Kaimātai Aro Whenua
Geologists study Earth processes, such as earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, to predict future events. They also advise on natural hazards and how to develop or use the Earth's land and resources.
New geologists usually earn
$65K-$75K per year
Senior geologists usually earn
$120K-$180K per year
Source: GNS Science, 2021.
Pay for geologists varies depending on qualifications and experience.
- Graduate geologists usually start on $65,000 to $75,000 a year.
- Mid-level geologists usually earn $85,000 to $120,000.
- Senior geologists who lead groups of scientists on projects can earn $120,000 to $180,000.
Geologists working in the private sector may earn more than this.
Source: GNS Science, 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Geologists may do some or all of the following:
- study the Earth's structure and processes such as how soils, rocks and faults form
- collect, examine and analyse rocks, minerals and fossils
- give advice and write reports on managing land effectively, resource management and risk of natural hazards such as landslides
- survey the land and seabed to help prepare geological maps
- draw maps using specialist computer software
- carry out geological research to locate natural resources such as minerals and groundwater
- monitor and investigate changing climate conditions
- monitor the geotechnical conditions of mine sites
- write up research results and present findings
- teach at universities.
Skills and knowledge
Geologists need to have knowledge of:
- the processes (such as volcanic eruptions) that shape the Earth, and how rocks and fossils are formed
- how to identify and analyse geological samples and materials
- research methods and how to analyse the results of their studies
- how to perform experiments and operate scientific equipment
- how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – tools for capturing, storing and analysing geographic data
- how to use computer-based models to understand real-world events.
Geologists in mining need to know how a mine operates, how to locate mineral deposits, how to extract rock or mineral, and how to manage a drilling programme.
Data skills are becoming increasingly valued in geology. I grew a lot of my computer and statistical skills working for a private company.
- often work regular business hours, but may work irregular hours at mine sites
- work in a range of places, including offices, laboratories and mine sites
- may work underground in dark, dirty and enclosed conditions
- may spend time travelling to worksites in New Zealand or overseas.
What's the job really like?
Dr Georgia Grant
Learning about rising sea levels
Geologist Dr Georgia Grant says learning about climate change has become her passion.
"I discovered a new method of understanding past sea level change in New Zealand by studying how changes in the Whanganui Basin related to loss of ice in Antarctica."
This earned Georgia the Royal Society’s Hatherton Award in 2020 for best research by a PhD student.
Geology – a move away from fossil fuels
"From a young age I was interested in the natural world and its history," says Georgia.
"And I liked how geology was becoming less about oil and gas mining and more about how the Earth changes over millions of years. You’re often putting pieces of the puzzle together from fossils and marine sediments and developing a conclusion."
Working on many climate change projects
"I’m involved in six climate projects, as there’s funding available for early career scientists in this area. In one project I’m looking at how climate change affects flooding in the Hauraki Gulf, and in another, I’m working with iwi to see how land use has impacted the health of the harbour."
Georgia aims to do more coastal hazards work in the future. "Before we build sea walls, for example, we need to understand what’s happening to the land in the long term because of changing sea levels and tectonics [processes that control the Earth's crust]."
Shannon James talks about being a geologist – 2.16 mins. (Video courtesy of Te Puni Kōkiri)
I’ve always kind of wanted to do something in science but that’s relevant and practical, relate it back to sources of power and heat for residents in Rotorua and that’s what I kind of, we learnt briefly about it in high school and it kind of spiked my passion. What I was worried about was trying to keep up with the workload and if I was capable of pursuing it I suppose. Being a minority was another thing I was a bit worried about. If you just find the people in your classes that you feel comfortable with working with and who you relate to then it makes everything heaps easier.
We get a lot of people – other scientists who kind of think that Earth science isn’t really a science but it is a science 'cause we learn, like exactly the same but in practical ways rather than just theory. We went to a farm where there were cows just falling to the ground and no one knew why. We just did tests on the soil then we used chemistry and physics and kind of found out what was the deficiency and what the problem was that was causing these cows to kind of just drop, and it was good to apply the knowledge that you learn in class to actual practical field stuff.
