A geologist is a scientist who studies the history and structure of earth as well as the processes which shape it. Geologists study how the earth was made by studying the rocks, soil, fossils and features which occur both on the earth’s surface and under the surface deep into the earth’s core. Geology is a very broad-based science, which draws from virtually every other science including the natural, engineering and economic sciences.

There are various careers within the field of geology, for example: cartography, economic geology, environmental geology, engineering geology, geochemistry, geotechnology, geohydrology, geophysics, mineralogy, mining geology, palaeontology, petroleum geology.

Geological research helps in locating mineral deposits, predicting earthquakes, and advising on the suitability of sites for buildings, dams and highways. The knowledge obtained is also used in a wide variety of ways, from determining the components of plaster on walls of buildings where lime and other mixtures are used, to the discovery and refinement of oil and other energy sources.

They recommend the acquisition of land, exploration and mapping programmes, and mine development, and they conduct geological and geophysical studies for regional development, site selection and the development of public works projects.

They identify and anticipate natural risks, such as slope erosion, landslides, soil instability, subsidence, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and they may supervise and coordinate well drilling, completion and work-over, as well as mining activities.

Geologists work in a variety of settings. They may work outdoors at a site under investigation, with conditions varying from sub-zero temperatures to the scorching heat in a desert. In addition, they may work indoors in laboratories, offices and classrooms.

The broad areas of specialisation within this field include: earth material; earth processes and earth history. The sub-specialities include: economic geology, mineralogy, geochemistry, geophysics, palaeontology, marine geology, mineral economics, engineering geology and environmental planning.

General geologists can specialise in various fields of application, of which only a few are discussed here:

  • Basic mapping is the drawing of a map on which geological information such as the distribution of different rocks is shown. This is one of the most important tasks of geologists.
  • Economic geology studies the deposit of economic minerals and processes leading to their formation.
  • Environmental geology studies recent sediments deposited in river valleys, on beaches and in the oceans, in order to acquire information on aspects such as climatic changes, erosion of coastlines and the influence of human activities on the environment.
  • Geological engineers study the physical and chemical properties of rocks and soil in order to ensure that dams, road, tunnels and buildings are built at the most suitable sites and in the most cost-effective manner. They also study materials used in road construction.
  • Geohydrologists study the water-storing capacity of various geological formations and the flow of groundwater in these formations. The development of cavities in rocks through cracks and faults as well as the chemical solution of rocks are also studied by geohydrologists. Post-graduate study and specialisation at an honours degree level is essential for a career as geohydrologist.
  • Palaeontologists study fossils to make deductions concerning the climate that prevailed during deposition and the environment where the organisms occurred. This information is used amongst other things, to understand the origin and formation of certain minerals in sedimentary rocks and to find further resources. The study of fossils also contributes to our knowledge of factors that led to species extinction and the origin of new species.
  • Some geologists study the earths processes such as earthquakes, landslides and volcanoes and their impact. Others conduct research to extend knowledge of surface and subsurface features of the earth, its history and the operation of physical, chemical and biological systems that control its evolution. 

Personal Requirements

  • curious and imaginative
  • observant, responsible and objective
  • able to visualise things three-dimensionally
  • problem-solving skills
  • enjoy working with others
  • flexible and adapt easily to new situations
  • able to communicate clearly in writing and in speech
  • enjoy travelling and nature
  • prepared to work out in the field
  • good health and stamina

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Geography


What to Study

Degree: BSc with Geology as a major - RU, US, UJ, UP, UFH, UFS, NWU, UV; Geological Science - UKZN, UCT or Geoscience - Wits and NMMU; a second major in Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics is recommended. Computer Science and Statistics are also useful majors with Geology because of the rapidly growing application of these fields. Some universities specialise at the BSc (Hons) level in subjects such as Geochemistry, Geohydrology, Geophysics, Sedimentology or Engineering Geology.

The minimum qualification required for registration as a professional natural scientist (Geology) at the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, is a BSc (Hons) degree or a 4-year BTech degree in Geology, at a university of technology. Postgraduate study (for masters and doctors degrees) is possible at most South African universities.

Those who study at universities of technology register as geotechnologists and work closely with geologists in various fields.


  • petroleum and mining companies
  • consulting geology, geophysics, engineering firms
  • government departments (Geological Survey, Water Affairs, Museums)
  • Chamber of Mines
  • CSIR
  • Council for Mineral Technology (MINTEK)
  • civil engineering firms
  • universities of technology and universities
  • self-employed, as a consultant

Further Information

Geological Society of South Africa 
CSIR Mining Precinct (formerly CSIR Miningtek)
Corner Rustenburg and CarlowRoads
Melville,South Africa
Tel: (011) 358-0028

Council for Geoscience
280 Pretoria Street, 
Silverton, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 841-1911

Getting Started

  • begin to select and study rock samples and read about this field
  • make appointments to talk to geologists about these types of careers and ask permission to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions


Related Occupations

What is a Geologist?

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