What’s a typical day like as a geologist? ‘A Day in the Life’ series from professionals for students

I’ve often been asked what my day is like as a geologist.  I usually ramble on and on about what I do, but I’ve never put it down in writing so students or anyone else interested could gain an understanding of my job.  So, I decided to write this blog to describe what my job is like, what my typical day is like, what’s fun, and what’s challenging, as well as to provide advice for students.

But then I got to thinking that since there are many diverse areas in geology, perhaps it would even be better if I could get other geology professionals to share their experiences too. So, after I post this blog, I will approach many of the professionals I’ve met through the years  and those I’ve connected with on LinkedIn and Twitter to see if they would be interested in being a guest on my blog to share information on their careers.  How cool would it be to learn about volcanologists, seismologists, hydrogeologists, paleontologists, geomorphologists, etc. all on the same blog?  I’ll have each professional answer the same series of questions I present below, and I’ll post them as I receive their responses.

So here goes.

Sandie Will, Geology Manager and Author

Sandie Will, Geology Manager and Author

NAME:  Sandie Will, P.G.

CURRENT TITLE:  Geohydrologic Data Manager/Professional Geologist

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Water Resource Management/Data Collection/Hydrogeology

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  16

EDUCATION:  B.S. Geology; M.S. Environmental Engineering Sciences

What’s my job like?

I am the manager of 15 personnel in a large water resource management agency and my staff includes Professional Geologists, hydrologists, field supervisors, drillers, driller assistants, technicians and a student intern.  Our goal is to have a comprehensive understanding of the groundwater system and to collect high quality data.

The section I manage collects geohydrologic data and our activities primarily include coring and testing to 3,000 feet below land surface, preparing well designs, overseeing well construction, performing aquifer testing, and repairing and plugging wells.  I am responsible for the successful operations of my programs, including a large, regional observation well network, as well as making sure the data we collect are reported to other scientists who use it for groundwater modeling and other analyses.

What’s a typical day like?

Core drilling rig - Photo by Sandie Will

Core drilling rig – Photo by Sandie Will

A typical day starts with driving approximately 40 minutes to my office where I will work closely with my boss, co-managers and staff that happen to be in the office.  Many of my staff members are based out of different offices, so I don’t see them every day.  I usually start my day with checking emails, where I receive the bulk of my assignments from upper management and receive notifications from staff on any administrative and technical issues or information.

Most of my day is spent on administrative tasks, problem solving, communicating our efforts to others, organizing, planning and evaluating Section processes, and developing employees.  Administrative tasks include approving time off requests from employees, reviewing budgets and expenditures such as for parts and supplies, and interviewing prospective employees.  Problems can be anything from mechanical issues with the rig to conflicting contractor schedules to determining the funding source for a new priority well site.  Communication on the status of our efforts to others is important and I do this by attending meetings, giving presentations, and making sure our technical reports and data are shared with others.   Future planning for upcoming well sites and needed budgets are also essential, and I continuously evaluate our processes and track our progress, making changes as needed to increase efficiency.   One of my favorite parts of my job is developing employees.  Whether it’s by coaching them on their presentation for the first time or providing them training opportunities, an employee’s success is one of my top priorities.

What’s fun?

Visiting the sites!  It’s very interesting to get behind the rig with the drillers to see the cores come out of the ground and all the fossils and the characteristics of the different rock types.  I also like to see when the geologists graph all the data together (lithology, aquifer testing, water levels, water quality, water discharge) to determine the depths where formation changes occur and whether a unit is a confining unit or an aquifer.  Other interesting field work includes seeing the water level changes through time plotted on graphs as the aquifer responds to pump tests to see how deep the drawdown will be, how quickly the water level will equilibrate while pumping, and how long water levels will take to return to normal once pumping is stopped.  All of this will give us an idea of how well aquifers will produce water if needed for future water supplies.

My favorite times are when staff gets together during the year for our staff meetings.  It’s fun to hear and share stories and work as a team to solve problems.

What’s challenging?

Life in the field can be hard and an ever changing industry with new rules to follow can make employees frustrated, so keeping employee morale up can be challenging sometimes, but I’m very fortunate to have a cooperative team of highly experienced individuals who make my job easy.   Keeping up with technical changes can be challenging also, but in a good way – it pushes us and makes us stronger.  We thrive when there’s a new challenge to conquer, keeping us on the cutting edge of technology and helping employees to advance in their careers.

