Why are geosciences important

Geoscience jobs: more than just knocking stones

From volcano research to groundwater protection - anyone who has studied geosciences has many professional fields open to them. But the job prospects are not equally good in all areas of work.

Text: Stephanie Bissels

It is the great challenges that geoscientists are asked to face. The past year 2016 had some of them to offer: record ice melt at the North Pole, earthquakes in central Italy, volcanic eruptions in Iceland or overfertilization with liquid manure in Germany.

Geo-experts are involved everywhere and help to understand climate change, predict natural hazards or make optimal use of our increasingly scarce resources. They plan and control our supply of raw materials and energy, ensure the stable construction of dams, roads, houses and tunnels or take care of groundwater protection, waste disposal and contaminated sites.

"We are a small profession. But we are broadly positioned"

Generally speaking, geoscientists deal with the earth system and concentrate primarily on the complex processes beneath the earth's surface. In addition to scientific content, a lot of engineering knowledge is also imparted during the course.

The fact that the earth and rock researchers often work interdisciplinary and on topics of high environmental relevance also distinguishes them. The course called "Geosciences" has been around at German universities for almost two decades.

Before that, you could study geology, geophysics or mineralogy individually as a diploma course. In the course of the switch to Bachelor and Master, the three courses were merged. Currently bid 28 universities in Germany the study of "Geosciences", whereby many universities set specific priorities and enable a special orientation.

"As far as the meaning is concerned, the geosciences need not hide themselves from the other natural sciences," says Dr. Hans-Jürgen Weyer, Managing Director of the Professional Association of German Geoscientists (BDG e.V.). “We are a small profession,” he admits, “but we are very broadly positioned”. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2015 around 19,000 geoscientists in Germany at work. For comparison: the number of employed physicists was around 77,000 in the same year.

Diversity of employers

The breadth of the profession not only extends through the fields of work, from A for remediation of contaminated sites to V for volcano research. Employers are also very different. Often geoscientists find at Engineering and geographic offices an agency. According to the information provided by the professional association, around 25 percent of the graduates work here.

In the public service sector, i.e. in Offices and authoritiesn, are employed just under 20 percent. “Compared to other natural sciences and other countries, that is a high percentage,” says Weyer. The fact that the institution that employs the most geoscientists in Germany is an authority, the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) in Hanover, fits into the picture.

As the specialist authority of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, it advises the federal government on all geo-relevant issues. In addition to the BGR, there are the State Geological Services. All geoscientific data relevant to the respective federal state are collected and made accessible here.

Another 20 percent of geoscientists work in the Industry and economy. “You have to distinguish between two areas: On the one hand, that Construction industry with many small companies and the large, international corporations. On the other hand, the Raw materials industrythat ranges from classic oil companies to the recycling industry, ”Weyer explains. In the Universities and in the Research institutions this leaves a further 12 to 13 percent of geoscientists. The rest of the graduates, around 22 percent, are employed outside the field.

"Anyone who searches in nature conservation has a hard time"

Hans-Jürgen Weyer has a positive overall assessment of the current job market for geosciences specialists. However, one should differentiate and take a closer look at the individual areas, according to the representative of the profession.

Weyer currently identifies two trends: “Due to the low raw material prices, hiring abroad has decreased significantly since 2014. Many international corporations have issued a hiring freeze. This also has an impact on the supplier industry such as drilling rig manufacturers, rod manufacturers or companies that carry out geophysical measurements. "

  • The article was published in the WILA job market. Every week around 690 current positions are compiled in the printed booklet or e-paper - especially for academics with a generalist academic background.
  • The editorial section and the job overview provide subscribers with a broad, yet specific overview of current developments in the fields of activity and labor market, they can orient themselves professionally on the basis of the selected jobs and thus stay on the ball when looking for a job. Our experience: Many subscribers / Inside, they encounter activities that they did not even have on the screen for themselves.
  • First-time subscribers can order a four-week trial subscription for just € 10. More information here.

In contrast, he continues, there is the good economic situation in the domestic construction sector. There is strong demand for experts from the geosciences both in the large construction companies and in smaller engineering offices. Hans-Jürgen Weyer points out another, demographic peculiarity: “In all areas, professional representatives are currently retiring. It has to be replaced. "

Overall, the outlook can be rated as good, but there is one caveat: the number of university graduates is consistently high. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 2,237 geosciences students graduated in 2015. If you subtract the 1,269 students with a bachelor's degree included in this, there were in 2015 around 1,000 geoscientists are available for the job market. "It's a challenge for the job market," says Weyer.

As in many other courses, most geosciences students continue after completing their bachelor's degree. “As a rule, that's over 90 percent,” Weyer estimates. From discussions with industry representatives, he knows: “The industry wants a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree. The two-year master’s degree gives the student a little more academic freedom, which looks good on people. ”But he also sees opportunities for students with a bachelor’s degree:“ There are positions, for example in the geological services or in the engineering offices. ”

Harald Zauter, who is a qualified geologist in the public service in the field of contaminated site remediation, also follows the generally positive labor market assessment from the professional association. “The job market currently offers a lot of jobs, also in the environmental sector,” says Zauter. The latter includes, in addition to his own area of ​​contaminated sites, the large area of ​​environmental impact assessments and the recently mandatory pedological construction supervision for larger construction projects. On the other hand, he sees fewer good opportunities in the area of ​​nature conservation: “If you look here, it is much more difficult. It's a small niche with few jobs in terms of numbers. "

Good opportunities for young professionals - if they are spatially flexible

Even young professionals currently have good prospects. "In order to get off to a successful start in your job, you should be flexible in terms of space," advises the experienced geologist. "Anyone who only searches in a certain area is very limited and it will not be easy to find something." Harald Zauter knows this from his own experience. In his varied professional life, he has moved with his family several times, including stays abroad in Cameroon and Namibia.

