Careers in Geoscience: Academic

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Careers in Geoscience: Academic

All states in Australia maintain several earth science schools at key universities. Universities carry out two key functions; teaching of Earth Sciences and research in a variety of fields within the Earth Sciences. Academic geoscientists generally carry out both teaching and research roles while some may work purely in research (including pure research and specialist areas such as industry funded research, research institutes/centres). Research in specialist areas of geoscience is also carried out in government organisations such as Geoscience Australia (who have a national focus including hydrogeology, exploration potential, natural hazards and Australia’s maritime jurisdiction), State Geological Survey Organisations and CSIRO (specialised research to facilitate cost effective exploration and discovery of new mineral resources).


The type of activities can be broadly divided into teaching and research roles.

Teaching Activities:
  • Lecturing, tutoring, practical classes, field excursions

Research Activities:
  • Reviewing previous research
  • Geological mapping and sampling in areas of interest
  • Laboratory studies – microscopy, petrology, analytical techniques including X-ray technology, electron microscopy, laser ablation, geochemical analysis, petrophysics
  • Modelling of data
  • Presentation of data in 2D and 3D form
  • Publishing results
  • Conferences, presentations.
Skills Required

The job carries a high level of responsibility, because the geoscientific information needs to be accurate and presented clearly and succinctly. Advice often 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, verbal communication and presentation skills (e.g. writing academic papers, writing funding proposals and presenting research and ideas while teaching and at conferences)
  • Ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of scientists and technical support staff
  • Ability to work autonomously (drive)
  • Good organisational and time management skills
  • Computer literacy and ability to analyse numerical and graphical data and preferably skills in using GIS applications
  • Research skills.




University unit suggestions

Research organisations such as Universities and CSIRO generally require a PhD relevant to the field of research the candidate is to be employed in. For teaching roles, a sound understanding of all of the core subjects is required with a specialist subject to be studied at an advanced level.

Core subjects
rock and mineral identification
igneous and metamorphic petrology
structural geology and tectonics
resources and economic geology
marine and environmental geoscience
Specialty subjects
remote sensing
specialised mineralogy


Statutory Requirements

Not required.


Job Opportunities

Universities in most States and territories.  In addition CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, Industry Research bodies carry out research independently or in collaboration with Universities.





Residential/Lifestyle Options

  • Based in capital city or regional centre (e.g Melbourne, Townsville, Armidale)
  • Work may be largely university-based, with short field trips at irregular intervals during semester breaks.
  • Academic geoscientists can enjoy an increased amount of autonomy when it comes to planning their time and research direction (you can often follow your interests)

Pros & Cons

  • Very good opportunities for travel within Australia and overseas
  • Varied work programs on interesting and diverse research projects
  • Presentation of research results at conferences
  • Reasonable job security (if on permanent contract)


  • Permanent tenure less common currently
  • Academic geologists are generally less well paid than industry counterparts
  • Progression to positions of higher responsibility and salary are limited by restrictive university structures
  • Higher degree required


How much time do you spend in the bush?

Most academics do some research. Field work is generally organised in campaigns and is often aligned with semester breaks.  These periods of field work are important for data collection and mapping which provides a basis of field data on which analytical and petrographical research is carried out during semesters.

Do you need a PhD?

Generally a PhD is required for teaching and research roles at a university although some roles can be satisfied by an MSc and significant previous research performance.

Are there opportunities to work overseas?

Yes, academic geologists  work on all the continents (including Antartica) and Australian geoscientists generally have a good reputation. Your field of interest may influence where you work – thus a porphyry copper specialist is more likely to work in South America, Western USA or Eastern Australia while a nickel specialist more likely to work in WA and a coal specialist in QLD.  This is not always a hard and fast rule and most universities try and have staff with a broad range of experience.

How much teaching is involved?

Teaching is a major part of an academic’s role.  Some academics specialise in teaching and carry out less research.  Teaching performance depends principally on the demand for those particular subjects. Research performance is generally measured on number and importance of publications.

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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