What’s my advice to students?

The geology field is very interesting and rewarding, but be prepared to work long, hard days in conditions that can be challenging including thunderstorms and rain, extreme heat and cold, remote areas, downtown cities with high traffic, as well as with numerous critters including snakes, spiders, ants, etc. of all different varieties.  In addition, you could spend numerous days traveling throughout the month.  If you’re adventurous, though, this job will be right up your alley!  Depending on the industry, you could end up seeing numerous states and countries, as well as all different types of geologic settings.

A good technical understanding will be key for a new job, but just as important are communication skills.  Many times, when it comes down to two candidates for a job, the one with the better interpersonal skills will come out on top.  Show your passion for your work in interviews and always be open to change in your upcoming positions.  It comes with the territory!

Lots of luck on your future endeavors, and stay tuned for posts like this from other geology-related professionals in various industries.  If you’d like to hear from a particular type of geologist, just let me know in the comments below, and I’ll see what I can do.  If you are a professional, educator or student intern in the geology industry and would like to participate in this blog series, please fill out the contact form below.

Spread the word!  –Sandie

Leave a Reply

  1. Hi! Do you had any advice on how to get into the Petroleum industry? I am about to complete my masters in Exploration Petroleum Geoscience in the UK, and am going to graduate without any industry-relevant experience. Have you got any useful tips or contacts which I could talk to, in order to try and secure me a well paid and exciting position?
    Many thanks.

    • Hi Harneil and thanks for your comment! I do not have any information regarding the petroleum industry, unfortunately. I haven’t worked in that area of geology other than small gas stations as an environmental consultant. However, I know someone at work that has worked in the petroleum industry in the past, so let me ask him and I’ll let you know what he says. A lot of the major oil companies work out of Texas, so you might want to try Chevron, BP, etc. websites. I’ll get back with you. –Sandie

  2. Thanks Sandie! By the way, a very good blog. I really appreciate this. To establish future correspondence, you can PM via shooting me an e-mail or by facebook.
    Many thanks, Harneil.

    • Hi Harneil – just wanted to let you know that I spoke with the person I know who used to work in the oil industry, and he said that he started as a mud logger and thinks this is really good experience to start. He said you could also go the oil exploratory route if you have higher education and specialty such as computer modeling expertise. He is not sure how it would work with coming from another country, though. He hasn’t been in the industry in a long time, so that was all he could offer at this point. Good luck with your search!

      • Thank you so much Sandy!! It seems now, that it is getting harder to enter a well paid position without either having a couple of years experience or higher education. Thankfully I do have modelling experience with most of the better known industry software, but alas still no foot in the industry doorway. A mud logger’s prerequisite is a Bachelors in Geology in the UK, however I am looking for a more challenging job where there may be scope for a managerial role. I appreciate your help sincerely and will continue on my prospective endeavors, although I would love to keep in contact with you as there may be room for a professional relationship in the near future. Hit me up on LinkedIn and I will be sure to accept. And, you never know when we might just bump into each other at the next geological conference.
        -Harneil.

        • Sounds good – best of luck in finding a position you like. I’ll let you know if I hear anything further. Perhaps a petroleum geologist will post a guest blog in my “A Day in the Life” series and can assist too. Take care — Sandie

  3. I enjoyed reading this and I must say your job seems very intriguing. I started studying Geology but I switched to mechanical engineering because I like design and would like to work in that stream. I may end up working along side a geologist thou, maybe on a drilling rig….lol

    • Hi Stefan – glad you liked the post! Sounds like you’ll have an interesting career as well. If you ever work beside a rig/geologist, you’ll have to let me know how you liked the experience. Good luck with your studies!

  4. Thanks for the post. I am 3rd year student Geology/physics Double Major from Zambia. And I am inspired. A life of Adventure awaits me.

    • Welcome to a Rock-Head Sciences – thanks for visiting! Glad to hear you liked the post. That’s great news about your studies. I wish you lots of success in the future. Sandie

  5. Hello there, sry If I bother ya but I have many many questions:
    1.- Did ye ever had any trouble with following the teachers on any class?
    2.- How much are the drilling zones affected, is there any regulation or ye cut/chop/hit at will?
    3.- What topics did ye investigate at yer environmental M. S.?

