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A Career in Geology from A Geologist’s Perspective

Author: Trevor Nace

trevor_naceMy adventure with geology has taken me from Brazil to Tibet to Ireland, but it all started with an undergraduate wondering if he would ever find his calling. In a lot of ways, that is the reason I find myself writing this, in an attempt to guide young minds into the field that has constantly kept me excited and challenged. I hope to give you a sense of my experiences with geology, some tips and tricks to make it more fun, and career insights.

Whether you’re an undergraduate looking for a major, a professional looking for a career change, or someone interested in a side hobby, there are a lot of opportunities for both professional and amateur geologists to delve into the field with an inquisitive mind.

“No geologist worth anything is permanently bound to a desk or laboratory, but the charming notion that true science can only be based on unbiased observation of nature in the raw is mythology. Creative work, in geology and anywhere else, is interaction and synthesis: half-baked ideas from a bar room, rocks in the field, chains of thought from lonely walks, numbers squeezed from rocks in a laboratory, numbers from a calculator riveted to a desk, fancy equipment usually malfunctioning on expensive ships, cheap equipment in the human cranium, arguments before a road cut.” – Stephen Jay Gould

Geology is An Inquisitive Adventure

Geology is an inquisitive adventure meant to solve both the problems that we readily see and the problems that exist in scales beyond imagination. The undeniable trait of any geologist and scientist is that they are inquisitive.

Why is there an island in the middle of the ocean? Why are some regions dry and others wet? Why does it seem certain regions of the world are prone to earthquakes? These are all questions that geology can answer with the right set of tools and the right set of questions.

Oftentimes geology will lead you to amazing places to answer questions that span millennia. This was what originally drew me to the field. I’ve always been one to travel and enjoy experiencing new things in new places. Thankfully, much of the world’s geology will lead you to incredible places that are untouched by human interaction.

Tips From a Geologist

Geology and the tools to answer Earth’s riddles has evolved tremendously in the past several decades with advancements in mass spectrometry, to high powered climate models, to iPhone apps that allow you to see catalogs of minerals.

Below, I’ve provided the top 10 tips that I wish I knew when starting out my career to help me shape what I was to pursue and how to navigate a career in geology.

  1. Remain inquisitive and question everything.
  2. Build relationships with people you admire and help them help you. You will find that people love to be the “teacher” and will help you along your path if you help them.
  3. Develop an idea of what you want your lifestyle to be. Do you want to have a desk job? Do you want to be outside all day long? How much do you want to travel? Where do you want to live? How much money do you want to make? How much flexibility do you desire? How important is a work/life balance?
  4. Constantly strive for a career you’re passionate about. However, you must realize that oftentimes you must work through less than ideal situations to get to your goal. Don’t give up if you don’t find the perfect career or position from the start; view it as a stepping-stone to your next move.
  5. Take risks in your career, especially early if possible. When you’re young you typically have less responsibility and more time to make up for mistakes. Fail early and often so that by the time you have more at stake, you’re well on your way in the right direction.
  6. Travel and experience different cultures. Traveling will allow you the opportunity to view a different perspective on things and allow you to make relationships with people around the world. Many of my big life changing moments have happened while I’m travelling.
  7. Block off time in a busy schedule to think. Often times we find ourselves rushing to meet the next deadline and loose sight of stepping back to rethink our work. Take time to go on a walk, you’ll find clarity.
  8. Build your life around the notion that every day, on average, you do exactly what you want to do.
  9. If things start to feel like they’re getting a bit old or stale, find a new path or a new way to solve the problem or tackle the task. Change is good and often leads to great new ideas.
  10. Have fun with whatever you do. If you’re not having fun, find some way to change so that you are having fun.

What Is Success?

I spent a lot of time thinking about success and how I define success. It’s evident that the idea of success is different for different people, and you’ll find that most people identify with one of the following 5 types of success: wealth, fame, power, intellect, and emotional.

In choosing a career and many of the large choices in your life, it’s important to have in mind what are your primary success drivers and how can you leverage your decisions to help ensure success. A primary goal of mine, and my personal idea of success, is to do what I want on a daily basis. That’s not to say I currently only do what I want every day, but every day I work toward a life where I can do what I’m passionate about.

Make sure you build a life around your idea of success and don’t let hurdles get in the way. I hope that I’ve given you a glimpse of what a career in geology can be like, and I hope it has given you some thought as to where your future will head.