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Careers: Geology/Study Geology in University of California or California State


Hi, I am a student major in Geology at a community college in California. Recently, I have been considering the school to transfer for my degree in Geology. I am thinking to stay in California since I don't really know any school that are good for Geology out of state. My goal is to be a middle school/high school science teacher after earning a BS, then possibly go on to get a phD to teach in a college/university. My question is that does UC(University of CA) system or Cal State(California State)system better prepared me if I might get a phD? UC system focuses on research and Cal State system focuses more hands-on.
Thank you for you help!


The first thing you need to ask yourself is in what area of geological sciences you want to specialize.

At the BS level you are simply given tools.  You learn the principles of the various disciplines within the larger area of the science.  For instance any good program will require a year of Petrology and mineralogy.  A semester of paleontology, Sedimentology, geochemistry, structural geology, and stratigraphy as 300 level classes.  Sedimetary petrology, remote sensing, seismology, well log interpretation and a whole long list of other 400 and 500 level classs might be available to take as electives depending on the area or areas of specialization you want to pursue.

On the Masters level there is ever more specialization, and finally a thesis.  The thesis involves becoming an expert in a specific area and doing original research on the topic.  So you will become somewhat of a specialist in that area upon graduation.

The PhD level is even more of the same, or as they say, Piled Higher and Deeper.


So you need to do some soul searching and have a good idea of what it is that you want to do.

DO NOT just enroll into Grad school with no idea about what you want to do.  

A note here:   It takes a MS degree to get employed by any of the major oil companies or any of the larger environmental companies.  A BS makes you only a technician.  Most employers do not feel that a BS in geology prepares you for real problem solving.  That is the difference between a BS engineering degree and an BS in geology.  The MS work in researching your thesis teaches you the problem solving you need to learn: how to employ all those tools you learned at the BS level in solving real problems.

Next thing you need to do is sit down and calculate how much you will need to earn to live on your own, and see if you will be stepping into a deep hole that will prevent you from pursuing your dreams.

What I mean here is, if you graduate and become a teacher.  Will you be earning enough to pay rent, pay car insurance, a car loan, feed yourself, pay for utilities, and still have enough to take a vacation or put into savings.  Consider the cost of living, what a teacher makes to start etc.  The results might be surprising or a rude shock.  There is a reason that teachers are notorious bad tippers.  They don't make much.

Consider that geologists in the oil industry with a MS degree are making over $90,000 a year to start.  Environmental Geologists are lucky if they are making $60,000 to start and that area of employment is shrinking.   

Last year when I was interviewing applicants, I saw way too many BS environmental degrees and none of them had much hope of finding a job.  No one at the university bothered to tell them about the MS glass ceiling, something that has been firmly in place for the last 30 years or so.

Back to grad school.  First know what it is you want to study, THEN look for a school.  Not all professors offer the same knowledge and not all schools offer programs that can teach you what it is you want to learn on the graduate level.  Professors are mentors and educators at the graduate level.  If they do not know the particular subject matter you want or need to fulfill your career goals, go to a school that does.  

Do not let your professors under any circumstances "guide" you into a study area.  You will become their virtual indentured servant.  

You need to realize that a lot of professors are teaching because there is no paying employer willing to pay them to study what it is they want to study.  So they have to teach.  They are more than willing to lead unwary students down the same dead end road.  So tell them what it is YOU want to learn and if they cannot teach you that, go elsewhere.

I interviewed a young lady who did her MS in technology that was already 30 years old, and she was just now learning that no one was really using it any more in industry.  It was just something that her professor still did.  

You are paying for this, would you buy a mini van if what you really wanted was a sports car, simply because mini vans were for sale at a dealer closer to your home?  Don't pay for a truck with a camper if what you really want is a sports car with a sun roof.

So once you have decided what aspect of geology you want to spend the rest of your life working in, then look for schools that offer a good program, usually professors that are interested in the same thing, and are doing cutting edge work in those areas.

For instance, universities that have close ties to the oil and gas industry usually have good programs in oil and gas and get tons of money from Alumi for their geology departments.

California does a lot in Seismology, earthquake, not exploration, although Stanford has good programs.  Hawaii volcanology.  And so it goes.

Once you have chosen a subject, now do some homework and see if anyone besides a university or government agency will pay you do to it.  They are usually the lowest paying jobs, but do offer pensions.  The problem is you usually have to wait till someone dies or retires for an opening.

So you have more than a few questions to ask yourself and homework to do.

I personally just wandered into geology from history like a blind dog in a meat house.  I was incredibly lucky despite having complete idiots as my advisors.  No one told me about the MS glass ceiling, I just got my MS because I was presented with an opportunity that was just too good to pass up: full tuition in exchange for being a teaching assistant, plus $350 a month (back when rent was $150 or so, so I had a roommate.  I also had a business on the side that paid me more and only took two days every two weeks.

Good luck and let me know if you need any clarifications.  

Careers: Geology

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Keith Patton


Career and educational options open for fledgling geoscience students. What courses you should take to prepare for the current job market.


24 years experience in Petroleum, Environmental Consulting and geological and geophysical computer software development.


Registered Geologist in Texas
Certified mapping scientitst in RS

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