When I first enrolled as an undergraduate at The University of Alabama, I entered my freshman year not really knowing what I wanted to do. Based on my success in math and science, I thought I would try mechanical engineering, but after a few semesters, I started falling behind. After seeking assistance at the Career Center, I figured out that while I liked math and science, I had always enjoyed studying nature over mechanics. While there are many natural science majors, there was one that stood out as a “conglomerate” of natural sciences: geology.
Isn’t geology just studying rocks?
While rocks are part of the foundation of geology, they are only one piece of the larger Earth science puzzle. Geologists seek to answer questions about how our Earth was made, how it has changed through time, how it will evolve in the near and far future, and how those changes impact everything our planet. Answering these large-scale questions requires the application of many branches of science, including chemistry, physics, biology, and even mathematical modeling. Geology can even cross paths with atmospheric science, hydrology, geography, and even anthropology. Geology also isn’t restricted to the Earth; it can be applied to extraterrestrial objects to answer questions about our universe!
What are geology classes like?
Similar to many science majors, most of the main classes include labs, where you get to work hands-on with samples. However, unlike most other science majors, the highlight of many geology courses is the field trips! Working on outcrops in the field helps reinforce important classroom lessons and gives a taste of what some geologists do for a living. Some of my favorite field trips were during the paleontology course, where you get to search for cool fossils here in Alabama, like shark teeth!
If you want an even more hands-on experience, GEO 499 provides the opportunity for you to conduct research with a geology faculty member, either assisting their graduate students or working on your own project. As a senior, my undergraduate research project focused on using isotopes from pieces of shells to understand how the temperature changed in the shell’s environment throughout its life.
What opportunities are there with a geology degree?
The appeal of a career in geology is that, similar to your classes, most geology jobs involve a combination of fieldwork, lab work, and office work, so you don’t have to be stuck in a cubicle. You can also find work anywhere on Earth, whether it is local environmental remediation in your state, coastal restoration by the ocean, or even natural hazard assessment around volcanoes! You can work for a small company, a government agency, or pursue research through academia.
Whatever your personal interest, you will find accomplished research professionals among our department’s faculty that can answer your questions and help put you on the best path for success. Depending on how specific your interests are, you may want to pursue a graduate degree, during which you’ll develop and work on a specialized research project with guidance from faculty. I, myself, returned to UA after graduating to earn a master’s degree in geology because I appreciated the level of knowledge found in our department and found the faculty that I wanted to work with here.
Studying geology opens your mind to how everything on Earth is connected, from the past to the future, making you a more conscious citizen of our planet and enabling you to help make it a better place. If this sounds appealing to you, come join us!