What is Geology?

Geology is the study of the Earth's processes, products and its history. Geologists are stewards or caretakers of Earth's resources and of its environments. Some of the important ways in which geologists contribute to our understanding of Earth processes and history include-

  • Investigating the planet (and other planets too!)
  • The soil
  • The oceans
  • The atmosphere
  • Developing land-use plans using GIS and GPS technologies.
  • Determining new environmental impacts and finding new sources of useful Earth materials.
  • Providing essential information for solving environmental problems.
  • Establishing governmental policies for resource management, environmental protection, and public health and safety.

What are some of the sub-disciplines within the field of Geology?

For instance, if you are thinking - I have a strong interest in physics/chemistry - can I combine such disciplines with geology and still be able to find employment as a geologist?

Geology is a broad field and allows for combining different disciplines - such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, and biology with geology. In fact one of the main reasons students are drawn to geology is because they can easily merge their interests in most scientific fields with geology - an approach that is well-suited for solving environmental problems as the study of the Earth also involves understanding its physics, chemistry and biology!

The following are some examples of sub-disciplines within geology -

  • Economic geologists explore for and develop metallic and non-metallic resources; they study mineral deposits and find environmentally safe ways to dispose of waste materials from mining activities.
  • Engineering geologists apply geological data, techniques, and principles to the study of rock and soil surficial materials and groundwater; they investigate geologic factors that affect structures such as bridges, buildings, dams and airports.
  • Geochemists use physical and inorganic chemistry to investigate the distribution of major and trace elements in ground water and Earth materials, and use organic chemistry to study the composition of fossil fuel (coal, oil, and gas) deposits.
  • Environmental geologists study the interaction between the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and human activities. They work to solve problems associated with pollution, waste management, urbanization, and natural hazards, such as flooding and erosion.
  • Geophysicists apply the principles of physics to study the earth's interior and investigate Earth's magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.
  • Hydrogeologists study the occurrence, movement, abundance, distribution, and quality of subsurface waters and related geologic aspects of surface waters.
  • Marine geologists investigate the ocean-floor and ocean-continent boundaries; they study ocean basins, continental shelves and coastal environments.
  • Mineralogists study mineral formation, composition, uses and physical and chemical means for identifying them.
  • Oceanographers investigate the physical, chemical, biological, and geologic dynamics of oceans.
  • Paleontologists study fossils to understand past life forms and their changes through time and to reconstruct past environments.
  • Petrologists determine the origin and natural history of rocks by analyzing mineral composition and grain relationships.
  • Planetary geologists study planets and their moons in order to understand the evolution of the solar system.
  • Sedimentologists study the nature, origin, distribution, and alteration of sediments such as sand, silt, and mud. Oil, gas, coal and many mineral deposits occur in such sediments.
  • Seismologists study earthquakes and analyze the behavior of earthquake waves to interpret the structure of the Earth.
  • Structural geologists analyze rocks by studying deformation, fracturing, and folding of the Earth's crust.
  • Volcanologists investigate volcanoes and volcanic phenomena to understand these natural hazards and predict eruptions.

What can I do with a degree in Geology?

Naturally, the potential for being employed after a Bachelors degree is an important decision-making factor in choosing any Major. Fortunately even in economically-slow times, the demand for Geologists has remained strong and is growing each year due to a renewed interest for becoming self-sufficient in the energy and mineral resources that we need here at home in the US. See Our Alumni pages to see examples of the kinds of employment our Majors have been able to obtain following graduation.

About 75% of our graduates take up jobs after completing their undergraduate degree, and typically about 25% go on to pursue graduate training in the geological sciences.

Most RU graduates in geology typically take entry-level positions as Geologists working in the following areas:

  • Consulting firms dealing with environmental projects needing geological and engineering analysis.
  • Companies exploring for mineral resources such as petroleum and mining.
  • Federal agencies such as the USGS (United States Geological Survey), BLM (Bureau of Land Management), USFS (United States Forest Service), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Act), NASA, and the EPA (Environment Protection Agency).
  • State agencies such as the VDMME (Virginia Department of Mining, Minerals and Energy), VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation), and local governmental agencies.

A number of job opportunities also exist in public school teaching as presently there is a acute shortage of qualified geology teachers in our school systems both in Virginia and in other states across our nation.

Where do geologists or geoscientists work?

In all kinds of exciting places!

Imagine yourself sampling the deep ocean floor, or perhaps examining rock specimens from the Moon or Mars! Geologists work as explorers for new mineral and hydrocarbon (oil) resources, consult on engineering and environmental problems, and conduct research for unraveling Earth's history through clues left behind in rocks. It is quite common for a geologist to have traveled to a variety of environments during the course of his/her career such as glaciers, river valleys, deserts, mountains and coastal areas to name just a few!

