Geology in Your Life

When I started graduate school last fall, I attended a week-long orientation program for new teaching assistants.  As part of the program, the hundreds of new graduate students were split into groups of 15-20 students and one group leader, a current graduate student, for an hour each day.  These meetings were designed to encourage discussion on different topics from unruly students to good places to eat around Kent.  During one of these meetings, each of us were required to present a 5 minute “micro-presentation” to our group.  I had the perfect idea for my presentation.

Whenever I am asked “What do you do?”, my response of “I am a geologist” is almost always followed by the response “Oh!  That’s…interesting.”  Yes, the pause is there, along with a puzzled look on their face as if to ask “What on earth can you do with that?”  The reaction people have upon finding that I am a geologist inspired my micro-presentation topic for that week: Geology in Everyday Life.  I felt that most people do not realize just how much geology plays a vital role in the things they do on a daily basis.  By giving a quick background in just a few broad areas of practical geology, I hoped to gain some awareness and, perhaps selfishly, a little more respect than is typically given to geologists.

Keeping in mind this was a 5 minute presentation (and therefore very brief) and to a small group of students who knew little to nothing about geology, I’d like to share my topic with you:

“I have worked as a geologist for the past five years.  Does anyone here know anything about geology or what geologists do?”  Only one student raised his hand.  It just so happened that he was beginning his PhD. in geology.

“In that case, it seems obvious that most of you don’t realize how much geologists contribute to your everyday life.  During my presentation, I will describe a few broad areas of geology and some of the benefits you enjoy on a daily basis.”

“Geology is, at a very basic level, the study of the earth.  A little more specifically, a geologist studies the materials with which it is made, the processes that act on these materials, and the history of the planet.  But how does this benefit you?”

I then wrote three words on the white board: Environment, Engineering, Energy.  “These are three areas in which geologists are involved.  I will describe a little part of what a geologist does for each of these industries.”

“The typical environmental geologist is involved with pollution control.  They may test soil, air, and/or water for pollution and conduct clean-up of contaminants.  This is what my job required me to do.  I was involved mostly with remediation projects of gas stations where I’d determine if petroleum had leaked into the soil and/or groundwater, how much was released, where and how fast it spread, and many other factors before deciding on the best remedial method.  This affects you because it cleans the environment you live in and, more directly, pollution like this may enter your drinking water and food sources if left unchecked.  Environmental geologists look at all types of contamination, even on a global scale: i.e. – global warming.”

File:Smokestacks 3958.jpg
Smoke stacks

“Engineering geology is the area that I will be studying more in-depth during my time here at Kent State.  An engineering geologist works with other professionals, such as civil engineers, to oversee the planning and construction of bridges, roads, tunnels, dams, and even landfills.  Engineering geologists are experts in rock strength, slope stability, and soil mechanics.”

Hoover Dam

“Finally, economic geologists are of great value to us all.  They search and help mine and exploit earth’s resources such as oil, natural gas, coal, precious metals and gemstones.”

The Hope Diamond

“These are just a small percent of the things geologists do which really do affect us all.  The glass of clean water you drank this morning, the gasoline you used to drive here, the roads you traveled and the bridges you crossed, Jenine’s new diamond ring.”  Jenine was recently engaged.  “Somewhere along the line, a geologist helped make these possible for you to enjoy.”

Once again, this was a brief introduction to geology meant to give very basic information on how this area of study is part of your life, whether you think so or not.  The students claimed it was very informative and provided a lot of insight into something they knew nothing about.  While I know most of you know a bit more than they did, I hope to some of you, this was just as informative.

For even more examples of how geology plays an important role in your life, browse around the many other posts on this site.  After all, this is the theme of “Adventures in Geology“!


27 responses to “Geology in Your Life

  1. It’s interesting that you talked about engineering geologists. I had a friend who wanted to major in geology, but he wasn’t sure which direction to go in. It’s cool how crucial they are to building bridges and tunnels. It might be something to suggest to him.

  2. Dear Sir

    I am doing second in Bsc majoring with Geology and chemistry but I am also doing mathrmatics.

