private sector job) totally sucks. I have a four year degree in this subject and I never saw or heard of any job offer with the kind of salaries mentioned in this blog.
In order to earn a decent salary as a geologist, you need a graduate degree (mandatory, preferably involving some aspect of engineering), a willingness to live in God-forsaken places and the ability to work with a bunch of low-class, scumbag drill rig/heavy equipment operators. (and all of this in weather that is either burning hot or freezing cold)
Quit spreading propaganda about careers in geology.
This being said, I still maintain a deep interest in the the earth sciences, but only as a "hobby" rather than a career. I also have a deep respect for the science of geology and the folks that are brave enough to make a career out of teaching it.
I feel that my decision to become a geology major was a not a good one and, in fact I had to return to school and eventually change my career entirely. Fourteen years have now passed and I do not regret my decision to leave geology.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous guy above, first of all you are obviously out of the loop in relation to salaries. In all fairness you are not in the industry and have not been for 14 years....alot has changed in the industry in that time. Australia for instance is currently in the middle of a resources boom and they cannot get enough qualified geologists. Salaries vary from $80-90k for graduates up to $150k plus for jobs in exploration and mining. Sure the lifestyle sucks a bit living away for long periods of time but that is the sacrifice you make for the money. And be careful who you refer to as low class scum bags. Sure some of them lack a bit of finesse but just because they don't have a tertiary education does not mean they are inferior to you. Some of the smartest most practical guys I have worked with were drillers. Some also were a nightmare but you get good with the bad. No point making generalised sweeping statements like that.
The beauty of the career is in the eye of the beholder and if you are passionate enough about it and enjoy being outdoors it is a great career that pays well. I can understand it does not work for alot of people due to the long periods spent away (fly in fly out work, typically 2 weeks spent on site with one week break). But please do not go making ill informed comments on the industry if you have not been in it for 14 years.

MTGeology said...

I feel as though I can add some fresh insight to this conversation. I am a recent graduate of a 4 year geology degree (not from a mining school) and I recently got hired by a very well known mining company for 55k a year plus up to 20% of my salary as a bonus with the expectation of a 15% raise within a year.

Many of my friends are making a significant amount of more money working over in the oil patch, but for me quality of life (living in SW MT) and a great schedule was worth more than logging mud.

It's all well and good to do research and think of geology as a purely academic pursuit, but most of us will never achieve a PhD nor have the desire too. Geologists working in exploration fields provide a valuable addition to our nation GDP and a significant addition to our national resource security. Working in oil, gas, and mining is nothing to look down on.

Anonymous said...

I'm very late posting, but my question is:
For those of you who managed to find these high paying jobs, how did you find them? Because I graduated in geology with a four year degree, lost count on the number of resumes I sent, and nothing.
I'm thinking, maybe it's because my school isn't one of the top in Geology, I don't know.
I'm seriously considering switching to another field.

Garry Hayes said...

I'm wondering if the job hunt you mention involved the willingness to move to a new state or country? There seem to be lots of jobs out there, but mainly in the areas where the mining and drilling is happening, like Nevada or North Dakota, or Australia.

The original post is nearly five years old! I think the industry went through a whole boom-bust cycle in the interim...

old bullet said...

Plenty of jobs in africa, but as mentioned before you must be able to tough it out. I am now reaping the benefits from the bad years working long shifts underground and working in exploration for peanuts.
200k + is very achievable but first get in the "coal face" experience.
Cheers

old bullet said...

Do the time and it will come, after a few years underground or doing exploration in hard places (africa not us) will open lots of doors and look at over 200k after a bit of time.....

Have fun look at rocks, and most of all travel. You will see things most people never see! And really put your heart in it comes back with dividends!

Anonymous said...

My experience may have been outside the norm, but I got both my BS and MS in geology (specifically geochemistry), and I decided to go the environmental route because it would be easiest to find a job. Up to this point I had no course work in petroleum, so that wasn't really an option. So I get my first job, with an MS, making 35k a year. Mind you this is after garnering 25k in student loans. How was I supposed to pay that off and still have a roof over my head and buy groceries and have some semblance of a life?

I've since moved on from that company to another and am making more money, but still not crazy about it. I live in MO and have field work all throught MO, KS, and IA. A lot of it could just be the geography, but I hardly ever get to see anywhere cool in these states. It's some middle of nowhere town where the only thing to eat is fast food and you're outside 12 hours a day in 105 degrees or -10 degrees. And when you are in the office you're expected to put in 9-10 hour days. For free. Because you're salaried, and that's just what's expected.

Maybe I wouldn't have these complaints if I loved what I was doing, as I'm not afraid of long hours. It just seems like the environmental route isn't great for either salary or quality of life. If I had to do it over again I would have gone to petroleum for 5-7 years and saved a bunch, paid off my loans, and then found something else.

I always loved teaching, but good luck finding a teaching job without a PhD. I love geology and don't ever regret studying it, I just wish I had been better prepared for real life geology jobs, not the romanticized, wishful thinking geology jobs touted by professors.