The work of geologists and geoscientists is much like that of a detective: They find clues that point to events that occurred in the past and try to decipher what happened and why. They examine available data and find new connections that might help address problems like global climate change or water resource scarcity.
Geology at GW
The GW campus is located near a variety of geology-related government agencies, private laboratories, museums, firms, universities and societies, all of which offer students opportunities for research projects and internships. Additionally, many professional geologists from the Washington, D.C., area serve the program as adjunct faculty, research project mentors and internship supervisors.
Advantages to a Career in Geology
- Varied Workplace Settings
Many geologists are drawn to the opportunity to work outdoors. They enjoy carrying out geologic mapping, sample collection and data-gathering in beautiful and remote settings. Others work almost entirely in offices or laboratories. Still others combine both venues, switching between the field and office or laboratory as the nature of the work dictates.
Whatever their primary workplace setting, most geologists and hydrogeologists travel extensively throughout their careers to attend meetings, visit colleagues, participate in field trips and examine the geology of far-off places.
- Current and Future Relevance
Studies indicate that increasing numbers of people worldwide choose to live in geologically at-risk areas: low-lying coasts, landslide-prone regions, areas with limited fresh water and earthquake-prone locations. As a result, the future holds many opportunities for geoscientists and hydrogeologists to use their expertise to help avert disasters and save lives.
Median pay in the geoscience field is above $90,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and stands to increase as demand rises. Hydrogeologists, in particular, are sought after to provide advice concerning issues as varied as soil and water contamination, coastal aquifer contamination, hazardous-waste site management and effective design of environmental remediation systems.
The work of geoscientists and hydrogeologists is typically interdisciplinary in nature, involving principles from biology, chemistry, physics and more. Most geoscientists specialize in a particular area of research or work-related experience. Because of the complex nature of the natural systems they investigate, geoscientists often pair up to complement each other’s expertise.
Multi-authored research papers and work-related reports are common. (Explore our faculty pages for examples.) Effective interpersonal skills are therefore an important ingredient to successful and highly enjoyable careers in geology.
Using data and observations, geoscientists typically construct detailed models to explain their findings, discuss their ideas with colleagues and present the conclusions, both orally and in print.
- Geology Career Types
Geochemists: Study the nature and distribution of chemical elements in groundwater and Earth materials in order to better understand Earth’s compositional characteristics
Geologists: Study the composition, physical materials and history of Earth, usually with the goal of understanding the nature of processes that have formed the geologic record
Geophysicists (includes geodesists, seismologists and geomagneticists): Use mathematics and physics to study Earth's motions, gravitational field, earthquakes and magnetic information to better understand geodynamic processes and improve models of Earth’s interior
Mineralogists: Analyze and classify minerals and minerals systems, usually with the goal of understanding the nature of formation and/or to locate new mineral resources
Paleontologists: Study fossils to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and to decipher the geologic history of the Earth
Sedimentologists: Study the nature, origin and distribution of sediments (such as gravel, sand, silt and mud) and further understanding of the processes involved in sediment accumulation and the deposits they contain
Stratigraphers: Examine the formation and layering of stratified rocks in order to understand the environment in which they formed and clues they hold about Earth-surface processes of the past
Volcanologists: Investigate volcanic phenomena to better predict the potential for future eruptions and the nature of volcanic-related hazards to human health and welfare
Glacial geologists: Study the physical properties and movement of glaciers and ice sheets, and often are involved in discussions around climate change
Hydrogeologists: Study the quantity, composition, distribution, circulation and physical properties of surface water and groundwater; often play a role in decisions involving resource management and land use
Engineering geologists: Apply geologic principles to civil and environmental engineering, often advising on major construction projects, environmental remediation, resource management and natural-hazard reduction
Oceanographers: Study Earth’s oceans and coastal waters to provide important evidence bearing on coastal process, undersea geology, biological evolution, broad-scale oceanic circulation patterns and climate change
Popular D.C. Institutions for Geologists
American Geosciences Institute
The nonprofit American Geosciences Institute brings together scientists from dozens of geoscientific and professional associations. The institute publishes the Glossary of Geology and often represents the geoscience community on Capitol Hill.
Geological Society of Washington
The Geological Society of Washington has held regular meetings for local geologists and other scientists in the Washington area since 1893. The society also sponsors an annual spring field trip to a nearby area of geological interest. Students are always welcome to participate in both the meetings and field trips.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Located in nearby Greenbelt, Md., the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center employs many scientists and engineers to build spacecraft, instruments and technology to study the earth and other celestial bodies. NASA geoscientists with expertise in geophysics and remote sensing are particularly desirable as mentors for GW students.
National Park Service
Headquartered near Foggy Bottom, the National Park Service (NPS) employs geologists who are primarily concerned with maintaining the NPS mission throughout the National Park System and related areas.
Geoscientists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History often work in the museum’s Department of Mineral Sciences and Department of Paleobiology, where they make important contributions in paleontology, mineralogy, petrology and volcanology. At the National Air and Space Museum, geoscientists oversee planetary studies.
U.S. Geological Survey
The U.S. Geological Survey is headquartered in nearby Reston, Va., and employs a large number of geologists and hydrogeologists. USGS scientists carry out geological investigations throughout the world and collectively have expertise that spans most of the geological realm.