Geologists study rocks found on the Earth's surface and inside of its layers. They assist mining, construction and engineering firms in making determinations on how to use or remove rocks for industrial purposes. The need for hydrologists and geoscientists like geologists in the United States will increase by 18 percent from 2008 through 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The National Association of State Boards of Geology offers a certification program, which confers the Professional Geologist credential. In some states, certification is required before starting work as a geologist.
The National Association of State Boards of Geology only offers Professional Geologist certification for geologists who reside in states that mandate licensing or registration in the field. As of January 2011, 31 states fully regulate the practice of geology, thus requiring certification. The NASBG allows each state to establish its own set of qualifications for certification but there are general similarities across states.
Typically, a Doctor of Philosophy degree is necessary to gain certification as a professional geologist. There are a number of colleges and universities in the United States that offer Ph.D. programs in geology. In 2010, "U.S. News and World Report" compiled a list of the best geology graduate programs in the country, which included the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas-Austin, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Doctorate programs in geology usually take a minimum of four years, and require students to complete a lengthy research project and dissertation. These programs generally include chemistry and physics courses as well as classes directly related to geology, such as mineralogy, which deals with the chemical composition and structures of the Earth's minerals.
One standard requirement for Professional Geologist certification is the successful completion of examinations developed by the National Association of State Boards of Geology. Two examinations are offered through the NASBG: the Fundamentals of Geology and Practice of Geology. States determine which exam candidates for licensing must complete; some states may require both tests. Each exam is multiple choice and last up to four hours. The NASBG administers the exams twice each year in the spring and fall.
Generally, states mandate that applicants for certification complete an application and pay a fee to the state. In addition, states may impose other requirements on geologists seeking certification. Evidence of a certain number of years of experience in research or as an assistant to a professional geologist may be necessary. Some states mandate that applicants undergo criminal background checks prior to applying for certification. A small number of states require certified Professional Geologists to complete continuing education coursework on a regular schedule in order to maintain their certifications.