It’s a good time to be a geology major.
Graduates in the field are facing lucrative opportunities as they enter the job market, thanks to record metals and oil prices. The average pay for a petroleum geologist with two years experience or less has risen about 60 percent in the past eight years.
“This year it’s just booming,” said Peter Isaacson, professor of geological sciences at the University of Idaho. “It’s really going great guns.”
Students in Isaacson’s programs – some of whom will graduate today – can choose among jobs and salaries that would make many other graduates salivate. Some students may get signing bonuses.
“We simply cannot provide enough graduates to meet industry demand,” Isaacson said. “Bachelor of science graduates are being snapped up. I’ve never seen this before in my career. Currently, new hires are starting with salaries ranging from $80,000 to $140,000, depending on the degree.”
The average salary for new petroleum geologists has climbed above $80,000, according to a survey by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Salaries are similar in the mining industry.
Judd Case, dean of the college of science, health and engineering at Eastern Washington University, said the job market is drawing more students to the field. EWU is also resurrecting a master’s program in geology because of the growing demand.
Case said mining has been the bigger career opportunity for EWU graduates, though he expects to see increased interest from oil companies.
“There’s lots of opportunities,” he said. “The mining industry’s snapping up our students at a high rate.”
The boom times have shown up in other places, too. EWU offers a three-day certification course in mining safety. For years it drew 20 to 30 students – typically mine workers who want to further their careers.
“It more than doubled last year and doubled again this year,” Case said.
Christina Bader, a graduate student in geology at UI, has interviewed with ExxonMobil for a possible job – though she’s not sure whether she’d accept it, because most oil jobs start in Houston and she doesn’t want to live in a big city.
“If you’re young and ambitious and want to get a good job that pays well, you’re going to get shipped to Houston to start,” she said.
Bader may decide to continue her graduate work instead, pursuing a doctorate in Alaska, studying the geology of natural disasters like volcanic eruptions. But she and her fellow students have options.
“They need people,” she said. “They really do. They’re exploring everywhere, all over the planet, for oil.”