We learnt that our peak oil is going to reach the peak in 2015 which is not so far, and that’s going to affect the way in which we live. We also learn about water and when well, when the purity of water is going to start declining and what sources we’re going to use then, and you wonder why you don’t hear about this sort of stuff more often and why they don’t, why they don’t tell us what’s happening around us.
Considering that you’d think it would be a huge topic for Māori students to get into 'cause it’s Earth-related and it’s about the environment and stuff, but there’s really not that many – in my class there’s three of us. There’s I guess so many opportunities, like you can travel with this sort of thing, like if you do volcanology there’s a worldwide sort of thing.
If I was to talk to someone who was interested about Earth science I’d just say to pursue it because it’s an awesome, awesome, awesome subject and you learn so much.
To become a geologist you need to have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in geology, or a related degree in engineering geology, environmental geoscience, or Earth science.
A PhD is preferred for research roles in Crown research institutes and universities.
- University of Canterbury website - Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in geology
- University of Otago website - Bachelor of Science (BSc) in geology
- Victoria University of Wellington website - Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in geology
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include maths, physics, biology, chemistry, geography and English.
Geologists need to be:
- patient and observant
- motivated and methodical
- good at maths and able to solve problems
- good at planning and organising
- skilled communicators for writing reports and other publications.
Useful experience for geologists includes:
- computer-coding skills
- work in electronics
- work as a geological field assistant or science technician
- any practical fieldwork.
Geologists need to be reasonably fit and healthy for fieldwork. Those working in underground mines need to be able to work in confined spaces.
Find out more about training
- Engineering New Zealand
- (04) 473 9444 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.engineeringnz.org
- GNS Science
- (04) 570 1444 - www.gns.cri.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Climate change and environment focus for geologists
Opportunities for geologists working to protect the environment are growing steadily. This is because the main focus of geology has changed from extracting oil, gas and minerals to managing natural hazards and monitoring human impacts on the environment.
Environmental geologists do a range of work, including:
- using computer modelling to increase understanding of the natural world
- developing New Zealand's geothermal energy resources
- locating water sources as droughts increase
- dealing with pollution and waste disposal.
According to the Census, 852 geologists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Increase your chances of finding geology work
Qualifications and experience in engineering geology, hydrogeology, and geothermal geology are particularly useful for environmental work. If you are studying geology, it’s useful to consider doing a joint degree in subjects such as geography, environmental science, business or finance.
As a geology graduate you can increase your chances of finding work by:
- getting work experience during your training and having employers supervise your research
- having your research published in peer-reviewed publications
- building your network of contacts by attending and presenting at conferences
- having good technical skills and being able to operate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) equipment
- being adaptable – for example, taking an entry-level role as a technician.
Geologists can apply for postgraduate scholarships, internships and summer scholarships at research organisations such as GNS Science.
Crown research institutes main employers of geologists
Most geologists work for Crown research institutes such as:
- GNS Science, the largest employer of geologists
- National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
- Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
Geologists may also work for:
- consultancies and private companies, including engineering firms and mining and drilling companies
- local authorities such as regional and city councils
- universities, as teachers and lecturers.
- Hillman, J, marine geologist/geophysicist, GNS Science, careers.govt.nz interview, January 2021.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupation Outlook: Scientists', accessed January 2021, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Geologists may specialise in:
- engineering – designing and developing mines, and finding the best way to extract metal or minerals
- mining – analysing geological data to locate new mineral resources, and advise on mine production plans
- environmental geology – helping to prevent contamination of soil and groundwater
- volcanology – studying how volcanoes form and erupt
- marine geology – studying hazards (such as earthquakes) and their effects on coastal areas, ocean resources, and coastal and marine ecosystems
- paleontology – using fossil remains to understand extinct and living organisms, and their environment.
Last updated 6 April 2021