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Geophysicist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 23, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a geophysicist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

Geophysicists are scientists who study the Earth's physical properties, which is essential for a number of industries. They need at least a bachelor's degree, but graduate level studies are required for many jobs.

Essential Information

Geophysicists are specialized scientists who study the Earth's physical properties. They typically do field and lab work for private companies in the engineering and oil industries, governmental geological surveys or environmental protection groups. A master's degree in geophysics, geoscience or a similar field is the recommended education for geophysicists, though some entry-level positions may be attainable with a bachelor's degree. Research and teaching positions require a Ph.D. Computer skills are increasingly important for geophysicists.

Required Education Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree or Ph.D. needed for some positions
Other Requirements Computer skills, particularly in mapping, modeling and GIS/GPS; fieldwork experience
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% for geoscientists (except hydrologists and geographers)
Median Salary (2018)* $91,130 for geoscientists (except hydrologists and geographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Geophysicist Job Description and Duties

Geophysicists are scientists who use physics, chemistry, geology and advanced mathematics to study the Earth and its composition, including its atmosphere, internal make-up, oceans and electrical and other fields. Some geophysicists may specialize their study in areas like the Earth's magnetic and gravitational fields, planetary movement and seismic activity.

Using sophisticated instruments and research methods, a geophysicist may help locate natural resources like groundwater or petroleum. Others assist with environmental preservation and protection. Many geophysicists, like those that specialize in seismic activities, develop methods and techniques for earthquake monitoring and prediction. Geophysicists may be required to do extensive field research in remote areas or foreign countries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2018, most geophysicists were employed in the architectural and engineering industry and the oil and gas extraction industry. State government geological surveys also frequently hire geophysicists, as does the federal Department of Interior's U.S. Geological Survey.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

Based on May 2018 reports from the BLS, geoscientists, including geophysicists, earned a median annual salary of $91,130. PayScale.com reported salary data for geophysicists specifically in September 2019; the salary range for most geophysicists at that time was $48,623 - $172,518.

The BLS also reports that the number of jobs for geoscientists is expected to increase by 6% between 2018 and 2028.

Education and Career Requirements

According to the BLS, job opportunities should be best for individuals with a master's degree in geophysics or a related area. To obtain this degree, the student must first complete four years of undergraduate study, typically majoring in a natural science and then complete a master's degree program in 2-3 years. Many universities offer bachelor's and graduate degrees in the geosciences, emphasizing courses in geological topics like structural geology or mineralogy, in addition to chemistry, physics, mathematics or engineering.

The BLS also reports that computer skills, such as experience with global positioning systems (GPS), data analysis, digital mapping and other forms of computer modeling, are essential for aspiring geophysicists. Employers also prefer the candidate have some prior experience with fieldwork.

An aspiring geophysicist should have a bachelor's degree with a solid background in science, geology and math, and preferably a master's degree for the best job prospects. Geophysicists can work for the government, for non-profits and environmental protection, for the oil and gas industry, and even teach or conduct research. Some of these positions require a master's degree or Ph.D, and computer and GPS skills are increasingly important in this field.

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