Are you thinking of studying Geology?

Image shows the ripples and patterns in sandstone.

Geology is the study of the physical structure and substance of the Earth, giving an insight into the history of the Earth going all the way back to the formation of the solar system, and into the processes that are acting upon it even today.
It’s a subject that is surprisingly relevant and important for a wide range of exciting careers, from the oil industry to earthquake safety. Geologists and other geoscientists are in demand; there is a shortage of their particular skills. Studying geology also sets you on a path that enables you to make a difference throughout your career, whether in combatting the effects of climate change, maximising water supplies or mitigating the impact of flooding.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a not-to-scale view of Jupiter and one of its moons, Ganymede.
You might look at the geology of planets and moons other than Earth.

Geology is a more focused subject than some related subjects like Geography and Environmental Science, but it still covers a broad range of subjects. Aside from picking up specific skills like research skills and mapping, you might expect to cover:

  • Earth materials: this looks at the minerals, rocks and soil that the Earth is made of.
  • Geochemistry: this is the chemistry behind the major geological systems of Earth.
  • Planetary science: this is, unsurprisingly, the scientific study of planets – not just the Earth.
  • Petrology: this looks at the origin, composition, structure and distribution of rocks.
  • Earth structure and plate tectonics: this looks at the structure of the Earth and the motions of the Earth’s lithosphere, which is important for volcanoes, earthquakes and continental drift.
  • Climate, atmosphere and oceans: not all of Geology is concerned with rocks!
  • Palaeobiology and evolution: this combines biology with paleontology and shows one of the interdisciplinary directions in which Geology can be taken.

What do I need for a Geology degree?

Image shows a marked piece of Maths work.
Don’t throw away your Maths notes just yet.

As far as A-levels are concerned, Geography is absolutely essential. Many universities will also require you to take one or two of Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geology. Geology isn’t compulsory, though, as only a minority of schools teach it. As this list shows, a scientific mindset is required. Many university courses incorporate modules such as ‘Mathematics for Science Students’ or ‘Physics for Earth Scientists’ – so while it’s not a problem if you don’t want to take these subjects at A-level, you won’t be able to avoid them entirely.
Geology is a practical, analytical subject that suits people who are keen to acquire knowledge through research and deduction. You’ll need to have a high tolerance for getting outside in the cold and the mud, too, as field trips are a vital component of studying Geology.

What skills will I acquire?

Geology graduates gain lots of solid scientific skills and abilities, both in fieldwork and in laboratory experiments. These will include skills in data collection, analysis and interpretation, as well as how data is processed and presented. You’ll gain presentation and report-writing skills, as well as the standard skills in academic writing, self-motivation and time management that can be expected of almost all graduates.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Image shows the beach in Cyprus.
Cyprus is a popular fieldwork destination for Geology students.

Fieldwork is a vital part of any Geology degree, so not only will you get to travel, you’ll have to – so prospective geologists should budget accordingly. Most British universities keep field trips within the UK for the first couple of years, and then in your third or fourth year, you can choose whether you want to go abroad or not.
There is a range of possible destinations – Leicester, for instance, takes students to Spain, Sicily or Tenerife, whereas both Southampton and Exeter opt for Cyprus, which lies on the southern margin of the Anatolian Plate, where it is in collision with the African plate – something that makes it highly interesting to geologists. Special projects might take you even further afield: a group of geology students from Swansea, for instance, recently carried out a project on the Colorado Plateau.

What careers are possible with a Geology degree?

As there is a shortage of qualified geologists, Geology graduates stand a good chance of entering professions directly related to their degree, which can range from the groundwater industry to oil, gas and petroleum companies to the construction industry. Environmental engineering and geological surveying are among the roles to which Geology graduates are particularly suited. You might be employed by anyone from BP to the British Geological Survey. Geologists also stand a good chance of gaining employment overseas, if travelling appeals to you.

Related degrees

Image shows the USA lit up at night.
If you’re as interested in the effects of humans on the planet, you might want to consider studying Geography.

If you’re considering study Geology, you might find these other subjects are also of interest:

  • Geography – if you want to study a broader field that incorporates some Geology, but that also covers a range of things as broad as political systems and soil use. There are degrees that focus solely on Physical Geography if you want a slightly broader focus than Geology, but without expanding into Human Geography.
  • Environmental Science – similarly to Geography, but with a more strictly scientific focus, Environmental Science is a broad and interdisciplinary field that also includes some study of Geology.
  • Physics – if you’re interested less in the hands-on, practical, fieldwork aspects of Geology, you might prefer a more theory- and lab-based science like Physics or Chemistry.

A final thought on Geology

Geology has a lot to recommend it for a prospective university student, particularly at the moment with its healthy career prospects. For those who enjoy travel, getting outdoors regardless of the weather and close, analytical assessment of data, Geology not only provides that for three or four years of your degree, but also offers you the potential to carry on using much the same skills and enjoying much the same perks for a viable long-term career – which is not something that can be said of very many university subjects.

Image credits: banner; Jupiter; Maths; Cyprus; USA at night