Kaimātai Aro Whenua
Geologists study the structure and history of the Earth and Earth processes. They also advise on natural hazards and the development and use of the Earth's land and resources.
New geologists usually earn
$55K-$75K per year
Senior geologists with experience usually earn
$75K-$130K per year
Source: GNS Science, 2017.
Pay for geologists working in government research organisations and universities varies depending on qualifications and experience.
- New geologists can earn $55,000 to $75,000 a year.
- Senior geologists with responsibility and experience can earn $75,000 to $130,000 or more.
Geologists working in the private sector may earn more than this.
Source: GNS Science, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Geologists may do some or all of the following:
- study the Earth's structure and processes such as the formation of soils, rocks and faults
- collect, examine and analyse rocks, minerals and fossils
- carry out geological research to locate oil, natural gas, water and minerals
- monitor the geotechnical conditions of mine sites
- survey the land and seabed to help prepare geological maps
- draw maps using specialist computer software
- give advice and write reports on land use, resource management and risk of natural hazards such as landslides
- write up research results
- teach at universities.
Skills and knowledge
Geologists need to have knowledge of:
- the processes that shape the Earth, and the formation of rocks and fossils
- how to identify and analyse geological samples and materials
- research methods and how to analyse the results of their studies
- how to perform experiments and operate scientific equipment such as a geographic information system (GIS), a tool for capturing, storing and analysing geographic data.
Geologists working in mining need to know how a mine operates, how to extract the desired rock or mineral, and how to manage a drilling programme.
- often work regular hours in research institutes, universities and councils, but may work irregular hours on mine sites
- work in a range of places, including offices, laboratories and isolated mine sites, and underground in dark, dirty and cramped conditions
- may spend time travelling to worksites in New Zealand or overseas.
What's the job really like?
David Hadley’s work as a geologist has taken him around the world.
“A development opportunity came up to go to Venezuela and I decided to give it a go.”
A love of field trips lead to a career in geology
David’s love of geology from an early age meant a career in science was on the cards. “I loved geology and doing field trips. Also, I was good at maths and physics.”
He graduated with a PhD in geological sciences and got in touch with some contacts working in the oil industry that he’d met during his university days.
Opportunities open up around the world
Since then doors opened for David and he worked in Venezuela and Brunei for different oil companies before being transferred to Taranaki with his family, to work as a production geologist.
“I look at ways of getting oil and gas out of an existing oil field as economically as possible. It’s mainly an office-based job and involves making computer-based models of the oil fields.”
David says the oil industry has given him and his family many chances to explore the world. “If you’re interested in travel and science, then this is a great job to be in.”
Shannon James talks about geology - 2.16 mins. (Video courtesy of Te Puni Kōkiri - for more videos go to www.maorifuturemakers.com)
I’ve always kind of wanted to do something in science but that’s relevant and practical, relate it back to sources of power and heat for residents in Rotorua and that’s what I kind of, we learnt briefly about it in high school and it kind of spiked my passion. What I was worried about was trying to keep up with the workload and if I was capable of pursuing it I suppose, being a minority was another thing I was a bit worried about, if you just find the people in your classes that you feel comfortable with working with and who you relate to then it makes everything heaps easier.
We get a lot of people - other scientists who kind of think that earth science isn’t really a science but it is a science cause we learn, like exactly the same but in practical ways rather than just theory. We went to a farm where there were cows just falling to the ground and no one knew why, we just did tests on the soil then we used like chemistry and physics and kind of found out what was the deficiency and what the problem was that was causing these cows to kind of just drop, and it was good to apply the knowledge that you learn in class to actual practical field stuff.
We learnt that our peak oil is going to reach the peak in like 2015 which is like not so far, and that’s going to affect the way in which we live. We also learn about water and when well, when the purity of water is going to start declining and what sources we’re going to use then, and you wonder why you don’t hear about this sort of stuff more often and why they kinda don’t, why they don’t kinda tell us what’s happening around us.
Considering that you’d think it would be a huge topic for Māori students to get into cause it’s earth related and it’s about the environment and stuff, but there’s really not that many, in my class there’s three of us. There’s I guess so many opportunities like you can travel with this sort of thing, like if you do volcanology there’s a worldwide sort of thing.
If I was to talk to someone who was interested about earth science I’d just say to pursue it because it’s an awesome, awesome, awesome subject and you learn so much.
To become a geologist you need to have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in geology or engineering geology. A PhD is preferred for research roles in Crown research institutes and universities.
- University of Canterbury website - information about the Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in geology
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Science (BSc) in geology
- Victoria University of Wellington website - Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in geology
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include maths, physics, biology, chemistry, geography and English.
Geologists need to be:
- patient and observant, and enjoy working outside
- motivated and methodical
- good at maths and able to solve problems
- good at planning and organising
- skilled communicators for writing reports and other publications.
Geologists need to be reasonably fit and healthy for fieldwork. Those working in underground mines should not be claustrophobic.
Find out more about training
- GNS Science
- (04) 570 1444 - www.gns.cri.nz
- Engineering New Zealand
- (04) 473 9444 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.engineeringnz.org
What are the chances of getting a job?
Job opportunities for geologists are changing from traditional roles in oil, gas and mineral exploration to a focus on managing natural hazards and monitoring human impacts on the environment. The global downturn in prices for oil and iron ore means there are fewer work possibilities in that field.
According to the Census, 852 geologists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Climate change and environment best focus for geologists
Opportunities are increasing for geologists working on the impact of climate change and other environmental issues, such as:
- developing New Zealand's large geothermal energy resources
- locating water sources as droughts increase
- environmental and resource planning and monitoring
- dealing with pollution and waste disposal
- assessing natural hazards and risk.
Qualifications and experience in engineering geology, hydrogeology, and geothermal geology are particularly useful for environmental work. Geology students could consider doing a joint degree in subjects such as geography, environmental science, business and finance.
Increase your chances of finding work
As a geology graduate you can increase your chances of finding work by:
- getting work experience in your geological field of interest during your degree training
- building your network of contacts by attending and presenting at conferences
- planning how your research could be of value to employers and getting their support and supervision
- having good IT skills for operating GIS equipment
- publication of research work in peer-reviewed publications
- keeping your options open and being flexible, for example, taking an entry-level role as a technician.
Geologists can apply for postgraduate scholarships, internships and summer scholarships at research organisations such as GNS Science.
Most geologists work for Crown research institutes
Crown research institutes that geologists work for include:
- GNS Science, the largest employer of geologists
- National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
- Landcare Research.
Geologists may also work for:
- consultancies and private companies, including engineering firms and mining and drilling companies
- local authorities such as regional and city councils
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Scientists' Occupation Outlook', 2017, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- Smillie, R, head of department regional geology, GNS Science, Careers New Zealand interview, March 2017.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Geologists may specialise in:
- environmental geology
- volcanology (the study of volcanoes)
- marine geology
Last updated 16 September 2020