Geological engineers combine knowledge about the earth's structure, life forms and history with expertise in engineering and technology. Similar to other engineers, they solve problems and make designs to meet the needs of human beings. In the case of geological engineers, however, the focus is often on harvesting the earth's resources, but with an added goal of maintaining the natural environment. The career is wide-ranging, and the duties of a geological engineer depend largely on the particular industry.
Fields and Industries
Geological engineers, sometimes called mining engineers, work for engineering and construction services and metal and coal mining. They also work for environmental organizations, government agencies, highway departments and forest services. In addition to coal mining, geological engineers work in other areas of energy, such as uranium, gas, oil and geothermal. Other industries that employ geological engineers include groundwater, garbage, sewage, toxic waste disposal and transportation infrastructure, such as bridge and road building.
Types of Duties
The duties of geological engineers include evaluating sites for roads, bridges, dams, pipelines and housing projects. For example, they may check mining locations for safety risks, such as earthquakes or landslides. They also help design structures such as power plants and tunnels and look for drinking water, metals, coal, oil and gas. Devising ways to access these useful resources without harming the environment is also an important part of their role. Where pollution already exists, geological engineers asses its extent and take charge of clean-up.
Geological engineers typically work at field locations and spend much of their time outdoors -- for example, at an ore mine or on the construction site for a tunnel or bridge. Although some job sites are close to urban areas, many positions in the mining, forestry and petrochemical industries require travel to remote regions. Some geological engineers, especially those working for consulting firms, are based in offices in big cities. Geological engineers usually have full-time jobs, but they often work irregular and overtime hours, especially while in field locations.
Education and Licensing
Geological engineers need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in geological engineering or a related major. A bachelor's degree program typically takes four to five years full time and includes classes in math, sciences and basic engineering, plus specialty studies such as geomechanics, soil mechanics and engineering geostatistics. Geological engineers can eventually increase their qualifications for advancement by completing the engineering licensing requirements, which include at least four years of experience and passing two exams.
Pay and Prospects
The average starting wage for geological engineering grads as of 2013 was $70,933 annually, according to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. According to the BLS, geological and mining engineers averaged $96,950 per year as of 2013. The BLS projects a 12 percent increase in these jobs between 2012 and 2022, compared to 11 percent for all occupations. New geological engineering graduates may enjoy strong job prospects because of the many older engineers likely nearing retirement.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Mining and Geological Engineers
- Princeton Review: Geological Engineering
- Educating Engineers -- Geological Engineer Careers
- University of Wisconsin, Madison -- About Geological Engineering
- South Dakota School of Mines and Technology: Geology and Geological Engineering -- Career Overview
- Career Cornerstone Center: Geological Engineering
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 -- Mining and Geological Engineers, Including Mining Safety Engineers
- Photo Credit duron123/iStock/Getty Images
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