Seismology Workforce Issues 1

Seismology Workforce Issues 1 IRIS summer intern Justin Brown servicing a seismograph station in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes of Katmai National Park, Alaska, in 2004. (Image courtesy of IRIS; photo by J. Cundiff.)

The national need for well-trained geoscientists, including geophysicists and seismologists is well documented by the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Education, and the American Geological Institute. The current geoscience workforce is aging, with the majority being within 15 years of retirement age. The current percentage of geoscientists between 31–35 years old is less than half that of geoscientists between 51–55 years old and there are not enough students being produced to fill the positions that will be vacated by retirements. By 2020, the current U.S. workforce, plus new U.S. entries, is estimated to fall short of the projected geoscientist demand from the petroleum industry alone by 20,000 jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an employment growth of 22% for geoscientists between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and water management is expected to further spur employment demand.

Geoscience PhDs are particularly needed for teaching and training the next generation of students, and for performing basic research. The “Digest of Educational Statistics” documents the low number of geological sciences PhDs (505 in AY 2005–2006). Digest statistics show a high percentage of PhDs being awarded to nonresident aliens in physical Sciences (44% in 2005–2006, an increasing percentage of which are returning to their home countries), and low participation rates by women (30% of the 2005–2006 PhDs), and underrepresented minorities (4%).

Addressing the geoscience workforce issue requires attention at the K–12 level, where U.S. students are lagging in science and mathematics training relative to international peers. Efforts are needed to alert entering university student to the excitement and career potential for geoscience majors. A number of summer internship programs for undergraduates have been successful in promoting advanced study and careers in seismology. The NSF research experiences for undergraduates (REU) program has promoted internships associated with NSF-funded projects. Summer internships include those sponsored by IRIS, SCEC, and the UCAR/ UNA VCO SOAR S/RESESS program. Summer camps such as SAGE provide technical training in applied geophysics in the field. These internships provide experiences that contribute to many students’ decisions to pursue graduate work in seismology and geophysics. These efforts need to be sustained and expanded, and concerted efforts need to address the pipelines that bring students into seismology and other geoscience disciplines.


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