Geoscience enrollments up; supply lags demand

The American Geological Institute's latest Geoscience Workforce Currents says that undergrad enrollments are up 8% this year:

i-4087e23f1c942cb1ea0c3513b627bf4c-2009 geoscience enrollments.jpg

Eight per cent actually isn't that much - one or two students, in most of the geology departments that I know. We've got nearly twice as many students registered for my sophomore mapping class this year as we did two years ago (29 vs 15). And that makes me wonder - are there big differences between different types of schools (public versus private; undergrad vs research university) or between different areas of the country?

And is this a blip, resulting from last year's rumors of $100,000/year salaries - especially at the time when the nature of the recession was just becoming clear? Will those students switch to another major when they realize what a rollercoaster the price of copper (or uranium) is? If they stick around, will they change the character of geology departments (which have become more and more environmentally oriented in the past 25 years, enough so that the Geological Society of America has received complaints about their association with resource industries).

These students won't be geologists for three more years. (Four or five, if industry wants M.S. degrees, or if the students don't have a strong math background already.) That's important for everyone to keep in mind. When industry is on an employment rollercoaster, we academics need to remember that the jobs that are around when students are freshmen won't necessarily be available exactly when they graduate. And industry needs to be willing to hire people who came into geology with other interests - even, dare I say it, to hire people with degrees in Environmental Geology.

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I teach min/pet in a small dept. at a large state university in the plains. I just had to add another lab section of my mineralogy course- up to ~22-23 students (including a handful of earth science ed majors), instead of the 18-19 I've had the last two years...The enrollment difference is a handful of new geology majors.

I've only been here two years, but we have apparently seen our overall undergraduate enrollment steadily increasing over the last 3-4 years. I'm guessing this is partially due to the salary talk, but also due to all of the press regarding future energy issues, demand for geoscientists, etc. We also happen to have a fairly strong oil and gas industry in the state, so I think that helps too. Also, our M.S. students that do go into industry are actually starting at close to 100K.

We have a lot of industry-alumni connections and all the industry folks I've talked to basically all say the same thing: they want to hire good geologists, regardless of their background/interests. I've kind of changed my philosophy and now really do think it's important for us as faculty to encourage our students (esp. those that may not be interested in industry) to be open-minded and flexible about careers, esp. if they want to utilize that new degree!

I'm a geologist for a Canadian energy exploration and production company. I'm also part of the recruiting team for our summer interns and new graduate hires. We place very little emphasis on what specialization the geology students are in during university. We are more interested that the student has a genuine interest and appreciation for geology and learning, their character and academic ability. This is partially because very few university geology programs have a specialization in petroleum geology and also because diverse view points and training are a good thing. In addition, as Kim mentioned there is a small pool of talent out there and we are competing with the mineral exploration and environmental industries for that talent so we need to be open to all kinds of backgrounds. Lately due to the economic situation there is less competition with the mineral exploration industry, but as these things are always cyclical Iâm sure that in the future that industry will pick back up and we will be competing with them again.

By Phyllograptus (not verified) on 24 Jun 2009 #permalink

Phyllograptus - I'm glad to hear that the energy industry is willing to look at all sorts of student backgrounds. (I mentioned that issue because a couple years ago I heard some skepticism about Environmental Geology degrees, even though ours includes a number of courses, like groundwater and engineering geology and geochemistry, which could be useful background in many different industries. And six years ago, a visitor from AAPG told my students that they needed to show a commitment to petroleum from early in their undergrad days, if they wanted a job. Committing to a particular career path as an undergrad seemed like a bad idea to me - I usually tell students what the options are, and which elective classes tend to be used most in various industries, and suggest keeping as many options open for as long as possible.)

So it's good to hear that things have changed, as the industry realizes that they need young geologists, and that there is competition for the graduates who are available to be hired.

Plinian - has your emphasis in mineralogy and petrology changed, as employment options for students have changed? I know that I use different examples in Structure, and emphasize the role various structures play in all sorts of practical applications (whether groundwater or oil or natural gas or ore deposits). It can be a difficult balance, because some students are into water but not oil, and some are excited about natural gas, and some are obsessed with gold, and some just think earthquakes are really cool. Hopefully the students will be able to make use of the basics in whichever career they end up with!

Kim, The skepticism I see when interviewing students with an environmental background actually goes the opposite direction. We have trouble with the students skepticism, lots of them want nothing to do with BIG BAD OIL. Or if they will consider a job with us they feel like they are selling out. The energy industry has a bad Rep (some of justly earned), which we can't live down and which a lot of the current media uses to continually beat us with.
Much of what a new geologist at an energy company needs to know, is going to be taught on the job and through industry courses. University gives them background and foundations and proves they have the intelligence and staying power to succeed. Universities are not expected to be technical intitutes which train you for a specific job, universities teach you how to think and apply that knowledge.

By Phyllograptus (not verified) on 24 Jun 2009 #permalink

With regards to employment opportunities in the future for geologists. The AAPG just completed a salary survey. Ignoring the numbers, there was one really interesting point made in the analysis.

"He also noted that in 2008-09, over 46 percent of the salaries that were reported represent geoscientists with over 20 years experience."

46% with over 20 years experience and will therefore be retiring in the next 10 - 15 years, leaving a huge hole to be filled by the limited enrollment shown in the graph of Kim's post. Those geology students have three separate major industries are competing for them, Minerals, Environmental & Petroleum. The Minerals industry has the same sort of demographics challenges as the petroleum industry, creating a double whammy.

By Phyllograptus (not verified) on 25 Jun 2009 #permalink

I became a geology major at the The University of Texas in 1955. That year there were 2000 new freshman geology majors. The sophomore Petrology core course had 350 students. 150 of us received a grade of C or better, allowing us to take the next core course, Historical Geology. This was because of lack of space. I was told there were only TWO new freshman geology majors in 1959. There were, of course, no jobs in geology when I received my BS. There were hundreds of laid-off geologists in competition with us new faces.

By Jim thomerson (not verified) on 25 Jun 2009 #permalink