    I have many more, but I don’t wanna overwhelm ya hehe. As a geology student I got in cause of the environmental part in the career, but after 4 semester I’m trying so hard to barely keep up with homework, not even academic research, much more less a part-time job.

    By this time I have only shown real interest on “Environment, development and Sustainability”.
    I like the career and I want to finish it, but I can’t keep up as fast as they ask me and the least thing that I wanna do after getting out is to bleed dry this EArth.

    Sry If I make no sense.

    • Hi Miguel – very good to hear from you! Here are the answers to your questions:

      1. Yes. It can be hard to visualize some of the 3D nature of some of the classes such as mineralogy and structural geology, but hang in there – it’ll make sense when you get to later classes. Geology degrees are multi-disciplinary. You’ll need a good background in chemistry, physics and calculus.
      2. We use a core rig to do exploratory studies and we obtain a permit from a regulatory agency before we start drilling. Once we are finished coring, the geologist decides what depths the wells will be installed to. Once the wells are installed, then we perform aquifer testing. We only drill at locations where data on water levels and water quality are needed for water resource management decisions. There are many facets though to drilling and for many purposes. Some drill wells to study contamination, for instance.
      3. For my M.S., I studied Water Resource Planning and Management. Classes included a mix of ecology, engineering and hydrogeology with emphasis on sustainability.

      Hope this helps! Good luck with your studies. Perhaps you want to reduce your course load if you’re having difficulty keeping up. The workload in college is definitely a lot, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Sandie

  6. Sandie Will Hello…….

    Nice to see you here….

    I wanna advice from your great experience how we can mitigate the problem of falling ground water level ……… We are facing a kind of problem in parts of India……….. and it may be observed in other parts of planet……….. can you suggest some wonder measures…….?

    Thanks for your ideas and welcome……

  7. Hi Rajesh – very nice to “meet” you. It’s difficult for me to answer your question without knowing many more details, but we too suffer from drought and declining water levels in the US. Reducing pumpage from production wells, conserving water, using reclaimed water and surface water as an offset to groundwater are used. We have also been exploring using aquifer recharge with treated reclaimed water in the coastal regions, but these studies are early on. We also have a desalination plant nearby which provides offsets. Sorry that I have no “wonder measures” for you. It’s a worldwide problem. I can provide some links to areas that are using aquifer recharge if you like. Some are using indirect recharge methods (such as using rapid infiltration basins) and some are using direct recharge (injection wells into aquifer of concern).

    Good luck and sorry to hear about the declining water levels in your country. Sandie

  8. Hello Sandie,
    I was researching which is one of the best things i love doing and i came across your profile.
    I am so happy to meet and read from a fellow woman doing what she loves to do.
    I have a Bachelors in Geology and also a certification in Drilling Fluids. I recently moved to the US – Oklahoma City to pursue my love in the Oil Industry. I am looking to become a Professional Geologists like you even though i havent done my Masters.
    The Current Oil industry and decline is not so enticing at the moment but i am staying persistent.
    Now Sandie i can only ask you for a favor as meeting helpful women in this career is the hardest. Please can you Mentor me. I want to become one of the best Geologists out there and add maximum Value to any company that hires me. I know my capabilities and my hardwork will definetly be beneficial to any company.
    I recently applied for a Geologist 1 position with Chesapeake Energy but i am staying hopeful.
    I want to learn everything and i know having an adventurous background will further help me in coping with any pressure from work.
    I am so passionate about the energy sector that when my Dad suggested i study Medicine in 12th grade i declined the offer and advice and went ahead to read my passion. Geology.
    Thank you for helping students and also intimating us about what the life in a typical day looks like.
    I havent decided on what aspect of geology for my masters but i know with my trainings and work when i get hired i will find my perfect fit.
    Please Sandie, i will appreciate your mentorship as i am a woman too trying to stand strong in a male dominated field. But guess what? I am strong and ready to achieve my dream.
    Please write me personally on Kelsonline7@yahoo.com and i will also look out for you on Linkedin.
    God bless you.
    Kelly

  9. Hello Sandie. My name is Scott from South Africa. I have just completed my BSc Degree in Geology and I am currently doing my Hons Degree specialising in Engineeringb Geology. Is it a good choice of specialisation? Based on career opportunities and remuneration.

