Our guide to geology
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Our guide to geology

Our guide to geology

Published November 29 2013

Geology is about the solid Earth on which we stand. Geologists unearth the truths about what the world is composed of and how it was formed that way. Geology is the domain of earthquakes and volcanoes. And it is not only confined to our planet. Geologists also study the rock and minerals of planets out in space. Right now, a troop of geologists is (albeit through the eyes' of rovers) exploring the surface of Mars.  If you're interested to learn how the world and its features have formed, a geology course might be the right way to go.


Where could a geology course lead?

The scientific, mathematical and analytical skills you gain on a geology course will open doors onto a great diversity of industries. But should you embark on a career in geology, you might work in environmental engineering, geological surveying, hydrogeology and pollution control. Typical employers include the oil and gas industry, the groundwater industry, environmental consultancies, and civil engineering and construction companies. Some people who have completed a geology course go on to work for the British Geological Survey, the Environment Agency, local authorities or museums.

Many aspiring geologists go on to further study. If you wish to get into a specialised field of geology, like mining engineering, you can undertake an extra course, probably in the form of an MSc.


What do you do on a geology course?

Typical geology courses involve a mixture of lectures, tutorials, computing and lab work. You might also have the opportunity to look at rocks and land features out in the field.

University degree courses typically last three years. In the final year you are expected to undertake a scientific project working with a research group, which often leads to publication in scientific literature.

Most courses for non-experts will begin with the fundamentals of geology, such as earth tectonics and processes, field geology, structural geology and mathematical techniques. Using this knowledge you can tailor your studies to suit your individual interests. So you can deepen your knowledge of, say, sedimentary processes, paleontology or environmental studies. You might also have the chance to use expensive technical equipment.


How can you choose the right course for you?

Geology courses range from beginner's to advanced courses, so make sure you choose a course that best suits your level and goals. For example, it might be important for you to take a course that is accredited by the Geological Society of London. If you are desperate to carry out fieldwork overseas or gain experience with geological mapping, choose a course that enables you do so. Also, make sure that you have the prerequisites required to take the course that you desire.


What kind of person do I need to be?

To make the most of a geology course you must be:

·         eager to develop an in-depth understanding of how the Earth - and even other planets - were formed.

·         happy to spend a certain amount of time in a lab. Most courses will involve some practical work in labs.

·         a good teamworker because a lot of geology research requires collaboration between scientists from many different fields.

·         knowledgeable - and prepared to learn - about chemistry, physics and mathematics.

·         a good communicator to explain your fascinating discoveries to your peers, friends and the public.


Let's hear what geologist Mike Gould has to say...

Where did you study geology? The University of Liverpool.


What was the best thing about the course? I think that most geologists would agree that field trips and the experiences that come with them are the most enjoyable part of any geology degree.


What is the best thing about working in geology? It's never very hard to see the relevance and significance of the work you're doing. Geology is such a broad subject that incorporates all of the sciences while being heavily linked to the global environment and politics. It has an impact in so many areas of everyday life.


What was the hardest thing about the course? Deciding where to specialise is hard. I now work solely with the testing and investigation of building materials and resources. It's not somewhere that I'd ever have predicted ending up. But I enjoy it! 


What is the strangest thing you learnt in geology? At the beginning it takes time to get your head around the massive timescales you are dealing with. Creating a story about the environment, climate and ecology of the world hundreds of millions of years ago by studying a lump of rock is a unique thing.


A quick geology quiz

1.    Where are stalactites found in caves?

a) walls   b) floors   c) roof

2.    What kind of rock is pumice?

a) igneous   b) sedimentary   c) metamorphic

3.    Where are fossils embedded?

a) metamorphic rock   b) sedimentary rock   c) igneous rock

4.    What are computer chips made of?

a) silicon   b) silver   c) gold

5.    What is the Earth's core made of?

a) liquid metal  b) solid metal  c) slushy metal

6.    When are crystals formed? When lava:

a) cools fast   b) cools slowly   c) doesn't cool

Answers: 1) c   2) a   3) b   4) a  5) b   6) b


By Nick Kennedy

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