With the switch to Bachelor and Master, the course content in the geosciences has become more practice-oriented overall. Many students now have to do compulsory internships lasting several weeks. The managing director of the professional association of geoscientists thinks the development is good, but he adds: “Of course we would like the students not only to stick their heads in the door of a geo-office or company and leave again after a short time. You should gain practical experience over a longer period of time. "

  • Help with starting a career: mentoring program
  • The Professional Association of German Geoscientists (BDG) offers a mentoring program. The aim of the program is to prepare geoscientists for professional life.
  • To this end, the professional association will find you a mentor with practical experience. The mentors stand by the young professionals for a year.
  • Events: The mentoring program kicks off twice a year, in March and October.
  • Costs: Participation in the mentoring program normally costs EUR 240. BDG members pay 150 euros.
  • Further information: www.tinyurl.com/geo-mentoring

This is the only way they can see whether the job is a good fit or whether it is no fun at all. For example, anyone who can imagine a future in a geo-office after an internship should specifically pursue this goal during their studies. "The student is then well advised to choose applied fields of study such as engineering geology or hydrogeology," explains Hans-Jürgen Weyer. The managing director also advises geoscientists who want to do a doctorate: “The career aspiration should be in the topic of the promotion reflect."

Depending on which professional direction a geoscientist takes after graduation, not only excellent specialist knowledge is desired. Often know-how is required that is hardly taught during the course.

Anyone who sees their future in the field of geotechnics and subsoil should know how to carry out a subsoil investigation or what a certified sampling according to LAGA is. For example, anyone who wants to work in the field of geographic information systems or groundwater modeling can score points if they also work Software and data management knowledge brings along. Further training courses can be helpful here, of which there is a wide range depending on the professional direction and goal. “In the small geographic offices in particular, it is important that the new employees can be deployed immediately. The thin staff cover does not allow for a long training period. For example, you don't learn how to write and calculate an offer at the university, ”Weyer explains.

“The structures in the geographic offices are often very small. If the economic situation becomes difficult, employees are dismissed quickly, despite open-ended contracts "

In addition to theoretical and practical knowledge, other skills are also important. For Harald Zauter, besides a good command of English, these are above all communicative skills: "You should be able to express yourself orally and in writing and you should be happy to exchange ideas with others." It is essential to argue convincingly in discussions with colleagues or customers and to be confident in conversations. It is no less important to write understandable and coherent reports or expert opinions.

Temporary jobs

Zauter recommends that job seekers should also not refrain from temporary positions per se. Many positions in the authorities are project-related positions that are initially limited - but often for several years. Under certain circumstances, these positions could even be safer than a permanent position in an engineering or geo-office. “The structures in the geographic offices are often very small. If the economic situation becomes difficult, employees are quickly laid off, despite open-ended contracts, ”says the geologist. He emphasizes: “In my professional life, I have worked in temporary positions for a very long time. Also as a family man and I could handle it well. "

The practitioner also advises career starters the following: “Nobody should be disappointed if they cannot achieve their full salary expectations at the beginning.” The entry should be seen as an opportunity to expand your knowledge. After a reasonable amount of time, you can switch to a job with better pay. “It's a normal way. Having the ideal job right from the start is unrealistic, ”he emphasizes.

Salary geoscientist

Because as different as the employers and the fields of work in the field of geosciences are, so are the salaries. In the public service, for example, career opportunities depend on training and are subject to an upper limit. With a master’s degree, depending on the job, you are usually classified in pay group 12 or 13 according to the collective bargaining agreement for the public sector.

The starting salary can then be around 3,600 euros gross per month. Not necessarily a better starting salary, but in the long term better pay can be achieved in the industry. "Anyone who works successfully for mining companies or in the oil and gas industry can earn far more than in an authority," explains Harald Zauter. As far as the geo-offices are concerned, one also has to differentiate. Depending on the size of the office, the order situation and your own skills, the wages can vary greatly. "The modeler may be worth more than the simple terrain geologist who takes samples and monitors construction sites."

In search of geothermal deposits in Chile or in volcanic research in Indonesia - geoscientists often work abroad. Even if they are employed in this country, they have to be abroad for a few days, weeks or months, depending on the industry. "All professionals should have a certain willingness to travel," says Harald Zauter. Especially if you work in international corporations, in large engineering offices, in management consultancies or in research.

However, you do not need any other professional qualifications than in Germany for work abroad, says Hans-Jürgen Weyer from the professional association: “If you work on a groundwater project abroad, you need the same hydrogeological knowledge that you need with us. If they are used in ore mining, you will get along well if you have learned deposit science during your studies. ”In contrast, two things are really important. On the one hand, language skills and, on the other hand, cultural openness to the world: “You must have fun getting to know something new,” says Weyer. This also includes taking on one or the other strain. The jobs and living habits abroad often differ significantly from what one is used to here. Most of the time, life there is less comfortable.

Weyer names an important basic requirement: "Whether you are in the excavation pit here in Germany or bustling about as a volcano researcher in Indonesia - you have to like to go outside, whatever the weather." Much of the work now takes place in offices and on the computer . But weyer is certain that it will not work without the off-road activity: "If someone thinks he can only do geosciences on a computer, he is making a big mistake."