    • I would say yes since I would think there would be a demand for geological engineers in your area and even if you wanted to relocate. My one advice is to make sure you pick an area of geology that fits the area you want to live in or travel to so it’ll be easier to find a job. Congrats on your Honors Degree and education path. Lots of success to you! Sandie

  10. Although I work as a geologist, hydrogeologist to be more specific, writing has been my passion. My stories are published in both print and online media. So, personally I find it exceptionally enriching as it often gives me the footage for my stories

  11. Hye Sandie. It was indeed a very brief blog, I wanted to know more about ur experiences. Geology has been my passion since 9th grade. And plate tectonics and oceanography for now has interested me a lot. So can you please let me know what one has to do to get into these lines. I am pursuing my 1st year Bachelor’s degree in Geology with Chemistry and Physics minors.

    • One more suggestion – you can also search keywords in the areas you are interested in at the top of the webpage in the search menu. For example, if you type “tectonics” any blog posts related to this discipline will be listed.

  12. Hi Smaranika – thanks for contacting me. I have several blog posts about my experiences under “My Blog” at the bottom of the website or under the Blog Directory that might be of interest for you. I just published a new blogs from an oceanographer and structural geologist you may be interested in on my homepage as well. Looks to me like the degree you are pursuing would work in any of the geology areas. I don’t work in the areas you are interested in, but you may want to leave comments on the scientists blogs in the “A Day in the GeoLife series and ask them for advice on this. You may want to consider specializing in these areas as part of a Master’s program. Good luck with your endeavors! Sandie

  13. Hi Sandie!
    Your website is amazing and truely inspiring for anyone interested in geology. As I am wanting to know basic knowledge on persuing a career in geology, I am curious what level of math is required to be successful in this field? I have studied up to basic calculus and find it difficllut to comprehend continuing the mathmatical studies further than that. Does that mean this isnt an ideal career choice for me? I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • Hi Kayte! Thank you for your feedback regarding the website. I’m glad you are finding it helpful!

      I think most college curriculums require Calc I & II for the degree. A good background in algebra is essential for these courses. I have seen many geology students struggle through math and still become outstanding geologists. I would not base your decision on math. I would base your decision on whether or not you like your geology classes. If you have a love for them, then I would suggest to go for it. Besides – you might surprise yourself. You may end up actually liking calculus. I did – especially Calc II. In the end, if you really don’t like the math, there are lots of areas in geology you can work without a math concentration. As long as you meet the requirements for graduation, you’ll be fine. Good luck and take care –Sandie

  14. Hi Sandie !
    Thank you very much for enlightening us with your wonderful blog where people become aware of what it is be a “Earth person”!
    I’m right now pursuing my Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering . I’ve always been keen in learning about earth , the way it works and to make it a better place for mankind to live in . life being adventurous and thrilling is something I seek in my life . exploring or knowing new makes me the happiest person and also make me feel young as day pass by .
    In an year i’ll be moving to the USA for my masters where now I’m in a dilemma to choose my track of life , as a engineer or as a geologist .my interest for both the fields are very high and I carry research work in the field I’m studying right now in an efficient way . its a bold move and I require your help that can a mechanical engineer make his mark in the field of geology ?
    Once again Thank you so much !!

    • Hi Saikumar – thank you for your message! Glad you are enjoying the blog. I think the best of both worlds for you would be to major in geologic engineering if the program is offered since, in my view, you will need the geology classes to support this discipline. I understand that colleges such as Colorado School of Mines offer these types of degrees and others in western US. Hope this helps and good luck! Sandie

