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If you have ever picked up a rock and found it interesting, or wondered about how to dig a hole in dense soil, then you have experienced the life of a geologist on at least the most basic level. Essentially, there are two major directions that you can explore, career-wise, in the study of geology.

The first is that of geoscience, and the second option is to become a geological engineer. Learn the difference between the two fields, how to prepare for a career in each and much more by using this guide for aspiring geologists.

Quick Facts: Engineer Industry
Median Pay:   $91,542 per year | $44 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Bachelor's degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   1,099,000

Engineer Occupations:

  • Mechanical engineers$83,060
  • Industrial engineers$81,490
  • Electrical engineers$91,410
  • Civil engineers$82,050
  • Chemical engineers$96,940
  • Aerospace engineers$105,380
  • Nuclear engineers$100,470

Understanding the Work of a Geoscientist

When people think about geologists, they are actually often thinking about geoscientists. This career involves studying the Earth through natural materials, and it may also include piecing together historical information based on soil, rocks and fossils.

A typical day for a geoscientist might include collecting samples of soil and then analyzing the data at a laboratory in order to determine the age of the area or the surrounding vegetation.

Other jobs for a geoscientist could include reviewing scientific studies published by peers, creating geological maps, creating elevation charts or property boundaries, analyzing rock material in a specific site or even looking for rocks and fossils in a potential historic site. Geoscientists have the option of focusing on environmental protection, water quality, weather patterns and even the various effects of fuel use.

Understanding the Work of a Geological Engineer

While this career also focuses on the Earth and its natural materials, it differs substantially from the work of a geoscientist.

Geological engineers create mines that are safe, and they also locate the natural materials like ore or gold that need to be mined. hey use engineering skills when tackling things like building elevators and secure mine shafts into the ground, but they also utilize their geological background in order to take into consideration the composition, density and vegetation of the ground itself.

This job can be very demanding, and a lot rides on creating a successful mine. Most projects are planned over several years, and then the engineers will oversee construction in order to ensure that plans are adhered to exactly. Work might take place in an office, but it could feature trips to the field to see the terrain.

Differences in Required Education

In order to work as either a geoscientist or a geological engineer, a minimum of a bachelor's degree is a necessity. However, there is no required major at this level. Some of the most popular options include geology, chemistry, physics, natural sciences or engineering. Many geoscientists find employment with a master's degree, but the top positions in the industry go to those who hold a doctorate.

Geological engineers, on the other hand, rarely hold a master's degree. A bachelor's degree in a field like engineering, along with courses on mining and structural integrity, will be sufficient to prepare for this career. In both career choices within the field, hands-on experience is vital. The most qualified applicants for a job will have internship or paid work experience in their area of interest, which can sometimes be arranged through their degree program.

Differences in Salary Between the Two Careers

If you are interested in the geological sciences, but you don't know which career choice is the best pick, the difference in salaries between geoscientists and geological engineers might sway your decision. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, geoscientists earn median salaries of $90,890 per year.

The very top salaries in the field tend to go to those geoscientists working to extract oil and natural gas for large corporations. Geological engineers earn slightly less, on average, with BLS median salaries of $84,320 per year. Geological engineers may earn slightly less, but they also have fewer years of necessary education before they are eligible for full-time employment. For financially-driven future geologists, the best choice might depend on how long they want to spend in college before graduating and securing their dream job.

Job Outlook in the Geological Field

When choosing a college major or a future career, students should always think about job security for the years ahead. While many factors combine to create a secure job environment, one of the largest aspects is the predicted job growth.

The BLS forecasts significant growth for both geoscientists and geological engineers. Geoscientists can predict an increase in job demand by 16 percent over the next decade, which translates to the creation of approximately 6,000 additional positions. While the increase in job demand for geological engineers is slightly less, at 12 percent, that is still higher than the national average.

Similar Careers to Consider

If geoscience and geological engineering don't appeal to you, there are still a number of similar career alternatives to consider. Related jobs that you might want to consider, which are similar according to the BLS, include agricultural scientists, archeologists, civil engineers, hydrologists, petroleum engineers and meteorologists. Since many of these options require similar undergraduate preparation, some geologists can switch to a related position even 10 or 20 years into their career.

Students planning to pursue careers as geologists will need to make the decision between working as geoscientists and working as geological engineers. Since salaries and educational requirements for each career varies, it is best to determine your future career goals before selecting your major.

Even if you never thought that a college degree could fit into your busy schedule, accredited online colleges make an advanced education a reality for even the busiest students.