Geosciences Salaries Rising

A new studyfrom the American Geosciences Institute shows that salaries in Geoscience related jobs are up, way up in some occupations.

Researchers Leila M. Gonzales and Heather Houlton, a 2010 Purdue Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences masters graduate, averaged 2011 salaries of managers, architects, engineers and teachers in various fields and compared them withthose in the geosciences.

For example, the average scientist in the life, physical and social sciences made $59,000, according to the report, while geoscientists made $84,000 on average. Environmental scientists brought in $63,000 and hydrologists made $76,000.

“There is a very high demand for geoscientists,” stated Houlton, whose American Geosciences Institute office is located in Alexandria, Va. “Overall, there is a much higher demand for skilled geoscience professionals than we can supply. Thus, high salaries can be attributed to the function of market demand.“

Overall, the study found that geoscience-related management occupations were 24 to 32 percent higher than salaries for all management occupations while geoscience-related engineering occupations outpaced salaries for all architecture and engineering occupations by as much as 70 percent. Atmospheric and Space Scientists made 51 percent more than their life, physical and social science counterparts.

A graduate of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Houlton said geoscientists are needed everywhere, even Wall Street and Hollywood: “You need geoscientists who can evaluate the technical veracity of an investment but who can also communicate with the finance community so they can properly assess the risk and return of an investment. The market sets prices naturally, but we need the technical expertise of geoscientists to provide guidance and information if an investment opportunity isn't really what it appears. Another example is working in the entertainment industry — when science fiction TV shows or films are produced, they oftentimes hire geoscientists to help create believable and ‘realistic’ worlds for their sets. They also strive to include accurate scientific knowledge for the script.”

Other high profile — and good-paying — jobs that Houlton examined included meteorologists for the National Weather Service and various positions with oil and gas companies.

Houlton was happy to report that there are geosciences jobs out there but like many occupations, it’s a competitive field.

“It is highly competitive because new hires have to have the content knowledge, the experience and quantitative skills necessary to solve real world problems,” she said. “There is a great amount of ‘application’ in the geosciences. You have to take your content knowledge, your field skills — whether those are for field mapping, computer modeling or lab work — and your quantitative skills and apply them to create solutions that have not been developed before that solves very complex problems. Finding the quality of professionals who can effectively do this makes it competitive. Unfortunately, we are looking at a huge problem in meeting that demand.”

Houlton is seeing a lot of her fellow Purdue graduates out in the field. Although she graduated from Purdue in December 2010, she has already made contact with many other former Boilermakers in the professional world.

“Many of them have started their careers in the energy industry (oil and gas exploration and development), mining and mineral exploration or meteorology,” Houlton said. “Others are continuing on for advanced degrees, post-docs or academic positions. We are fortunate in our discipline that we have a small enough community where our paths cross frequently.”

Jon Harbor, head of Purdue’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences is encouraging students who enjoy using science and math to work on real-worldproblems to consider pursuing a Purdue degree in ‘Geology and Geophysics’ or in ‘Environmental Geosciences’:

“There are a lot of really enjoyable and rewarding jobs that are available for students with a degree in the geosciences – yet we don’t have enough students pursuing this field to meet the need in industry and business,” said Harbor. “This is a great time to be exploring exciting careers in the geosciences”

Bill Reid is a Purdue geosciences success story. Receiving his undergraduate degree in Geosciences in 1970 and then a graduate degree in Economic Geology in 1972,Reid founded Gold Resource Corporation in 2005. The $1 billion company, which can be found on the New York Stock Exchange (GORO), mines for gold and silver in Mexico and employs 600 workers but only 12 geologists.

Reid notes that there are a lot of opportunities for geologists.

“Getting geologists is very difficult today as the demand is greater than the supply,” Reid stated. “We could have more drills turning but we cannot get enough geologists.”

Soon after leaving Purdue, Reid founded U.S. Gold Corporation in 1977 before selling it to a Canadian miner in 2003. He is not surprised to see high salaries in geosciences jobs, considering how important they are today.

“Everything mankind has that gives us a standard of living must either be grown or mined,” Reid explained. “The population of the world is ever expanding and those in the less developed world want to have a higher standard of living, such as China. A higher standard of living only happens with more available resources: copper for electricity, gold and silver for electronics and cellphones. The populations of China and India have been driving the demand for resources. The mining industry is supplying this increased demand but the challenges are great. This includes the lack of geologists to meet the demand.”

Erica Erlanger is another young Purdue geologist who received her master’s degree in December 2010. She is currently working as a geomorphologist with the New York-basedgeophysical consulting company Underground Imaging Technologies. She agreesthat geoscientists must have a broad knowledge not only of science but of technology as well. She said her time at Purdue helped her attain that broad knowledge.

"I think Purdue's strong geophysics emphasis and research program prepared me well for my career," Erlanger said.

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