Geologists often divide their time among work in the field, the laboratory, and the office. Geologists do typically like working outdoors and appreciate the different faces of our environment.

Field work usually consists of making observations, exploring the earth's interior by drilling or via geophysical tools, collecting samples and making a variety of measurements. For example a rock sample may be analyzed by using X-rays, examined under a electron microscope, and analyzed for its chemical and physical properties. Geologists also use computers for testing theories and creating more accurate models concerning Earth processes and products.

In the office, geologists interpret and combine field and laboratory data and create reports and presentations that may include maps, photographs, and diagrams to illustrate the results of their research. Such reports may allow for location of new occurrences of ore deposits, coal, natural gas and water, or reveal hazards associated with unstable ground conditions at construction sites etc.

What are some examples of jobs that RU Geology graduates have had?

  • A recent RU graduate works for the VA Department of Environmental Quality in northern Virginia where he helps monitor the quality and supply of water in that area.
  • Another recent graduate works as a Field Geologist with a environmental consulting company in Washington D.C. and is responsible for conducting field experiments and writing project reports.
  • One of our graduates uses satellite and remote-sensing data with GIS software to help with land-use planning in northern Virginia.
  • A graduate manages a landfill in Southwest Virginia. His vigilance keeps the leachate (polluted water) out of nearby drinking water supply and will ensure that the area is free of pollution well into the next 100 years.
  • Several of our graduates have gone on to pursue Master's and Ph.D. degrees from top-notch schools such as Kent State University in Ohio, University of Nevada at Reno, and Virginia Tech.

What amount of salary can a geology major from RU expect after graduating with a undergraduate degree?

The employment outlook for geologists - as in any profession - depends on the economy at any given time. The long-range outlook is good at this time because of - a) decreasing energy, mineral, and water resources, and b) increasing awareness and concerns about environmental hazards.

According to the National Science Foundation, about 125,000 geoscientists are employed in the United States alone. Salaries for college graduates with Bachelor's degrees start at about $30,000. Salaries for geologists with Master's degrees are about $38,000 and about $42,000 for Ph.Ds.

What is the placement rate geology graduates from RU?

Over the past several years, studies conducted by the RU Office of Institutional Research indicate that Geology graduates from RU have had a placement rate in excess of 90% following graduation. Although some of these graduates may not immediately find the job they dreamed of, most are working in geology-related jobs and in jobs with career potential.

What courses of study are available in the Department of Geology at RU?
How many courses will I need to take to graduate with a undergraduate degree from RU?

The Geology faculty believes that a strong, broad-based program in geology, mathematics, and the physical sciences is essential in preparing students to pursue successful careers in geology; therefore a Bachelor of Science degree in geology is offered. The curriculum is structured so that each student takes -

  • 40 hours in geology,
  • 8 hours of general chemistry,
  • 8 hours of general physics, and
  • 6 hours of calculus.

In addition, electives from geology and supporting areas will vary depending on your goals and interests and therefore will provide flexibility in your program of study. For more information on specific courses offered in the Geology Department at RU, please visit the Our Curriculum and Our Courses pages.

What specialities may enhance my career opportunities in geology at RU?

In keeping with the current high-need areas, the Geology Program at RU offers three different "Concentrations" within the Bachelor of Science degree program.

  1. B.S. in Geology with a Concentration in General Geology
  2. B.S. in Geology with a Concentration in Engineering and Environmental Geosciences
  3. B.S. in Geology with a Concentration in Earth Science Teaching (Earth Science Teaching Licensure)

For example, Geology majors wishing to emphasize the environmental, engineering and hydrogeological aspects of geology can opt for the Concentration in Engineering and Environmental Geosciences. These students must satisfy the normal major requirements (see list) and in addition, take engineering geology, hydrogeology and two elective courses from related fields. This Concentration in Engineering and Environmental Geosciences is unique to RU among undergraduate geology programs in the state of Virginia.

For more information on specific course requirements for each of the three "Concentrations", please see the Our Courses pages.

What personal characteristics should you possess to succeed in the field of geology?

Comments by the Geology Chair summarize the answer well.

"You have to be willing to work extremely hard and have a high degree of perseverance and maturity", he said. "If you don't have these things, you won't make it through. Some students - who weren't necessarily the brightest or the best - made it through because they worked hard, persevered, and stayed with it like a bulldog".

What academic strengths and skills should I possess to be successful in geology?

To learn geology, a student must be able to do science - gather data, measure things, compile data, interpret information, and be willing to keep up with the latest information. Students must be willing to learn math, spend time in labs, and very importantly - be interested in the natural world. The geology program at RU is designed to develop these skills in its majors.

Have a question still? Please contact our Chairperson - Dr. Skip Watts by tel. at (540) 831-5652 or by E-mail at cwatts@radford.edu. A life-long career may be only one phone-call away!