“As a geologist, job security is almost 100%” (Marc De Batist, chairman of the geology department at UGent).
Collecting minerals or fossils and observing insects do not lead directly to a geological education. “And yet, there is a connection,” explains Marc De Batist, professor and chairman of the geology department at UGent. But who could have predicted that geology would also lead you to the construction and infrastructure sectors, environmental research or even dredging and the maritime sector?
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The geologist analyzes the soil in depth but especially through time. How has it evolved and structured itself over millions (billions) of years? How do soil properties change in width and depth? When can you safely build? “Having insight into the time dimension sets you apart from a geographer or a bioengineer,” Marc De Batist explains. “As a geologist, your area of study covers physics, mathematics, biology, geography and chemistry. We analyze the earth from different angles. This translates into topics such as geophysics, hydrogeology, marine geology, geochemistry, paleontology… Everyone chooses their specialization from these topics.”
Job security as a geologist is almost 100%. “Everyone usually works after six to 12 months. There is certainly no oversupply,” explains Professor Marc De Batist. “During your master’s degree, you can work a semester full-time for a company, often in water and soil research. You also participate in a concrete research project during your bachelor’s degree where you do experiments in companies, among other things. We have students who work at the Flemish Environmental Agency or at companies such as Vande Moortel. Even though it is already possible to find a job after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, most students opt for a master’s degree. This one is combined with the one at KU Leuven.”
Where can you go with a degree in geology?
1. Dredging company
Jan de Nul and DEME are the main clients of geologists. 18% of them find work in dredging companies because this sector is the place where they grow fastest. Here, surveying work and soil improvement are part of your duties. Dredging companies are global players with international opportunities. “Going international is typical for a geologist,” says paleontologist Stephen Louwye.
“Thirty percent of our master’s students go to Erasmus to study at prestigious universities such as Zurich, Tromso, Aarhus or Potsdam. If you work for a dragger, you will usually be sent to Abu Dhabi, Australia or Argentina and then come back to Belgium. You’re usually not an expat, which is a bit more difficult when you have a family.”
2. Scientific research
Geologists, a club of men living in their world? Research scientist Julie De Weirdt breaks that image. “My attraction to paleontology (the study of fossils) came about during my senior project,” she says.
“After a master’s thesis, I became an assistant at Ghent University.” Being a researcher is also possible outside of the university. Research institutions such as the Flemish Institute for Technological Research VITO are eagerly awaiting a new influx of geologists. The same goes for the African Museum, the KMI or the Flemish Marine Institute (VLIZ). You can also work internationally as a PhD researcher or postdoctoral fellow. Some geologists at UGent are professors at foreign universities.
3. Water and soil research
Stéphanie Eeckhout, in charge of soil remediation at Tractebel, regularly meets with young female employees in the sector. She carries out soil and remediation studies for Tractebel. Digging holes, installing monitoring wells, examining soil samples, analyzing the results and mapping the pollution are all part of Stephanie’s job.
“Tractebel seemed like an ideal employer to me. I didn’t need to leave Belgium, even though I worked abroad after my studies. I did a geophysical detection where I had to detect unexploded bombs in the sea bed. If you want to have a family life as a geologist, that can be perfectly feasible with a job at Tractebel.”
A geologist who doesn’t go into the world of dredging or research often ends up in the environmental or construction sector. Construction employs 7.8% of geologists. They are involved in preparatory work for the construction of infrastructure on land and at sea, such as on the sandbanks where wind farms are built. “At Tractebel, which is also active in infrastructure, it’s all about stability studies, road construction, railroads, ports and waterways, not to mention energy and nuclear,” Stephanie continues.
“My geologist colleagues and I are also responsible for environmental research (earthworks) for road works or construction projects. Hydrogeology and geotechnics are also covered in large construction projects such as the Eurostadium. Tou is closely related: a remediation is often focused on a construction project to save time and money.”
The broad context in which geologists operate fits perfectly with teaching. Yet few geologists find themselves teaching. “Geology is not a separate subject in education the way geography is,” says Stephen Louwye. “Geologists are allowed to teach geography, biology, physics, and chemistry, but they can’t teach geology per se. If you don’t want to go abroad or don’t like the uncomfortable field work, teaching may be a feasible option.”
No matter what, as a geologist, your scope is broad and you will prioritize sustainability. You’ll protect natural resources such as water and raw materials from being abused. One more reason to become a geologist. But what really makes it happen? “During my high school years, I had a general interest in the humanities,” says Stephanie.
“I was also passionate about the earth and I’m a born researcher. My well-traveled uncle gave me the final push. Science and geography have a passion. I read absolutely every article about volcanoes in National Geographic. This summer I went to Greenland and yes, I collected minerals and rocks there.”
“The same is true for a large portion of geologists,” concludes David Van Rooij, professor of marine geology and geophysics, who is involved in a paleoclimate study in Antarctica. “An inspiring geography professor with a passion for geology is what you need to get started!”