  15. Hi Sandie,

    Thank you so much for your blog. I was wondering if you could give me a bit of advice. I am currently an elementary school teacher but am seeking to transition to a different career. When I think about my options, geology comes to my mind simply because I took a course in geology and absolutely loved it. I had never felt so passionate about a course subject before and unfortunately never pursued it any further. I plan on taking a few classes now to see if I am still interested, but I am a bit fearful of the change. Is this something I could pursue even though I don’t have much of a background in it? I also have a young daughter and plan on growing my family. Are there any areas in geology that would allow me to stay local and only travel a little bit? Are there many women in the field of geology? Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Cecilia – I had a similar situation. I took a physical geology course and really liked it to the point I kept thinking about it. I was working in the medical industry and had a 2 and 3 year old when I switched from a business major to a geology major. I was mainly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a job but I loved the curriculum. I was lucky enough to get a job in the environmental consulting industry but I did sacrifice time with my kids as I did have to travel at times. My husband and family were instrumental in helping with the boys. There are jobs in geology that do not require travel. What comes to mind is groundwater modeling or some other modeling and data management like a data analyst. Also you could try to find work with your local city or county government where travel is usually limited. Another idea is a GIS analyst. If you can, go on as many trips/fieldwork you can at college to build your resume. These are usually short and will give you field experience. Hope this helps. Lots of luck to you! Sandie

  16. Hi sandie…..
    Iam an under graduate geology student..a beginner…I need to study environmental geology…what are the fundamentals essential for a good environmentalist n what sort of things I must catch from my ug course….thank you

    • Hi Mahidev – you may find this book series helpful – it’s free – http://gotbooks.miracosta.edu. Make sure you have a good background in algebra, calculus, chemistry, physics and basic geology courses such as structural geology, mineralogy, sedimentology, hydrogeology, etc. It’s good to also take courses in GIS, statistics, geophysics and modeling. Go on as many field trips as you can. You could also follow websites like http://www.geology.com and geosociety.org. Not sure where you’re from, but you would want to start looking at the environmental protection agency’s webpage near you. If you’re on Twitter, start following the community of geologists on there and network with them. It will take a while to build the network, but it’ll be worth it. I’m @RockHeadScience on Twitter. Hope this helps! Sandie

  17. Hello Sandie.

    After graduating from a bachelor in Geology, I’m currently doing a Master in hydrogeology. But I’m starting to regret that choice, I’m missing everything about rocks, ductility, fold and more generaly : taking my hammer and doing real geology field work. I’m doing and internship (consulting engineering hydrogeologist) and the geology part is realy insignificant.

    So do you think that I should start my master again (but that’s already my second master and I’m old), or do you think that I sould continue this master in hydrogeology and try to find my way later in my career to maximise my work with geology ?

    Do you know anyone (included you of course, I read your story) who started with hydrogeology and became a geologist after some years of experiences.

    Thank you so much for your answer, and of course : excuse my bad english 😉

    George

    • Hi George – thank you for writing me. Perhaps continue your hydrogeology degree and take some extra classes in hard rock geology so you can say you have a minor in it? That way you’ll have the flexibility to go either way. I don’t know any geologists who started as a hydrogeologist and moved onto hard rock geology work, but I’m sure there are some out there. For me, I graduated with a strong hard rock geology degree, but ended up as a hydrogeologist. After working in it, I ended up taking a few more classes later to supplement my understanding of groundwater flow. Sounds like a hard decision ahead of you – good luck with whatever you choose! Sandie

    • Hi George – just came across your post. Mine is actually the other way round. My love for rocks, folds and stages of deformation drew me to do my M.Phil in ‘Structural
      Geology’ in crystalline rocks after my Master in Geology. I joined the profession as a hydrogeologist afterwards and have been working in the field for the last twenty-six years and enjoying my job immensely, especially during the exploration of ground water in crystalline formations as the knowledge of rock and structures play a highly significant role in delineating the fracture zones.

      Yes, hydrogeology per se doesn’t constitute very significant part of geology. But then, that’s whta it would be what once you specialise in certain aspect of the subject.

      I understand, this doesn’t answer your query, but perhaps at some level, might usher in some sense of clarity in chucking out your career plan in earth science.

      Thanks

  18. Hi , sandie , I am a bachelor geologist , your blog has inspired me to continue loving this amazing career, I am doing my thesis in landslides but I can not figure out, how to interact geology with investigation, is there any project example you can provide me .. thank you .

    • Hi Marc – so glad to hear you are enjoying the blog! Do you mean how to interact geology with landslide investigation, or interact geology with investigations in general such as contamination assessments?