If you have a knack for both chemistry and geology, have a passion for uncovering the root of how something works and like to get your hands a little dirty, a career as a Geochemist could be for you.
Geochemistry uses the tools of chemistry to understand the mechanisms behind major geological systems (ie. the earth). Geochemists, equipped with an expert-level-grasp of geology and chemistry, provide companies and research facilities with further insight into natural resources, geological processes and the earth in general. Your research can be used to discover natural resources or can help to better our environment by reducing pollutants or increasing water quality. Common job opportunities are with oil and gas companies, environmental consultancies and research facilities.
If you would like to pursue a career as a Geochemist then you will need the following High School subjects in order to study a related degree at a tertiary institution:
- English (Home Language or First Additional Language)
- Pure Mathematics
- Physical Science (including Chemistry)
- Life Sciences
There are a number of tertiary institutions in South Africa that offer an undergraduate degree in a relevant field of study, but we recommend the following:
- Stellenbosch University – No specific APS
- University of Cape Town (UCT) – minimum Faculty Point Score (FPS) of 660
- University of Witwatersrand (Wits) – APS of 40+
- University of Pretoria (UP) – APS of 34
You will have to gain an undergraduate degree in one of the following relevant Science-based fields (Bachelor of Science), from a university. Relevant degree areas include physical, mathematical and applied sciences, and engineering. Majors that would suit a Geochemist are as follows (but not limited to):
- chemical engineering
- earth sciences
- environmental sciences
- geophysics or geotechnology
- marine sciences or oceanography
- mineral or mining engineering
An undergraduate degree in the sciences is required for a degree for this career, but any opportunities to gain knowledge about the industry and this job should be taken to better your chances of being hired (for example, university vacation work or an internship). Furthering your studies to an honours/ masters level will also improve your hireability and expertise.
The following skills are needed in order to be a Geochemist:
- Be organised and have an eye for detail
- Good with numbers and stats
- Have a forward-planning mindset and be able to handle many tasks at one time, for analysing samples and data
- To be a team player and communicate within a team (strong communication and interpersonal skills)
- Developed research skills and the ability to manage a project or study
- Good computer and technology skills (for IT and database work)
- Excellent laboratory skills, such as general technical ability- safety awareness is a must!
- A passion for the geological environment and processes
Geochemists can work in many different areas. Typical employers include oil and gas companies, consultancies, mining companies, environmental consultancies, universities and research institutes, environmental bodies (such as the South African governmental department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery).
The job market changes with oil prices so you should look out for changes in the oil and natural resources industry, because this will affect the number of jobs available. If you go down a more academic path, you will find yourself involved in research and will be writing papers for academic journals. You might also lecture students and deliver presentations on your research. Being willing to move around in order to gain experience will help you build up a strong portfolio, a network of contacts and lead to more opportunities.
As a Geochemist, you will be working in the field often (ie. playing with rocks, outside, A LOT), so a standard 9-5 job is pretty much off the cards for you. Weekend work is common, leaving some weekdays free. Work days can have long, irregular hours, and the job often requires frequent travel around the country or overseas from time to time. However, the hours are flexible and can often be decided by you.
As a Geochemist, you can expect to earn anywhere around the South African average yearly salary of R500 000 – R700 000, depending on the company that you work for. American companies are always looking for Geochemists, with an average salary of about $66 000 (roughly R900 000!).
As a Geochemist, you should expect an academic, hands-on career. You will like this career if you are someone who likes to work in the field collecting samples and analysing laboratory test work or be involved in administration and operations management. This industry is international, providing opportunities to live and work abroad, so enjoying travel is a must. Geochemists love getting their sandy-fingers on state-of-the-art scientific equipment to analyse rocks, soil and other minerals.
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