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Become a Volcanologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a volcanologist. Research about the education requirements, field experience and licensing you will need to start a career in the field of volcanology. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Volcanologist?

Volcanology is the study of volcanoes and how they affect the environment. Volcanologists also play a critical role in warning people when an eruption is imminent to help evacuate near-by towns. In the United States many volcanologists work for the U.S. Geological Survey or as professors at a university. To become a volcanologist a background in a variety of sciences is important to be able to study the land around a volcano, but geology courses are the most important.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Ph.D.; bachelor's to work as assistant or technician
Degree Field Geology or geoscience
Licensure and Certification Licensure sometimes required
Key Skills Communication, science, and computer skills; physical stamina and the ability to work/live outdoors for extended periods
Salary $89,700 (2015 median salary for geoscientists)

Sources: Oregon State University's Volcano World, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014).

To become a volcanologist, a Ph.D. in geology or geoscience is needed. However, individuals with a bachelor's degree may work as assistants or technicians. Licensure is sometimes required. Volcanologists need skills in communication, science, and computers, as well as stamina to hike long distances, and the ability to work and live outdoors for extended periods. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, geoscientists earned a median salary of $89,700.

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Steps to Become a Volcanologist

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Most volcanology careers require graduate degrees, but students must first earn undergraduate degrees in related fields, such as geology or geoscience. Bachelor's degree programs in geology may include courses such as igneous and metamorphic rocks, earth processes, sedimentary rocks, geological history, geophysics, and geochemistry.

Step 2: Acquire Field Experience

Volcanologists and geologists need field experience to enhance their knowledge. Some bachelor's programs require students to participate in field projects, such as documenting geological features or mapping geological formations. Universities may also have geology research projects that students can participate in as interns. Volcanoes are only located in certain places, so students interested in gaining research experience with volcanoes may have to travel to these locations.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that professionals with bachelor's degrees in geology can usually only work in entry-level research assistant positions. Running and organizing research projects requires individuals to obtain a graduate degree. In some cases, master's degrees in geology with concentrations in volcanology will suffice. However, individuals who hold doctoral degrees are often preferred.

Usually, students enroll in geology Ph.D. programs and then declare their focus in volcanology. Graduate students then choose coursework that relates to volcanoes, such as lava flows, disaster management, or explosive volcanism. Students must complete original research projects and write a dissertation to complete the program. Not all geology programs have research options in volcanology, so care should be taken when choosing a school.

Step 4: Look into Licensing Requirements

According to the BLS, since volcanologists often advise the public on whether volcanoes will erupt, they may be required to be licensed. License eligibility requirements may include possessing a certain level of education and work experience. License applicants may also have to pass written tests to earn licenses. Not all states require volcanologists to be licensed, so some professionals choose to earn certifications to prove their training and expertise.

Step 5: Continue to Learn

Employers look for individuals who are well informed in the field and possess a variety of skills needed to perform the job. After completing a Ph.D., individuals may pursue post-doctoral training to learn new skills in volcanology that were not emphasized in their graduate program, or delve further into topics related to their dissertation. No matter what the route an individual takes after completing a Ph.D., it is also important to stay up to date on volcanology research published in journals.

Aspiring volcanologists need graduate training, typically through a Ph.D. program in geology, with a focus on volcanology, though a master's degree may be sufficient. Additionally, licensure might be required depending on the state.

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