Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past and present and to predict future events.


Geoscientists typically do the following:

  • Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
  • Analyze aerial photographs, rock samples, and other data sources to locate deposits of natural resources and estimate their size
  • Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
  • Make geologic maps and charts
  • Prepare written reports
  • Present their findings to varied audiences, including clients and colleagues

Geoscientists study the Earth’s composition, or layers; its structure, which focuses on the properties of rocks; and its processes, such as erosion and volcanic activity. By analyzing rocks, fossils, and other clues, geoscientists are able to create timelines of events in the Earth’s geologic history. They also research changes in its resources to provide guidance in meeting human demands, such as for water, and to predict geological risks and hazards.

Geoscientists use a variety of tools in their work. In the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples or ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for minerals. In laboratories, they may use x-rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They also may use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.

Geoscientists may supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.

As geological challenges increase, geoscientists may opt to work as generalists. However, some choose to specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth. The following are examples of types of geoscientists:

Environmental geologists study how consequences of human activity, such as pollution and waste management, affect the quality of the Earth’s air, soil, and water. They also may work to solve problems associated with natural threats, such as flooding and erosion.

Geologists study the materials, processes, and history of the Earth. They investigate how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. There are subgroups of geologists as well, such as stratigraphers, who study stratified rock, and mineralogists, who study the structure and composition of minerals.

Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and the ways these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.

Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations in order to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.

Petroleum geologists collect rock and sediment samples from sites through drilling and other methods and test the samples for the presence of oil and gas. They also estimate the size of oil and gas deposits and work to develop extraction sites.

Seismologists study earthquakes and related phenomena, such as tsunamis. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.

For a more extensive list of geoscientist specialties, visit the American Geosciences Institute (AGI).

Work Environment

Geoscientists held about 24,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of geoscientists were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 26%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services            19
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 13
Federal government, excluding postal service 10
State government, excluding education and hospitals 9

Geoscientists may work as part of a team with other scientists and engineers. For example, they may work closely in natural resource extraction fields with petroleum engineers to find new sources of oil and gas.

Geoscientists usually split their time between work in the field, in laboratories, and in office settings. Fieldwork may require geoscientists to be outdoors frequently or to travel all over the world, including to remote locations, for extended periods. For example, oceanographers may spend months at sea on a research ship, and paleontologists may spend long periods in remote areas during expeditions.

Extensive travel, especially for long periods away from home, may be stressful.

Work Schedules

Most geoscientists work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Schedules may vary to include irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.

Education and Training

Geoscientists typically need a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. For some positions, employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master’s or doctoral degree. Most geoscientists need a state-issued license.


Geoscientists typically need a bachelor’s degree in geoscience or a related field, such as physical science or natural resources.

Geoscience programs include courses in mineralogy, geology, and other sciences, along with subjects such as mathematics and engineering. Some programs focus on a particular area of geoscience, such as environmental geology, while others prepare students to become generalists.

Programs also usually involve geology fieldwork that provides students with practical experience. Students may gain additional experience by completing a geosciences internship while in college. Interns usually work under the supervision of a senior geoscientist on tasks such as preparing for field visits, collecting samples, and writing reports.

Master’s and doctoral degree programs in geoscience typically involve more specialization, research, and technical experience than bachelor’s programs do. Having a graduate degree may make candidates more competitive for certain entry-level positions or for advancement.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require licensing for geologists who offer services to the public. Public service activities include those associated with civil engineering projects, environmental protection, and regulatory compliance.

Licensure requirements vary by state, but applicants typically must meet minimum education and experience requirements and earn a passing score on an exam. Examining authorities also vary by state. For example, some states use exams by the National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG) or the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG).

Contact your state licensing board for more information.

Personality and Interests

Geoscientists typically have an interest in the Building and Thinking interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking interest which might fit with a career as a geoscientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Geoscientists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Geoscientists write reports and research papers. They must be able to present their findings clearly to clients or professionals who do not have a background in geosciences.

Critical-thinking skills. Geoscientists base their findings on sound observation and careful evaluation of data.

Interpersonal skills. Most geoscientists work as part of a team with engineers, technicians, and other scientists.

Outdoor skills. Geoscientists may spend significant amounts of time outdoors. Familiarity with camping skills, general comfort being outside for long periods of time, and specific skills such as boat handling or even being able to pilot an aircraft could prove useful for geoscientists.

Physical stamina. Geoscientists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment when they conduct fieldwork.

Problem-solving skills. Geoscientists work on complex projects filled with challenges. Geoscientists need to use and analyze complex sources of data. Evaluating statistical data and other forms of information to make judgments and inform the actions of other workers requires a special ability to perceive and address problems.


The median annual wage for geoscientists was $83,680 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $172,490.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for geoscientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction $119,210
Federal government, excluding postal service 103,960
State government, excluding education and hospitals 81,700
Architectural, engineering, and related services 77,750
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services         76,270

Most geoscientists work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Schedules may vary to include irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.

Job Outlook

Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 2,400 openings for geoscientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is expected to spur demand for geoscientists.

Geoscientists will be involved in discovering and developing sites for traditional and alternative energy sources. For example, geoscientists study wind speeds and patterns to determine sites that are suitable for wind turbines. The increased use of and demand for alternative energy should lead to more jobs for these workers.

For More Information

For more information about geoscientists, visit

American Geophysical Union (AGU)

American Geosciences Institute (AGI)

Geological Society of America (GSA)

U.S. National Committee for Geological Sciences

For more information about licensure for geologists, visit

American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG)

National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG)

To find job openings for geoscientists in the federal government, visit




Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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