Get This Job: Research Geologist

Search for energy sources, or help land managers understand what's right below their feet.

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A USGS survey marker. (Photo by Sam Howzit/Flickr)

Like it or not, 90 percent of our energy still comes from the ground beneath our feet. The upshot for geoscientists? Job security. The market is strong for earth science experts—which include not just geologists, but also oceanographers, geophysicists, and seismologists.

Newer energy exploits such as horizontal drilling (think: shale development) and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are primarily driving demand—and offering the biggest paydays, averaging $147,000 for geoscientists working in oil and gas extraction.

But you don’t have to hunt for fossil fuels for a private company to make a decent living as a geologist. Though more than half of geoscientists work in the private sector, 14 percent are state or federal government employees, working for agencies such as the USGS. These scientists average $67,000 (state) to $98,000 (federal) per year—pretty good scratch considering their work can take them to some of the most remote and pristine corners of the country. The catch: These careers require at least a master’s (and ideally a doctorate), so they’re best for those with time and resources for the schooling.

Why I Love My Job

Julie Dumoulin, 60/U.S. Geological Survey/Anchorage, AK

Research geologist Julie Dumoulin has worked for the USGS Alaska Science Center since 1979, spending summers armed with hammers, a Brunton compass, and a bolt-action rifle; sleeping in a tent among the thousands-strong caribou herds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and leapfrogging around the Brooks Range–all so land managers can better understand the resources beneath their feet.

But it’s not all a highlight reel. In the field, bad weather can spell misery—and a layer of grime comes with the gig.

“Sometimes you just are completely covered with black dust, like you’ve been down in a coal mine,” Dumoulin says.

Pay $90,000 (average) Prerequisites Ph.D. preferred Perks Backcountry bliss Problems Paperwork; carbon Prospects 44,200 jobs by 2022 (+16%)