Published by the American Geological Institute
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences
This month we focus on employment in some core career sectors of the earth sciences: mineral and fuel resources, teaching and research, government service and environmental fields (including water resources). We also feature selections from the many possible "alternative" careers beyond those traditional for earth scientists, including science journalist, book editor, senate press secretary, law firm environmental expert, EIS manager, secondary school teacher, technology entrepreneur and strategic business consultant. We hope these vignettes help readers with questions such as "Should I choose a career in the earth sciences?"; "Should I stay in the earth sciences?"; "Should I return to the earth sciences?"; and "Should I change jobs within the earth sciences?"
Odin Christensen, Michael Baranovic, Robert Lamonica, Jamie Robertson and Chris Maples reinforce that the core career sectors still expect applicants to demonstrate concise and accurate writing and presentations, grounding in the broad fundamentals of the earth sciences, teamwork skills, computer proficiency and strong field experience. We have heard about these qualifications for so long they must really be important. Also increasingly important for all the core sectors are multiple languages, commercial skills and global mobility.
For alternate careers the authors praise the benefits of "varied experiences," "range of skills," "being a generalist," "understanding processes," "untangling jargon," and the qualities of being interdisciplinary, analytical and quantitative. Or as Craig Schiffries puts it, "the heart of [an earth scientist's] contribution may lie less in his mastery of particular disciplines than in his capacity for structuring complex problems, … detailed research … rigorous analysis and critical judgement." These attributes extend the value of an earth science background far beyond traditional employment into a myriad of career possibilities.
This month's authors also speak to the disruption of employment cycles in earth science careers. Changes in social values, evolving technology, economic cycles and company startups, followed by mega-mergers, have led to successive expansions and contractions of employment with attendant loss of jobs, shattered dreams and a sense of wasted time and degrees. While recent details are different, the general patterns are not. Cycles have always been with us, not only in the earth sciences, but also in every sector of the economy. Even in the best of times, an earth scientist may have to work through several different types of employment positions before finding the "right one." Given these uncertainties and challenges, how are earth scientists to approach career decisions?
Most of us want to make a positive contribution in our lives and, ironically, it is hard to find a better background than earth science for having a positive impact. Earth science teaches us more than just a discipline. It teaches us to work with large, incomplete data sets, to integrate across fields, to rigorously analyze complex problems, to use our quantitative intuition to build and test process models, to write clearly, to make sound business decisions and, oh yes, to care for our planet. Just as any language helps individuals live together, geology helps us all live with the Earth.
The critical component, then, in using our earth science background to build a career, seems to come down to a passion for what we choose to do. Passion overlooks some of the shortcomings of a chosen career and increases our tolerance for whatever pain it brings with it. Passion is a joyous compulsion. Passion more makes a career than finds or chooses one. Passion feeds resilience and perseverance. Because it is too much to expect that our first career choice out of college will be the right one, it is better to realize that Passion will sustain us until we finally arrive at the "right" core or alternate career. Conversely, if you don't find Passion within or through the earth sciences, seek it elsewhere.
Believe your compass (passionately),
Samuel S. Adams,