Geochemists study the amount and distribution of chemical elements in rocks and minerals. They also study the movement of those elements into soil and water systems. Their work guides oil exploration, can help improve water quality and is also used to develop plans to clean up toxic waste sites. They can be employed by oil and gas companies, consultancies, research facilities and education institutions.


Typical Work Activities

  • Analysing the age, nature and components of rock, soil and other environmental samples.
  • Conducting sample tests and checks, including gas chromatography, carbon and isotope data, viscosity and solvent extraction.
  • Working with a range of specialist equipment as part of research, including mass spectrometers, microscopes and electron microprobes.
  • Undertaking field visits to collect site samples.
  • Generating computer models using specialist software.
  • Mapping specific geochemical areas for research and analysis.
  • Interpreting a wide range of data and analysing results.
  • Liaising with geologists, petroleum engineers and commercial managers.
  • Providing support and recommendations to mainstream geologists.
  • Developing databases to track and organise information.
  • Providing data and feedback to clients.
  • Undertaking long-range theoretical and applied research.
  • Using written sources of information, such as journals and the internet, as part of the research process.
  • Writing technical reports and papers for journals.
  • Teaching and lecturing on specific areas within geochemistry.
  • Giving presentations at conferences and other events.
  • Keeping up to date with developments and new research.


Technical Skills

  • Strong interpersonal skills.
  • The ability to work as part of a team.
  • Networking skills.
  • Research skills and the ability to manage a project or study.
  • A conscientious, methodical approach for analysing samples and collating data.
  • Good it and database skills.
  • Laboratory skills, such as general technical ability and safety awareness.
  • Intellectual and personal flexibility.


Career Development

Geographical mobility and a flexible attitude to work are both useful, especially during the early stages of a geochemist’s career. Being willing to move around in order to gain relevant experience will help build up a strong portfolio and lead to more opportunities.

Career development may be challenging because of the demand for specialist knowledge within each sector of the industry, and progress will depend on your interests and chosen sector. For example, a postgraduate degree in petroleum geochemistry is usually required in order to progress within the oil industry. This need for specialist knowledge, qualifications and skills means that it is possible to become restricted to one area of employment, so it is important that geochemists who wish to keep their options more open move around in order to gain as much experience as possible.

Oil and gas specialists may progress into consultancy-based project work. Analysts can move into environmental work, for example, investigating chemical contamination of land at a landfill site, disused industrial site or agricultural site. Geochemists are also employed by mining companies to assist in developing sites. This may include, for example, mapping the location, concentration and movement of chemicals over large areas of land to help locate resources, such as coal or uranium, leading to exploratory mining or drilling. Again, relevant experience is important to develop a career in this area.

Career progress within the academic field depends on the success of any research you have done. Occasionally, individuals within academia move into consultancy work or employment with an environmental body or oil and gas company. Self-employment and freelance work also provide possible avenues for career development, as outsourcing creates opportunities for geochemists. Oil industry related contracts are determined by project status and oil prices. Other possibilities include environmental consultancy, such as advising on the construction, operation or closure of landfill sites. Building up a network of contacts through contract or project work, and by attending events and conferences, is crucial to successful freelancing.



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