How to Become a Seismologist

How to Become a Seismologist: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a seismologist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re likely well suited for a career as a seismologist:


Many of those who become seismologists do so because of a natural interest in seismology: they are curious about why earthquakes start; what controls their timing; and how they stop.


Their interest may be rooted purely in curiosity, or they may be interested in applied seismology, such as wanting to help make advancements in fields such as earthquake hazard assessment.


Those who become seismologists must have a solid educational background in basic undergraduate areas such as mathematics and physics, as well as a natural aptitude in these areas. Coursework in geology is also very helpful for a career as a seismologist, as is expertise with computers.


If you want to become a seismologist, you must be comfortable working closely with other professionals and sharing your opinions with them.


You must also be willing to work in both an office environment and a field environment, which may involve traveling long distances and being away from home for extended periods of time.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a seismologist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Seismologist

There are a variety of undergraduate majors you can pursue if you want to become a seismologist, the most directly career-related of those being an undergraduate degree in geophysics. However, pursuing a degree in geology or physics can also be a great way to gain the necessary foundation to pursue graduate work in geophysics and seismology.  


For seismology careers, coursework in basic geology is also very helpful, as is expertise with computers. Expertise with specialized computer programs is essential in seismology careers, as research seismologists rely heavily on them to perform their work.


Pursuing a Master of Science degree in an area such as geophysics can be a valuable asset before beginning an industrial seismology career, as it will provide you with advanced specialized study. This will serve to make you more knowledgeable in your field, as well as help make you more marketable to employers.


Your choice of undergraduate and graduate school program should be based on your particular interests within the field. A Master of Science degree also typically qualifies seismologists to work as consultants with environmental and engineering consulting firms.


Research seismology careers, whether in a university, private industry, or with the government, require the completion of a Ph.D. degree. However, many careers in observational and operational seismology, especially in the petroleum industry, are open to those with a Bachelor’s degree.


Success Tip: If you are interested in becoming a seismologist, talk to your math and science professors about your interest. Chances are they know of opportunities such as undergraduate internships that can provide invaluable experience and training. They can also provide guidance, such as how to choose a graduate school. 






What is a Seismologist?

A seismologist is a geophysicist who studies earthquakes and the mechanical characteristics of the Earth. Their research aims at interpreting the geological composition and structures of the Earth. With earthquakes for instance, seismologists evaluate the potential dangers and seek to minimize their impact through the improvement of construction standards.



Seismologist Job Description

There are a variety of possible job descriptions for seismologists; the specific job description of a seismologist varies based on the responsibilities of their job.


Research Seismology


Seismologists may be involved in conducting research in a variety of areas, including interpreting the geological composition and structures of the Earth; and gaining a better understanding of the fundamental processes of earthquakes.


Other seismologists are responsible for studying the seismic waves generated by natural and artificial sources, like earthquakes and mining events, or underground nuclear tests. The work of a seismologist is to locate the source, the nature, and the size (magnitude) of these seismic events.


Applied Seismology


Seismologists that are involved in applied seismology use their understanding of geophysics to a variety of scientific or societal issues.


The vast majority of applied seismologists work in petroleum exploration; conducting tests to determine the location of oil and other natural resources. Seismologists may also apply their knowledge to areas such as the monitoring of underground nuclear explosions, which is of great importance to world peace. Seismic observations are a reliable method for determining whether or not foreign countries are complying with test ban treaties.



Seismologist Job Duties

• Establish direction, motion and stress of earth movements before, during and after earthquakes

• Issue reports and maps which indicate areas of seismic risk to construction or development

• Study the origin and propagation of seismic waves in geological materials

• Conducts research on seismic forces affecting deformative movements of earth

• Interpret geological structures and composition of the Earth

• Evaluate potential dangers

• Minimize potential destructive impact of earthquakes by conferring with structural engineers



Who Hires Seismologists?

Seismologists are hired on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis by organizations that study fault lines, and look for ways to predict when disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis may occur. Organizations that hire seismologists include:


• Resource, exploration, engineering and environmental companies

• Government departments and agencies

• Oil, gas and mining companies

• Geophysical data acquisition and processing companies

• Engineering and environmental consulting firms

• Financial institutions and insurance companies

• Universities and colleges

• Public and private research organizations


Please Note: The most common commercial application of seismology is in the search for oil, and large numbers of seismologists are employed in the petroleum industry.



Seismologist Salary

The salary level of seismologists can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many other factors.


Seismologist Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Geologists, Geochemists and Geophysicists occupational group earn a mean wage of $50.48 per hour.


Seismologist Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Geologists, Geochemists and Geophysicists occupational group is $66,900 per year.


Seismologist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Geoscientists occupational group is $82,500 per year.



Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Seismologist

In order to become effective in a career as a seismologist, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will not only allow you to perform your job with competence; they will allow you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work, and help you endure the challenges of a career in seismology.


• A natural interest in geophysics, and a desire to make discoveries in this field

• An interest in working in a relatively new field of science

• A natural aptitude in mathematics and science

• The ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings

• Able to effectively use a seismograph

• Skills with specialized computer programs

• An interest in outdoor activities

• A willingness to travel to remote locations

• A patient and methodical approach to work activities



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Careers Similar to Seismologist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Seismologist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.






Soil Scientist



References: How to Become a Seismologist

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Seismologist.


Occupations in Alberta:Physicist.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 13, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Geoscientists.” (September 19, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 13, 2020.

Explore Careers:Seismologist.” (n.d.). ECO Canada website. Retrieved January 13, 2020.

Earthquakes Canada:What is a seismologist?.” (October 19, 2018.) Natural Resources Canada website. Retrieved January 13, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Seismologist

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming a Seismologist can be found on the following pages:


Geology Scholarships

Mathematics Scholarships

Physics Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Seismologist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Seismologist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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