Are Geophysicists Geologists? Part II

The question of whether or not I am a geologist is not just an amusing exercise in academic politics. In Washington, as in most U.S. states, geology is a regulated profession; guidelines for who can and cannot call themselves a geologist in a professional context are laid out in the administrative code and enforced by the Geologist Licensing Board.

I am not a geologist, nor will I become one any time soon. To comply with Washington law, I would need to complete coursework in the core subjects of geology (as specified in WAC 308-15-040: structural geology, mineralogy, petrology and sedimentary geology/stratigraphy) and then my professional clock would start ticking - experience gained prior to completing these educational requirements doesn't count towards the necessary 5 years. So, assuming I have understood the requirements correctly (always a gamble!), it would take a minimum of 6 years to become a Washington professional geologist. Even if there is a way to appeal for a shortcut, man, what an annoying hurdle.

On the other hand, if I got a job in California I could be a geologist in a few months. In fact, as far as I can tell, Washington is almost uniquely strict about this - only Nebraska has an equivalently rigid licensing requirement.

Disclaimer: This map is based on my quick skim of these ASBOG summaries. It is not intended to provide professional or legal advice; for actual information on licensing for professional geologists in your jurisdiction, you should consult applicable authorities.


In case anyone else wants to make a cheesy custom-colored map of the U.S., here's the quickie web app I used.

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Did Washington change its rules for becoming a registered professional geologist recently? I remember my father-in-law telling me several years ago (note: several may equal ten in this case) that I ought to apply, because the law was going to change soon. (I never got around to it.)

The states with tests (and which accept someone who is a licensed geologist in say, California) seem to make the most sense, because it's possible to pick up the relevant information in places other than a college course. (Colorado doesn't have any licensing at all, btw - although I guess that means the same thing for a geophysicist as California's test does, it has pretty different implications for someone hiring geologists.)

Colorado doesn't license geologists, but it does have a fairly broad legal definition of "geology", which I took to include geophysics: "Geology" means the science which treats "of the earth" in general, the earth's processes and its history, investigations of the earth's crust and the rocks and other materials which compose it, and the applied science of utilizing knowledge of the earth's history, processes, constituent rocks, minerals, liquids, gasses, and other materials for the use of mankind.

To do certain work for the CO state government you need to meet the usual criteria for an RG in other states - i.e., education equivalent to a bachelor's degree in "geology" + 5 years of experience - but you don't have to take the test.

Are petrologists geologists? And paleontologist? And sedimentologist?

Actually, geologists are a myth. They don't exist :-)

(In Spain we don't generally differenciate between geologists and geophysicist; In Germany and UK, they do)

I blame volcanoes.

A lot of geologists don't get PG certified, so not having that on one's card or resume doesn't mean one isn't a geologist.

And then there was the case of a scammer claiming to be from Colorado, who put "Professional Engineer" on his business card, came to California and, while salting a ranch property with gold, was advising the unknowledgeable ranch owner about where to put an non-useful mill (no gold, no mill is needed!). No one knew if the scammer was an engineer of any kind.

Thanks for the map-making link. I was trying to do something with states a while back, but got bogged down in the hassle of it all.

Wait, there's geology in Nebraska? Who knew?

By YetAnotherKevin (not verified) on 27 Mar 2009 #permalink

This is an old entry, I know, but just in case anyone is still reading . . .
The Washington state Geologist Licensing Board will give a maximum of 2 years worth of experience credit for graduate school. What is printed as the work experience guidelines is really just a working perimeter. The board makes judgement calls based on the individual application so calling or writing the board with your personal specifics would be a good idea. This is pretty standard for most states which license Geologists. The only other state that I'm very familiar with, North Carolina, works exactly the same way.
In other words, if the board were to be convinced that a Master's degree in Geophysics qualified as sufficiently relevant (they'd probably want to know the specifics of your research) you'd only need 3 years of relevant work experience for the privilege of taking their 2-part, 4-hr each qualifying exams :)

By the way, if you know any Engineers who have professional licenses then the format for the Geologist license might look familiar. This isn't a coincidence. The Geologists simply mimicked the Engineers' regulatory template. Also, not a coincidence of choice; non-academic Geologists usually work very closely with Engineers. One really only needs to bother with licensing if they work for a government agency or in consulting. It really isn't a bad idea to protect the public, you know.