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Become an Earthquake Scientist

What is a geophysicist?

A geophysicist is someone who studies the Earth using gravity, magnetic, electrical, and seismic methods. Some geophysicists spend most of their time outdoors studying various features of the Earth, and others spend most of their time indoors using computers for modeling and calculations. Some geophysicists use these methods to find oil, iron, copper, and many other minerals. Some evaluate earth properties for environmental hazards and evaluate areas for dams or construction sites. Research geophysicists study the internal structure and evolution of the earth, earthquakes, the ocean and other physical features using these methods.

USGS Research Geologist
Ryan Gold mapping the Teton fault in Wyoming in a paleoseismic trench at the Buffalo Bowl site. (Public domain.)

What are the types of geophysicists?

Geophysics covers a broad range of earth science and offers a variety of options. This list includes some, but not all, of the divisions of geophysics:

Seismologists - Seismo-gram (Seismological Society of America)

Marine geophysicists - MIT-WHOI Joint ProgramMarineCareers - interviews and profiles

Petroleum geophysicists - The Geological Society &University Geoscience UK

Mining geophysicists - The Geological Society &University Geoscience UK

Environmental geophysicists - The Geological Society &University Geoscience UK

Atmospheric physicist - American Meteorological Society - career guide

Gravity geophysicist

Magnetic geophysicist  - Introduction to Geomagnetism

Electromagnetic geophysicist

Electrical geophysicist

Exploration geophysicists - The Geological Society &University Geoscience UK

Heat flow field work

What background do I need in high school?

USGS scientist, Nadine Reitman, examines LiDAR data and trench logs from the Alpine trench site.
USGS scientist, Nadine Reitman, examines LiDAR data and trench logs from the Alpine trench site. (Public domain.)

It's best to take as many math and science classes as possible, as well as computer science. If your high school offers earth science or any other earth-focused sciences, take them.

What background do I need in college?

A strong background in sciences, with emphasis on math, physics and geology is important. Students with a physics major often have an easier time in graduate school than those with only a geology major. The more experience you can get with various computer platforms and software programs, the better. Computer skills are a must. A graduate degree is required for most geophysics jobs.

What other experiences can I get?

Although strong academic course work is the most important element of training to be a geophysicist, students interested in geophysics can also benefit from obtaining first-hand experience in the field itself. Access to such experiences depends largely on where you live. If you have access to local field trips conducted by academic or government organizations, they would expose you to the sorts of things geophysicists are interested in. Student internships or summer programs with a geophysical consulting company, an academic geophysics department, or the U.S. Geological Survey would be an invaluable experience.

USGS Opportunities for Students

Where should I go to graduate school?

Many universities offer graduate degrees in Geophysics, and it mostly depends on what area of geophysics you are interested in. Find out what various professors are interested in at different university departments. You can do this by looking at department webpages or reading various geophysical journals.

Where can I get a job?

There are several categories of geophysics jobs: consulting, oil, academic, and government. Government and academic employment is highly competitive but very desirable. Starting salaries usually vary from 30K up to 50K, and the highest salaries are usually not more than 100K, unless you become involved in upper management.

Two oceanographers look at a coral core stored in a wooden box
USGS Research Oceanographer Lauren Toth and Oceanographer Anastasios Stathakopoulos study a coral-reef core in the USGS’s Core Archive in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Credit: Dominique Gallery, USGS. Public domain.)

See also:

Careers in Earth Science - NASA

Careers in Geosciences - American Geological Institute (AGI)
—FAQ about geoscience careers, profiles, articles and more—

Career Opportunities in the Geosciences - Assoc. of Women Geoscientists (AWG)
—includes career profiles of 25 women working in earth sciences—

Guide to Geoscience Departments - American Geological Institute

Geosciences Departments WWW Directory - US & Canada - Univ. of South Dakota

Paths Through Science - American Geophysical Union (AGU)


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