How Important is Field Work to my Career as an Applied Geologist?

Of all the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), geology may be the one science where it is perhaps the most instructive and imperative to do your most significant work outside of an office or lab. As the study of the Earth and its processes, you will benefit greatly from time spent in the field, observing, measuring and studying the movement and interplay between soil, rock, water, environmental factors and engineered works.

Field work is an opportunity to practice a variety of techniques that will greatly assist you in your career. You will learn how to effectively take notes and measurements, hand-draw maps and sketches, use GIS or drawing software to create digitized versions of your mapping, take relevant photos to record your observations, synthesize findings and create a thorough field report.

Whether you are a current student working towards finishing your degree, or a professional applied geologist already employed in the profession, ongoing field work and field trips are an invaluable part of your lifelong ongoing education. And regardless of your future position title, ongoing field work is likely to be an important part of your job.

Benefits of Field Work

There are many benefits of field work, particularly for those who enjoy the great outdoors. If you chafe at being in an office environment and enjoy physical activity, hiking and fresh air, for these reasons alone field work can be wonderfully beneficial in cultivating a less-stressful and more fulfilling work life.

But there are plenty of other benefits of field work including:

Bonding with fellow students and colleagues. Most field work involves teamwork. It fosters great connections and having a collection of hands and minds working together towards a common goal leads to better, more accurate results than solo work.

Getting to travel and see the world. Many applied geologists list this as one of the greatest perks of their profession. Geologists are often able to see some of the most impressive natural wonders of the world as a result of their career.

Applying what you’ve been studying in class to hands-on, real-life situations. It is also a chance to apply the use of geological and surveying tools to actual landscapes. There are a plethora of tools and instruments that may need to be used by the professional applied geologist in the course of their work. Field studies and field trips will give students and those participating in continuing education the opportunity to learn how to use tools such as:

  • A Jacob’s staff to measure thicknesses of rock outcroppings,
  • Compass clinometers (like a Brunton Compass) to measure the dip and strike of exposed beds,
  • Stereoscope to view aerial photographs in 3D,
  • Magnifying lenses for examining fine details of rock and soil features,
  • Sieves, shakers and riffle boxes for sifting and analyzing sediment,
  • Dip meters for groundwater monitoring,
  • UAV/Drones for taking overhead footage of an area,
  • Range finders for measuring distances between two targets or features,
  • GPS trackers for pinpointing locations,
  • XRF Analyzers to determine the elemental composition of the material being scanned,
  • Magnetic susceptibility meters to find concentrations of metals such as iron,
  • And many other tools, plus new, emerging technologies.

What is Field Work Really Like?

If you’d like to see what field work in action actually looks like, check out this example of a media specialist that followed a student geology field course and discusses why she loved working in the field!

YouTube Video:

The Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists offers some of the best field trips in the industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered our ability to host them for now but we expect to begin offering first-class field trips again as soon as we are able. Be sure to check our calendar of upcoming events.

Are you a working geologist? How important has field work been to your career? Let us know in the comments below and please post photos of your field work adventures either here or on our social media!

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Comments on "How Important is Field Work to my Career as an Applied Geologist?"

Comments 0-5 of 5

Eric Hubbard - Friday, December 04, 2020

Field camp was a requirement at most schools when I attended back in the Pleistocene. It was indeed a great experience; tied everything together and very useful throughout my career. Thing have changed a fair bit since those days when school was cheap and jobs were plentiful. When I was an adjunct professor at a state university, many students were working or had children, making field camp a daunting prospect. Also, there are professional careers in geology for which field camp may be less important. I think these are issues that need to considered for undergraduates.

William Elliott - Thursday, December 03, 2020

Bill Elliott December 3, 2020 I am in complete agreement with Dr. Elaine J. Geology is in the field, not in the laboratory or classroom “The best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks.” Herbert Harold Read, 1940. The more rocks we see in the field, the more we begin to recognize similarities to, and differences from, rocks we have seen in other areas. Geology comes in 6 dimensions: X, Y, Z, Time, Geologic Processes, and The Interaction of Those Processes. That is what is meant by − Learn to Think in Three Dimensions. The laboratory is where refinements are made to what we found and hammered on in the field – thin sections, staining, specific gravity, fluorescence, geochemistry, X-Rays, age dating, and much much more. The classroom is where we disseminate information to colleagues and students. Now comes the test, communicating what we have earned to others, through clear concise writing, clear/clean graphics, and other useful illustrations. This is the most important and oftentimes the hardest part, sharing what you have learned with others in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Without this last step, everything that comes before it is wasted, because science has not been advanced for the benefit of humanity. So, slip on your field boots, grab your Brunton, rock hammer, Jacobs staff, pencil and paper and go out there, be one with nature, and do the best job you can. You will be helping make the world in which we live a better place.

Nazrul Khandaker - Thursday, December 03, 2020

A must watch video for everyone. It certainly demonstrated the significance of experiential learning experience in order to become well-rounded field geologist. Going out of comfort zone and willing to work in remote places with unknown individuals are not easy. Teamwork and respect for each other from collegial point of view can yield to a greater success in the field and allow the experience to be memorable. Everything comes together in the field and forces attendees to think out of the box and rely heavily on multiple working hypotheses to resolve field problems or related assignments. The grandeur, scale and 3D visualization are often difficult to master in classroom setting - field does the trick. Post Covid-19 may unite all of us and bring the old glory back again!

James Falls - Thursday, December 03, 2020

Elaine nailed it: MENTORING. Working as a field tech for a small geotech firm assisting experienced veterans completed the circle for me. Since then, I've worked with foresters in the woods for 25 years informally mentoring them in the art of geology, geomorphology and fluvial processes: "Why does this section of road keep sliding down the dang hill?". The more educated eyes on the land, the fewer problems slip through the cracks. We all win that way.

Elaine Hanford - Thursday, December 03, 2020

You have hit the rock hammer on the sweet spot! There is no substitute for doing real field work. And, just being out in the field is not as valuable as having an experienced field geologist mentoring in the field. Over the years, I worked with many young geologists who said they had lots of experience in the field. But, upon working with them, I was surprised at how much they did not really see in the geologic environment. Sharing my knowledge and mentoring them was very rewarding for all involved!

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