Career as a Geophysicist

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David Jones is a map-maker, but he doesn't produce the type of map that would be of use to travellers. As a geophysicist he is interested in what is underneath the ground and his maps are three-dimensional.

What does a Geophysicist do?

I use a lot of information gathered from underground surveys to show if the rock structures to trap oil or gas are present. We use remote sensing techniques – including photography, electromagnetic and acoustic measurements – to gather this information. Planes, satellites and survey ships now tend to carry out these surveys.

Why do you produce these maps?

So that we can identify areas that may be worth drilling. This is a very expensive operation and we need all the information we can get to pinpoint more accurately the presence of oil or gas. If the maps appear positive, we then examine the rocks from the area concerned, where possible, so that we can calculate the potential reserves of oil or gas.

What areas do you examine?

I map areas of the world that have never been looked at before from a geological point of view. They include new offshore areas such as the coast of Africa and remote desert areas of Asia. The technology available today allows us to evaluate previously unexplored territory, from the snow wastelands of Russia to the remote deserts of Africa.

At present, I am creating maps for prospective areas from offshore West Africa.

Do you have to travel to these areas?

Yes, there is a fair degree of international travel involved. The company has offices in all the countries that it is exploring and occasionally there are trips to these countries to meet representatives from the relevant state oil company. However, most of my travelling is associated with attending international conferences, training courses and field-trips.

What equipment do you use?

We use powerful dual screen workstations with high-end graphic cards that allow subsurface data to be viewed three-dimensionally. One of the screens displays a cross-section through the survey and the other screen displays the map of the horizon.

Do you have a typical day?

Most of the time is spent on interpreting seismic data from remote sensing and using it to create maps. Quite often we have to give informal presentations and updates on our interpretation to the exploration team or management. Occasionally, I attend conferences on geology and oil and gas exploration.

Why did you choose a career as a Geophysicist?

My first interest was fuelled during a work experience job with the company when I was 16. I enjoyed the mapping aspect of the work and was intrigued by the information that could be obtained from rocks. I was amazed that just by looking at subtle features associated with them, such as composition, colour, grain size and grain shape, it was possible to understand the environment in which they existed millions of years ago.

What ongoing training do you receive?

I need training continually on how to use new software packages as well as training in new branches of geology and geophysics that are specific to oil and gas exploration. This may involve the geology of deepwater sedimentary basins or new techniques for understanding the growth of geological faults.

The industry is always evolving and it is my responsibility to keep pace with new techniques. There are also a lot of different software applications to get familiar with which can take some time.

What are the skills and qualities needed to be a Geophysicist?

The ability to interpret and integrate different types of data and make logical deductions from them is most important. Patience and attention to detail is also essential for seismic interpretation and mapping.

David's route to his career as a Geophysicist

  • GCSEs
  • AS level in Maths.
  • A Levels in Physics and Theatre Studies.
  • BSc (Hons) Geology
  • MSc Basin Evolution and Dynamics
  • PhD Geology

David's tips

  • Do internships. You get paid and it may lead to a job further down the road as well as help you to find out if you like the work.
  • Don't feel that you need to have A level in geology to do a relevant degree course. Most universities start from scratch and they don't assume you have a geology A level.
  • If you get the chance, join an amateur/local geological fieldtrip to see what it is like.

Geophysicist related jobs












  • Geologist
  • Chemist
  • Geographer
  • Archaeologist
  • Palaeontologist
  • Minerologist
  • Geotechnical engineer

Salary of a Geophysicist

  • Depending upon the sector in which they are working, geophysicists start on between £20,000 and £40,000.

Career as a Geophysicist

  • Starting off with work experience, David followed a standard way of getting into this type of work by taking maths and physics at school followed by a good degree and a further degree.
  • It may be best to do a broader range of sciences such as physics/chemistry or maths if you want to keep your options open and specialise later, with an MSc in geophysics for example.
  • After university studies, during which students obtain experience on a variety of fieldwork projects, graduates may go on to find employment in industry, research or teaching. A number of geology graduates are employed in various jobs in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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