Economic geology is a subfield of geology that focuses on the minerals that are extracted for commercial and industrial use. The study of oil and gas is usually covered in this field along with minerals and ore deposits. A graduate program in economic geology gives students a thorough general education in geology in addition to the special focus on resource extraction.
Types of Degrees
Programs tend to offer a standard economic geology graduate degree, but students often do have some flexibility in their area of emphasis. Some examples of specialization include development geology, environmental geology and mining geology.
Some universities do not offer an economic geology graduate degree but do offer a more general degree (such as Geology or Geological Engineering) at the master's level which students can opt to specialize in economic geology and contribute to existing research programs at the university.
Both master's and PhD options in economic geology are available. Expect a PhD to take roughly twice as long to complete as a master's degree. Economic geology programs range in length from two semesters for the most concentrated master's programs to about two to three years to complete a PhD.
These programs directly cover mining operations such as mineral discovery and mine closure. More general geological material that is often covered includes structural geology, geological engineering, geohazards, depositional environments, geomorphology, seismology and groundwater modeling. Some coursework that is more specific to mining and extraction includes petroleum systems, mineral exploration design, and ore microscopy.
Economic geology graduate programs do tend to require a bachelor's degree as a condition of entry. Though it may not be required to be in any specific field, the program may expect students to have completed sufficient undergraduate geology or geophysics coursework to be able to understand the material.
Prospective students may be asked for letters of recommendation from previous professors, a statement of purpose, or a resume and CV. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is asked by some programs. Not all programs require students to take the GRE. International students may be asked to take the TOEFL and achieve a certain minimum score.
Economic geology graduates work as geologists. The two major branches are exploration geology, which involves living on-site at mines to locate deposits, and petroleum geology, which involves examining extracted rocks and minerals to determine where oil deposits might be.
Economic geology graduate students are often already employed in the minerals or fossil fuels industry and are looking to advance their careers to senior management positions. Major oil and gas companies tend to require that their geologists have a master's degree at minimum. Though it is not the only possibility among private employers, many oil companies have their exploration division headquartered in Houston, and mining jobs may require that one move to a mining area (such as rural Nevada or Alaska). Though private industry will be the largest source of employment, there are also options for graduates in government organizations and academia.
A master's degree is the most common graduate program for those interested in economic geology, as most of the work in this field is with private resource extraction companies. Doctoral options are available for students who would like to move into teaching and academic research. A number of universities offer a direct economic geology degree program, but more possibilities open up by looking for schools that have a more standard geology program but also have economic geologists on staff doing research there.