Careers in Geoscience: Government

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Careers in Geoscience: Government

All state governments in Australia maintain geoscientific organisations (GSOs—generally referred to as Geological Surveys) that provide technical support to industry and government. To support exploration in the mineral, coal, coal seam gas, petroleum and gas, and extractive resource industries, the GSOs acquire, collate and interpret geoscientific data and make it publicly available through publications, maps and digital data products. This data is acquired through surveys, such as geological mapping, airborne and ground geophysics, seismic and geochemical sampling, or collated from historical company exploration reports and integrating research by universities and other research organisations such as CSIRO. The GSOs also monitor exploration and mining activity. GSOs also use this information to provide authoritative, independent advice to all levels of government and the community to enable informed decision-making associated with resource extraction. They also promote the resource potential of their States nationally and internationally with the intent of attracting exploration and investment in the resources sector. The Commonwealth Government also has a national geological survey organisation, Geoscience Australia (GA) that provides geoscience information, services and capability to the Australian Government, industry and other stakeholders. GA conducts research with a more national focus, although in many cases it works closely with the State geological survey organisations. Apart from research into resources, GA also conducts geoscientific research into natural hazards, Australia’s maritime jurisdiction and Antarctica. CSIRO also employs geoscientists in specialised research to facilitate cost effective exploration and discovery of new mineral resources through advances in detection technologies such as remote sensing and geochemistry, mineral systems studies, resource characterisation and data analysis. Governments also employ hydrogeologists to conduct research on groundwater and surface water systems and provide information and advice to government and other stakeholders on water resources. These may be employed within GSOs but usually are within other parts of government.


The type of activities will depend on the area of the GSO to which you are assigned. These areas could include Regional Mapping, Mineral Deposit Studies, Coal Geology, Petroleum and Gas, Basin Studies, Geophysics, Information Management, Industrial Minerals and Extractive Resources, Regional Planning and Biostratigraphy.

Some examples of the types of activities are:

  • Collating available geoscience information from a variety of published and unpublished sources
  • Data-stripping from company exploration reports
  • Interpreting remotely sensed data
  • Regional geological mapping (including field work)
  • Petrological studies
  • Geochemistry (both exploration and whole-rock analysis)
  • Integrating and analysing data sets
  • Planning and overseeing regional geophysical surveys
  • Seismic interpretation
  • Lithostratigraphic and bio-stratigraphic interpretation
  • Basin analysis
  • Petroleum system analysis
  • Core logging
  • Mineral occurrence mapping
  • Monitoring exploration and mining activities
  • Regolith mapping
  • Environmental geology
  • Hydrogeology
  • Producing syntheses in map and report form
  • Database management
  • Providing geoscientific or resource-related advice to external clients including consultants, exploration companies, other researchers and members of the public, and to Departmental managers, the Minister and other Government departments.
Skills Required

The job carries a high level of responsibility, because the geoscientific information needs to be accurate and presented clearly and succinctly. Government geological reports are often considered to be the most authoritative and standard reference on a given area and are likely to be consulted for many years. They will be used by companies and consultants to build exploration models, select ground for exploration and to base their own detailed surveys. Advice given to Governments at all levels needs to be accurate and unbiased (even if ultimately ignored).

Typical skills required are:

  • Strong knowledge of a range of Earth Science disciplines
  • Good written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and technical support staff
  • Good organisational and time management skills
  • Computer literacy and ability to analyse numerical and graphical data and preferably skills in using GIS applications

A manual driver’s licence is desirable and may be mandatory for some positions.




University unit suggestions

For permanent employment, a B.Sc. with Honours majoring in Earth Science would be considered a minimum requirement in most GSOs, although for some temporary jobs such as data stripping, a basic degree may be sufficient. One or more of the core subjects may be studied at an advanced level. Research organisations such as CSIRO generally require a PhD relevant to the field of research the candidate is to be employed in.
Core subjects
structural geology and tectonics
rock and mineral identification
igneous and metamorphic petrology
economic geology
field studies
Specialty subjects
remote sensing
specialised mineralogy (clays etc)


Statutory Requirements

Not Required


Job Opportunities

Areas where geoscientists are employed in Government are State and territory geological surveys, Geoscience Australia and to a lesser extent at CSIRO, Water Resources Departments.





Residential/Lifestyle Options

  • Based in capital city or regional centre (e.g Brisbane, Canberra, Maitland, Alice Springs)
  • Work may be largely office-based with short field trips of one or two weeks at irregular intervals
  • In the case of regional mapping surveys geologists may be expected to spend 3-4 months per year in the field (generally on a rotation basis of 3-4 weeks in any one stint)
  • Some tasks, such as data stripping/modelling or tenure review may be entirely office based.

Pros & Cons

  • Opportunities for travel within Australia
  • Varied work programs on interesting research projects
  • Multi skilling and multi-disciplinary teamwork required
  • Presentation of research results at conferences
  • Permanent employment, job security and generous superannuation


  • Government geologists are generally less well paid than industry counterparts, particularly in boom times when recent graduates employed in exploration are often paid more than government geologists in senior management positions
  • Progression to positions of higher responsibility and salary are limited by restrictive public service structures


Do you work a regular length day/week?

Government employed geoscientists often are based in major or regional cities and travel to their work sites when field work is required. When they are working in the city office they would work a regular day/week. When they are carrying out field work they may work for extended periods on a campaign basis and this may involve longer work days.

Does a government geoscientist collaborate with other geoscientists?

Extensive collaboration occurs between state Geological Surveys and also GA.  Many data collection and research programs are run in collaboration (including with CSIRO, CRCs and industry) which involves liaison between geoscientists of the various partners.  This involves planning, data collection, contractual arrangements, data preparation and analysis.  There is also significant interaction between geoscientists of various disciplines and between different departments where legislation and regulations are being updated.

Is a career in government secure?

Traditionally employment with government organisations is on a permanent basis with advancement to higher levels based on merit but limited to available vacancies.  Competition for these positions is generally fierce.  Many position in recent years have been project specific, based on project life and funding and are therefore temporary.

Are there opportunities for further education in government?

Yes, opportunities for further studies can be arranged, particularly if that study is an area of interest of the department.  This can be done by a leave of absence or by continuing part time work.

Should I  do science at school?

Yes, a solid grounding of mathematics and science (in particular chemistry and physics) is important for all areas of geoscience practice. If Geology/Earth Science is available at school level it is highly recommended.

Do I need to be physically fit?

Working as a geoscientist can be physically demanding.  Field work generally involves various physical activities particularly in remote areas. Whether it be walking to get to a site, mapping, collecting and carrying samples, working around drill site or working from 4WD vehicles or helicopters a good level of fitness is generally required.

As a geoscientist do you work with new technology?

Geoscience is often at the cutting edge of new technology.  Many of the current gaming platforms were developed from 3D computing technology developed within the mining industry. New technologies are constantly being used and developed within the geoscience professions to enhance our knowledge of the earth. Modelling techniques, visualisation and the use of mobile technology are widely used.


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