Geology is the study of the earth and the forces that act upon it. Students choosing to study geology to better understand our planet will find that the major combines biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. Geology is an interdisciplinary science that involves not only a study of the physical makeup and history of the earth, but also how humans and other life forms are affected by the earth. Students pursuing a major in geology should be good at math, critical writing, spatial thinking, working with a team, and analyzing data. They should also enjoy field work.
The introductory courses in a geology major focus on the basics of physical and historical geology. Students learn about plate tectonics, the geological time scale, how landforms change, and the rudiments of rock, mineral, and fossil identification. Most courses have three to four-hour laboratories about once a week and may include field trips of varying lengths. The major requires courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and math to acquire the necessary skills for geology.
Geology majors are fieldwork heavy. Colleges often require students to take a summer or semester-long fieldwork course. Since deadlines for projects are usually farther apart than in other majors, students must be disciplined and manage their time well.
After the introductory courses in historical and physical geology, students usually focus on a more specific field of study. Students who would like a more hands-on approach to geology may prefer environmental geology, hydrogeology, exploration seismology, and petroleum geology. These fields concentrate on applying science to fix real-world problems. Students who prefer an academic core might pur-sue upper-level courses that focus on minerology, petrology, paleontology, or tectonics.
For high school students interested in majoring in geology, it is a good idea to get fieldwork experience prior to college. There are many summer opportunities to volunteer to work alongside geologists in certain fields. www.pathwaytoscience.org provides a list of such opportunities for high school students. Most geological camps in the United States are located in Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, but it is possible to find opportunities throughout the U.S.
The American Indian Summer Institute in Earth System Science (AISIESS) is one such program. It is offered through the University of California, Irvine, for two weeks over the summer. Students spend one week on an Indian reservation in San Diego and another week on the UC Irvine campus. An application is necessary. Yosemite National Park hosts a 14-day expedition that allows students to create and carry out their own research project in the field of environmental science. This would be ideal for students interested in the environmental side of geological studies.
Geology majors tend to work in either the energy sector or the environmental sector. Mud loggers, well-site geologists and geophysicists typically work for oil and drilling companies to determine the best places to retrieve oil. Environmental hydrogeologists and engineering geologists usually work for environmental agencies. Geochemists can work for either oil or environmental companies.
Other geology majors become educators or find work as a museum curator. Still others pursue careers in town planning or consulting. Many geology careers require advanced degrees beyond the Bachelor’s degree. Want to know more?
Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov.
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