    I am interested in engineering geology, does it require maths snd physics?
    My fear is that since I get in to the college I never did physics, instead of I did computer sciences.

  3. Man, you slayed it! I’m an undergrad geology student and I’ve always found it difficult to explain to people how important geology is because most people don’t know much about geology. Thanks so much for this, so very informative!

  4. I am interested to study Geology next year and I have two questions that I would like you to help me answer it.I am interested to major in Economical Geology.

    1.Can you describe the skills and knowledge in economical geology and how this will contribute towards my future career as a geologists

    2.How will geology contribute towards the social and economical development of my country.

  5. Hello, I just started my finished my first semester in College (geology major). I absolutely love geology and can’t see myself studying anything else. One thing that has been hitting me hard in chemistry. My question is how far do you need to go in chem? also, as a geologist, how do you like it? any regrets? thanks!!!

    • Hi Kevin,

      You don’t *have* to go far with chemistry, but it certainly is helpful. Aside from understanding mineral compositions and Bowen’s reaction series, it’s used extensively in applied geology professions such as contaminant hydrogeology (fate and transport). You don’t need to be a chemistry wiz, but understanding how minerals react to changing environmental conditions can be useful. For example, I recently worked on a project where the foundation for a building we were designing was to bear on shale. The shale was nearly black, an indication that there may be (not always) sulfates, including pyrite, in the shale. Once exposed to air and water, the sulfates are reduced to sulfides and (despite the term “reduced”) can actually expand. This results in “expansive shales” and could cause problems with the foundation later on. Through some testing, we were able to avoid the potentially expansive layers. Without some basic chemistry knowledge, we would not have caught this and the client may have been dealing with a cracked foundation (or worse) years down the line.

      I love geology! The fact that it can be applied in nearly any industry (if you look at it the right way) and that I found a job doing what I love is why I feel being a geologist is such a great career choice. Like anybody, I have some regrets, but they’re all things I could have done sooner rather than waiting. I could have gone straight into graduate school instead of waiting five years between…but I’m very thankful for the experience I gained in that time. I *should* have taken the PG fundamentals exam right after graduating with my B.S.. I honestly didn’t realize that was an option at the time, and right out of school is the best time to take the exam.

      As far as my career choice, I have no regrets and I hope your future career geology is even more rewarding than I find my own!

  6. I’m 17 and I’m a female. I am a senior applying to colleges now, and my primary major choice is Geology. I’ll be frank here, I have never thought about it before until my dad mentioned it. I do like studying the earth, heck, I wanted to do planetary astronomy. But I’m scared. The job prospects are going down now, job salaries aren’t so great either to begin with (i know that’s the case for all jobs) and that it is subjected to boom and bust cycle. In addition, I do want to travel around and that’s what geology offers, to see the world. But right now, im thinking that I want to get married by mid-20 to late 20s. I don’t see this as a stable lifestyle and I’m conflicted by what I should do.

    • Hi Cindy,

      Firstly, I’m going to give a simple response here and, if you’d like to discuss the topic in greater detail, I encourage you to contact me directly via the contact page. We can then communicate via email where, at least for me, lengthy discussion is more do-able.

      As far as being worried about your future career (as a geologist or otherwise), it’s understandable! Just remember that it’s OK if you change majors throughout your college career. My brother changed his major five times before finding something he truly enjoyed!

      For a bit more info on forecasted careers opportunities in the geosciences, I recommend reading some of the reports that the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) puts out. The AGU compiles some that you might be interested in here: The rest of the AGI workforce reports can be found on the AGI website here: (the full reports cost $, but the summaries are free and informative). There are some great documents which show that geoscience careers are more stable than you might think and, in fact, are on the rise.

      Furthermore, I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that the boom and bust cycles are related mostly to natural resource positions (oil/gas industries). Many applied geology jobs (environmental, engineering, geohazards, etc.) are much more stable in the long-term.

      I hope this response has been helpful. Again, I’m more than willing to discuss this further, and address your concerns more directly, if you’d like.

