In most cases, becoming a geochemist requires a combination of education and experience. The majority of geochemists hold at least an undergraduate degree in geology, chemistry, physics, or a combination of the above. Most usually also hold master’s or doctorate degrees, as well. Education only prepares one to be a geochemist, however. To actually become a geochemist, one must also find work in the field.
Geochemistry is, as its name implies, the study of chemistry’s intersection with geology. Geochemist jobs focus on the earth’s chemical composition, and seek to understand the scientific reactions that caused the formation of the earth’s many elements. In order to become a geochemist, you will need to have an aptitude for scientific calculations, a mind for science, and a curiosity for why things are they way they are in the natural world.
The path to most geochemist careers begins in college or university. Depending on your school, it may not be possible to major in geochemistry — the field is a nuanced one, and even large universities do not always have enough demand to sponsor a major course of study in every discipline. Chemistry, geology, and even physics are good majors if you want to ultimately become a geochemist. Elements of geochemistry are usually woven into these courses, particularly at the upper level. Geochemistry electives are sometimes also offered; if so, be sure to enroll.
Professors are usually some of the best resources when it comes to planning a geochemistry career. Once you have determined that you want to become a geochemist, schedule a meeting with your professor to discuss avenues of further learning, as well as ideas about job prospects. Professors often have information about summer study and internship opportunities that are not commonly known, and may also have connections in the field that they could contact for you.
Geochemists work in a variety of different settings, from research labs and institutions to excavation sites and field testing grounds all over the world. A job description for a geochemist position usually includes some combination of fieldwork, lab work, and research. Geochemist duties involve anything from presenting academic papers to isolating different chemical compounds from soil and rock samples.
It is not usually necessary to know what type of work you want to do when you initially decide to be a geochemist. Even if a summer program or work study project does not immediately seem interesting, you may find something in it to enjoy, or at least to learn. Work experience will almost always help you find a new job or get into graduate school.
Many students find entry-level geochemist jobs immediately after receiving their undergraduate degrees. This is the fastest way to become a geochemist, but most professionals go on to get more advanced training at some point in their career. Sometimes, students go directly from college to graduate school, though it is more common for students to work for a couple of years, figure out exactly what it is they would like to study in more depth, then pursue a highly specific master’s of doctorate program. Graduate programs allow students to hone the skills they started cultivating in college and on the job. Most programs allow intense focus on a specific area of geochemistry such that a graduate can truly be labeled an expert.