Exploration geologist: job description

Exploration geologists use geophysical techniques, such as seismic and electromagnetic methods, to forecast where mineral deposits may be located for extraction purposes.

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Although there are a small number of UK-based companies working in this area (predominantly within North Sea oil and gas extraction), most opportunities arise overseas.

What do exploration geologists do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Exploration geologists are responsible for identifying and assessing the location, quantity and quality of mineral deposits. Their work can be office based, although fieldwork is necessary to collect and test site/borehole samples.

Typical duties include:

  • investigating the structure and evolution of the earth and its natural resources
  • planning programmes for exploration of sites for oil, gas, water, minerals, etc
  • surveying and mapping geologically promising sites
  • collecting and recording samples and data from test sites
  • analysing geological data using specialist computer applications
  • ascertaining extraction risks
  • preparing reports
  • advising managerial, technical and engineering staff on the development of reserves

Absence from home for long periods of time is common as international work is often necessary. Long hours, shift and weekend work are also regularly required.

Typical employers

Exploration geologists are typically employed by organisations working within the minerals extraction industry, oil companies, contractors, the British Geological Survey (part of the National Environment Research Council) and consultancies. Some exploration geologists may work as self-employed consultants.

Although there are a small number of UK-based companies working in this area (predominantly within North Sea oil and gas extraction), most opportunities arise overseas.

There is strong competition for vacancies, so relevant geological experience gained via vacation placements or working in junior positions can be useful. Jobs are advertised in national newspapers, online and by careers services and specialist recruitment agencies. Useful websites for information include The Geological Society and The Geologist's Directory.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

To become an exploration geologist, you must have a degree in a relevant subject such as geology, geophysics, geosciences or earth science. Some employers also expect a relevant postgraduate qualification in a specific area of geology or geoscience, such as hydrogeology or petroleum geoscience. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

The job carries a high level of responsibility, as the employee must ensure the accuracy of forecasts – initiating extraction processes is often very expensive and mistakes can be costly. Consequently, training is an important feature of the job. Once you have sufficient qualifications and experience, you can apply for chartered geologist status with the Geological Society. This provides opportunities for continuing professional development and will help to keep your knowledge up to date.

Key skills for exploration geologists

  • Knowledge of a range of sciences and their applications
  • Ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers
  • Good organisational skills
  • Computer literacy and the ability to analyse numerical and graphical data
  • Good written and verbal communication skills

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