Do you enjoy science? If so, an exciting career as a volcanologist is a great choice for you. Sure, it takes a lot of hard work to prepare for this exotic career, but it has some great payoffs like studying volcanoes in tropical locations like Hawaii. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
Job Description: What Does A Volcanologist Do?
Since volcanoes do not erupt every single day, you might be wondering what type of responsibilities come with the profession. While each day is not as exciting as standing near some bubbling lava, you still get to do some pretty interesting stuff. Of course, that is if you find the study of geology interesting because that it what you will be doing in this career. Many people currently in this profession view it as a kind of puzzle solving as you are studying the ways that things are now around the volcanoes so that you can determine what made them erupt in the past as a means of predicting when the volcanoes will erupt in the future. As you can see, it is all very scientific and you must enjoy research and details without finding them tedious.
In fact, most work is centered around studying volcanoes that are dead or dormant just because eruptions are not an every day occurrence. This means lots of time in an office or lab looking a rock specimens, interpreting data, doing computer modeling of volcano eruptions and reading or writing scientific papers. As a volcanologist, your work focuses on the following things:
- why do volcanoes erupt?
- how do volcanoes erupt?
- can you predict eruptions before they happen?
- what is the historical impact of volcanoes on Earth?
- how do volcanoes affect the environment and humans?
Obviously, the really exciting part of this job occurs when there is an active volcano that you can study. Of course, due to the volatile nature of volcanoes, it is not the safest of careers. Granted, as long as caution and common sense are exercised it is as safe as the next desk job.
Volcanologist Education Requirements
Getting a job that focuses on studying volcanoes is not something that is for everyone. In fact, it takes quite a bit of schooling in order to be able to secure a position doing some of the really cool field work that this career offers. As it’s core, this is a science job similar to that of a scientist. As such, not only is a college degree required but an advanced college degree is necessary if you want to do more than assist with data research in a stuffy office.
Since no college offers a major in volcanology, you have to study geology in order to prepare for this career. With this college major, you can normally find some classes that actually focus on the topic of volcanoes to better equip yourself for your first position in the industry. But the truth is that you actually should start preparing while you are in high school if you really want to put yourself ahead of everyone else.
While in high school, focus on taking a lot of science and math classes as you will need some of the same knowledge once you reach college. And if you are lucky, you may even be able to take AP college credit exams and not have to actually retake the subjects once you enroll in college. Classes to take before college include: biology, chemistry, any available Earth sciences courses, pre-calculus, algebra, trigonometry and computer coding. These types of courses build a solid base for you to study geology in college.
When you make it to college and select geology as your major, there are lots of courses that you can take that serve you well when pursing a career in volcanology. Some of these classes include: remote sensing, geomorphology, petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, sedimentary geology, and structural geology.
Within the volcanology focus of a geology degree, there are actually four different groups of study that one can take when choosing this as a career. And which path you embark on kind of has a lot to do with what type of career day-to-day duties you will end up doing for the long term. So, let’s take a closer look at those differing study groups now – they are:
- physical volcanologists do data gathering and studying of the deposits and processes of volcanic eruptions
- geophysicists gather data on and study volcanic seismicity, gravity and magnetics
- volcano geodesists focus on studying the various volcano-related ground deformation that you see before, after and during volcanic eruptions
- geochemists focus on volcanic products, like emitted gases, and the makeup of the Earth
Unfortunately, earning a Bachelor’s degree is not enough to get your dream job as a volcanologist. With just a B.S. degree in Geology, you are only qualified to work as a technician or assistant. So, get your Master’s degree or PhD in order to secure the better paying and more exciting positions. In fact, the PhD is your best option if you can afford it.
Once you have your college degree all squared away, it is time to start looking for a job. Most volcanogists in the United States end up employed by the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it, but one of their volcano observatory offices is a lot more desirable than the others. In total, they have three different locations where you could end up working out of. They are located at:
- near the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii
- near Mt. St. Helens and other Cascade volcanoes in Vancouver, Washington
- Alaska where there are around 100 active volcanoes to study
As expected, not everyone on this career path ends up working for the U.S. Geological Survey. In fact, some Geology degree graduates take jobs working with state geologic surveys. This typically happens in states where there are volcanoes to study, such as Washington, California and Alaska.
Other qualified volcanologists opt to enter the teaching profession and take on jobs at universities where they teach a variety of different geology courses to college students. And others may take on positions with international companies who value their research and knowledge.
Though you might expect this to be a high paying position as a result of the potential danger and the fact that the it closely related to scientists, it is not a very high salary. On average, the pay range that you can expect for a career in volcanology or geology is between $30,000 and $90,000 per year.
The lower end of the pay rate range is for those who have limited on-the-job experience, and possibly even less college, than those on the higher end of the range. So, with a PhD and some experience, you can expect to bring in close to $100,000 annually while working as a volcanologist.
As a beginner in this career, I would estimate that the average salary is around $40,000. And for experienced, senior volcanogists, an estimate on the average salary is around $85,000. Keep in mind that these figures are just averages and you can end up making much more or much less than the salary rates listed here. Just use these as guides when determining if this career is a good one for you to consider.