Geology student working in lab.

Tips for preparing yourself for a career as a geoscientist

So you’re a sophomore or junior, planning to start a career as a geoscientist after graduation in a few years. What should you do to best prepare yourself? We’ll review a few concrete suggestions below, but the bottom line is that you have to be proactive about your education and your post-graduate career goals. You can’t just drift from quarter to quarter and course to course. You need to be strategic about it and that involves talking to people.

Advising: Your first step is to visit Mandy Hanou, our staff advisor in Earth and Planetary Sciences. She knows the details of our curriculum and can set you up with a long-term plan.  She also knows many other campus resources since she is a UC Davis graduate. Mandy will assign you to a faculty advisor such as Ryosuke Motani or Jim McClain. Visit them for advice on your career aspirations, graduate school, and potential courses to take to meet your goals. Dave Osleger, Vice-Chair of the department, is always available to talk to our majors, about anything. Don’t be shy – use your advising resources in the department.

Consider visiting the Internship and Career Center as well. They have helpful workshops and advisors who can guide you in writing a resume or cover letter, getting an internship, preparing for interviews, and career exploration. They also have a webpage on “What Can I Do With This Major?” specific to Geology.

Students standing inside the projection CAVE.

Undergraduates inside the UC Davis WM Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES).

Extra Coursework: The courses you’ll take as part of the geology curriculum will prepare you for a career as a geoscientist. But you can boost your marketability with a few extra courses from outside the department. Some very useful courses include ESM 100 (Principles of Hydrologic Science), ESM 186 (Environmental Remote Sensing), HYD 144 (Groundwater Hydrology), HYD 146/GEL 156 (Hydrogeology and Contaminant Transport), SSC 100 (Principles of Soil Science), ECI 171 (Soil Mechanics), and LDA 150 (Intro to Geographic Information Systems). Supplementing your geology courses with a few of these electives will give you that extra edge during the job hunt. None of these classes are particularly easy, but that’s the point.

Teaching: Interested in teaching science at the middle school or high school level? Then be sure to get your feet wet with courses offered by the CalTeach/Mathematics and Science Teaching program (CalTeach/MAST). They offer internships in local K-12 classrooms, courses in effective teaching practices, and a professional network that will prepare you for a career in science education. Participation in any one CalTeach/MAST course will give you the prerequisite classroom hours for a teaching credential program.

Research: If you would like to develop an understanding of how research is done, then speak with a faculty member who you’ve had a class with that you found particularly interesting. The faculty encourage our motivated students to gain some experience with the research process, so visiting them to talk about opportunities is the most direct way to get involved. You may work in a geochemistry lab alongside grad students and post-docs. Or you may help to develop models for a geophysicist. Or you may do field work with a grad student or faculty member, often here in California, but sometimes in remote places like western China or Argentina.

Students working in the clean lab under faculty supervision.

Faculty discusses a research project with her students inside the clean lab.

If you would like to do a senior thesis, you need to talk to a faculty mentor well in advance, preferably during your junior year. You would agree to a project, then sign up for GEL 194A in one quarter (preferably the fall), and finish the following quarter with GEL 194B. A word of caution – only commit to a senior thesis if you have the time and discipline to complete the project.

If you would like to develop a taste for research without doing a senior thesis, then you might consider a ‘special study,’ signing up for GEL 199 after discussion with a faculty member who has agreed to work with you. These are one-quarter-long projects that have clearly defined goals.  Some of our students who are interested in rivers and watersheds have done both short- and long-term special studies with researchers in the Center for Watershed Sciences across the street from the Earth and Physical Sciences building

Internships: These are the best opportunities to learn the daily activities of working geoscientists in particular industries. You’ll learn valuable technical skills as well as ‘soft’ skills like communication and collaboration. You’ll also meet people that know other people in the industry – the all-important skill of networking. Internships give you a priceless item for your resume, showing that you’ve gained some experience in the applied geosciences.

How do you find an internship? These are not necessarily easy to come by, so you need to actively search. A good place to start is the UC Davis Internship and Career Center. Talk to your fellow students – many of our majors have gained experience with geographic information systems through voluntary work with the Abandoned Mines Land Program in the Department of Conservation in Sacramento. Others have been student interns for the California Geological Survey. Yet others have found internships through family friends as well as social media. Sometimes a lead develops from a faculty member.

  • If you’ve found a non-paying internship that you’d like to do, then you can earn elective credit for your Geology degree via GEL 192. We typically give a unit of credit for every 3 hours of voluntary work per week. So a student working 9-10 hours per week over a 10-week quarter can earn 3 units of credit.
  • There are also internships offered by the National Park Service, such as the Geoscientists-in-the-Parks (GIP) program. These are primarily summer internships, with some occurring in the fall/winter or year-round.  The work involves field- and office-based research, inventory and monitoring, and interpretation and education projects.  They offer a stipend, as well as a travel allowance and park-provided housing. For more information, visit the NPS GIP page.
  • Another internship offered by the National Park Service is through the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internships program, which focuses on hiring students under-represented in science. 
  • The Geological Society of America offers temporary paid summer positions working in national parks, national forests, and BLM land through their GeoCorp program.
  • The California Intern Networksearch specifically for internships with the California Geological Survey.