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Engineering geologist: job description

Engineering geologist: job description

Engineering geologists undertake technical and scientific analysis of rock, soil, groundwater and other conditions to determine the likely impact that major construction developments will have on sites.
Engineering geology is a niche profession, but employers include engineering and construction companies.

What does an engineering geologist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Engineering geologists are responsible for identifying the geological factors that could affect construction projects. They analyse ground materials to assess their risk factors and advise on the best procedures for developments and the suitability of construction materials.

Engineering geologists have a similar job function to geotechnical engineers and some who study engineering geology go on to be geotechnical engineers. However, geotechnical engineering can arguably be seen as a specialism of civil engineering; engineering geologists, meanwhile, are first and foremost geologists who apply geological principles to construction works to determine where certain kinds of earth materials occur. It’s a grey area, though, and geological professionals often debate the definitions between themselves. If engineering geologists work for an engineering consultanciy, they will usually be working in the same team as geotechnical engineers and that team is often called ‘geotechnical’ or ‘ground engineering’.

Typical responsibilities of the engineering geologist include:

  • collecting, analysing and interpreting data
  • accessing, using and analysing site information (such as radar images, aerial photographs, reports and geological maps) prior to site investigations
  • planning, organising and undertaking field work/site investigations by creating boreholes and trial pits
  • preparing reports
  • providing advice and information to clients on a range of issues including, for example, proposed use, subsidence and construction materials
  • assessing and minimising the risks of man-made and natural hazards in the environment
  • ensuring that projects keep to budgets and timescales
  • managing and liaising with construction engineers, consultants, contractors and geotechnical engineers
  • when more senior, managing projects and setting objectives

Engineering geologists could specialise in natural hazards, hydrogeology, rock mechanics, petrology and geochemistry – to name but a few specialist areas.

Engineering geologists tend to split their time between office and sites: office hours are typical, but site work can involve longer days.

Typical employers of engineering geologists

  • Engineering and construction companies: contractors and consultants
  • Mining companies
  • Specialist environmental and geotechnical consultancies
  • Local authorities
  • The military

Vacancies are typically advertised by university careers services, specialist recruitment agencies, occasionally on TARGETjobs, in national newspapers and publications such as TARGETjobs Engineering, New Civil Engineer, Geoscientist and Ground Engineering.

It’s a niche career area and so sending speculative applications for both graduate roles and work experience is advisable – the British Geotechnical Association maintains a list of geotechnical services consultancy firms that may provide useful contact information. Read our advice feature on how to write a speculative application.

Qualifications and training required

A career in engineering geology is only open to those with a relevant degree. Subjects include geology, geography, geophysics/geotechnology, civil engineering, physics, engineering geology and mining/mineral engineering. However, many graduates also have a masters or a doctorate in a subject such as engineering geology, geotechnical engineers, soil mechanics or rock mechanics – and some employers prefer or require a postgraduate qualification.

Graduates can obtain fellowship membership of the Geological Society of London by having an accredited undergraduate geoscience degree or by gaining several years of relevant experience. With appropriate professional development and experience it is possible to obtain chartered geologist status.

Key skills for engineering geologists

  • The ability to adapt to different working conditions and things changing
  • Teamworking and communication skills
  • The ability to analyse and interpret data
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem solving
  • Time management
  • Enjoying working out of doors as well as in an office

Also: because of travelling to site, a full driving licence is often required or preferred.

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