  7. Always been fascinated in engineering geology , climate studies, volcanology, seismology, geophysics but did not take it up as the were not job openings or graduate courses in my country [Malta]. My question is it too late to get qualified?, distance learning + on campus/field trips make this possible now. I am 48 and work in IT as a Network Administrator, not realy related but am sure IT will come in handy should I go for it. Was so inspired by your article that I had to ask you for advice. Cheers

    • Hi Darrell – I think you have two different questions here, if I understand you correctly. First, you’re asking if it is too late for you to pursue additional coursework (and possibly a career) in geoscience. In my humble opinion, it’s never too late to learn more about something that interests you. As an example: during one of my undergraduate geology courses, I sat next to a man in his 70’s. If someone of his age can do it, anyone can. I can’t say it would be easy to begin a whole new career, but it’s not impossible, either.

      Your second question seemed to be whether your background in IT would be useful. I must admit that I’m not overly familiar with what your job as a Network Administrator requires, but do know you must have proficient computer skills. With this in mind, your background might put you ahead of many others in your class. These days, computer modeling is used in nearly every branch of science, and geology is no exception. Groundwater flow, LiDAR data, satellite imagery, rock deformations and slope stability are just a few of the areas geologists use (and have created) computer modeling software in their work.

      Good luck with whatever you decide!

      • Hi Nate, thanks for the reply, just what I needed to hear, next issue is where best to find distance learning courses. Should you have any suggestions I would be most greatful.
        Thanks again.

        • Unfortunately I can’t help much here since I haven’t used (or looked into) distance learning offerings myself. What I would suggest you do is contact a few schools with programs that interest you. Explain your situation (briefly) and ask if they offer distance learning courses for that program. If they do, great! Ask any other questions that will help you to make a decision. If they don’t offer online courses, ask if they would be able to suggest where else you could look; they may know of other schools that do offer distance learning.

          I know this is not much help, but I hope it’s a start. Again, good luck! And thank you for reading AiGeology! I very much appreciate you vising the site and hope you will continue to read and share the site with your friends!

  8. Pingback: Brought to You by Geology #0.5 | Adventures in Geology·

    • Hi, Elisa! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found some use out of the post, albeit a very small window into the world of geology. I hope your interest continues!

      • I’m a little torn about it at the moment because, when do a basic search about geology jobs online, there can be huge forums of negative geologists crying about how horrible the geology jobs are. That’s intimidating, haha. Other than that, I know I have a lot more to learn if I even want to consider this route. Especially I’m not the best at math.

        • Don’t get discouraged! I’ve run across plenty of complainers, and it’s almost guaranteed that they didn’t have any field of study in mind when they graduated. Geology is a very broad topic, and what one person may love, another…not so much.

          One of the biggest things I see happen is a geology student graduates and then gets a job in an environmental consulting company where they mostly deal w/ hydrology, contaminant fate and transport, and wetlands, and not too much of the rocks, minerals, and outcrops they’d envisioned. That’s not a bad thing…environmental consulting is one of the biggest employers of geologists. It’s just not what they expected. That lack of knowing what’s available falls, in part, on the department not preparing them for what types of jobs exist outside of academia.

          What I suggest you do is get in touch with some professional geologists in different fields and see what it is they do on a daily basis. As I said, environmental is a huge field. There’s also natural resources (oil, gas, ores, etc.), engineering geology (my area of interest), climate studies, volcanology, seismology, geophysics, environmental law, the list goes on. Your state geological survey may be a good place to start…or just visit your school’s geology department!

          Once you narrow it down a bit, network, network, network. Not only will this give you greater insight as to what you can expect, but you’ll be in a great position to land that job you want once you graduate. Don’t feel like you have to know exactly what you want from the start…I didn’t until my senior year when I took my first course in engineering geology. Just a little focus and foresight can go a long way.

          Good luck!

  9. By far the most concise and up to date information I found on this topic. Sure glad that I navigated to your page by accident. I’ll be subscribing to your feed so that I can get the latest updates. Appreciate all the information here

  10. Thank you both for your support! I try to publish new posts at least once a week. I am making some effort to be less sporadic, but am not expecting posts to be truly regular until late next month. Until then, keep coming back!

    Thank you again!

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