How to become a geologist or geoscientist

Geology students walking through the forest during a field study

Want to be hiking in remote areas taking samples? There's a job that does that. Want to work in a lab looking for solutions to environmental problems? There's a job that does that. Prefer to have an office job? There's a job that does that, too.

There really is something for everyone in geology – it's so diverse in career opportunities and is always growing, says Becca, an Earth Sciences student at Waterloo.

I see Earth Science as a field that can grow with me and my interests as they change throughout my academic and professional career. This program opens doors to a lot of different jobs, and I like that I can keep my education broad while I am exploring my interests.

Becca, Earth Sciences student

What’s the difference between a geologist and a geoscientist?

You may be most familiar with the term geologist. To become a geologist, it is quite straightforward. Anyone who studies geology is technically a geologist. A geoscientist is someone who has earned a professional geoscientist (P.Geo.) designation, which can be achieved in a few different ways.

You can study geology in a variety of university programs such as geology, geology physics, earth and environmental sciences, geological sciences, environmental physics, engineering, and geophysics, to name a few. At Waterloo, you can study geology in our Geological Engineering, Earth Sciences, or Environmental Science programs.

What do you need to study in high school?

Most university programs that prepare you to become a geologist or geoscientist require the following high school courses.

  • English
  • Advanced Functions
  • Calculus and Vectors
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology (in some cases)

I chose to study Earth Sciences because it combined everything I am interested in. It has chemistry, physics, biology, math, social science, engineering, the list goes on.

Becca, Earth Sciences student

How do you become a Professional Geoscientist (P.Geo.)?

In order to get your P.Geo. designation, you normally require a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in an area of geoscience (recommended) and then meet the requirements outlined on the Professional Geoscientists Ontario (PGO) website.

At Waterloo, our Earth Sciences degree and the Geoscience major in our Environmental Science program set students up to have many of the necessary requirements completed to obtain a P.Geo. designation.

Becca says that "I'll graduate with the requirements to be eligible for a Professional Geoscientist designation, which is crucial if I want to work professionally as a geoscientist in Ontario and be able to sign proposals and designs into action. Knowing that at the end of my studies I will have most of the requirements is a relief."

What does a geologist or geoscientist do?

With climate change, earthquakes, and tsunamis having the potential for huge impacts, having highly trained graduates who understand the Earth and its resources is crucial. You'll use disciplines such as geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and hydrogeology to study the fascinating and complex world under our feet. Depending on your interests, you might focus on soil, minerals, water, natural resources, or the atmosphere.

A career as a geologist or geoscientist can vary depending on your personal preferences. Professor John Johnston, who specializes in sedimentology and stratigraphy at Waterloo, says that being a geologist or geoscientist can be very fulfilling.

"We're able to view the world in a perspective like no other and help people. This perspective involves thinking like a geoscientist, in space, time, the field (or in nature) while using the system’s approach."

He adds that "we leap from local to global scales, like discussing the chemical makeup of minerals to the global ecosystem and from short- and long-time periods, like an earthquake that happens in seconds to the slow and vast movement of tectonic plates in mountain building over millions of years." 

 

Visit careerexplorer.com to learn more about geoscience careers such as

  • Environmental geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Paleontologist
  • Marine geologist
  • Planetary geologist
  • Geomorphologist
 

We always strive for an excuse to travel or go on adventures where we are surrounded by nature, whether it is deep underground in a mine or in a remote location in a northern latitude because this is where we develop a deep appreciation and connection with Earth and our place within it.

Professor John Johnston

Students on a geology field trip. 

Becca says her co-op experiences have helped shape her future career plans once she obtains her Professional Geoscientist designation.

"I'm using my co-op opportunities to get as much diverse job experience as possible. During my last co-op term, I was teaching Earth and Environmental Science in First Nations communities across Canada, and I absolutely loved it. So education is a possible career I'm interested in. This summer my job was centered around field work and lab experience which I was excited to try out. When I graduate, I'd like to work outside in the field doing environmental work (pretty much what every young geologist wants), but later on I see myself going into possibly consulting, education, or something related to water management."


Aspiring geoscientist Becca and colleague walking across snow in the Arctic

Future geologist dusting snow off rock in the Arctic

 

Becca spent a four-month co-op work term in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. She says "it was about -50 Celsius every day we were there!"


The need for geoscientists in Canada is expected to grow over the years and become a more in-demand job.


Geoscience students looking at a map.

Understanding rocks and minerals – and using field studies to research them – is a key part of many geologists' jobs.

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