What is a Volcanologist ?
Volcanology is a very young and exciting career that deals with the study of one of the
earth's most dynamic processes - volcanoes. Scientists who study volcanoes work on a
variety of diverse areas.
Physical volcanologists study the actual processes and deposits
of volcanic eruptions. Geophysicists have several areas of specialization within the
field which include seismology (the study of earthquakes - very useful in volcano
monitoring), gravity and magnetics. Geodesy is a specialization that looks at changes in
the shape of the earth related to volcanic activity, or ground deformation. Geochemists
specialize in the study of the makeup of the earth and volcanic products, including
specialties ranging from volcanic gases to larger scale whole-earth processes.
There are also demands for technical support including electronics and computers. As you can see, there are many diverse fields that contribute to our growing knowledge of how volcanoes work. Although the job market is not very favorable at this point in time, it might change in the future.
Most volcanologists have strong backgrounds in one or more of the natural sciences
including chemistry, physics, and geology, as well as computer science and math.
If you are still in high school, you can prepare by taking as many math, chemistry
and physics courses as your school offers. It is also a good idea to become acquainted
with computers, software and computer code.
Undergraduate education requirements to
set you on the road should emphasize natural sciences (calculus, physics, chemistry,
There are many different approaches to take, but generally the choice of
specialization (volcanic gas geochemistry, ground deformation, seismology,
physical volcanology etc) is made during pursuit of a graduate degree.
Almost all volcanologists have some level of graduate education, whether it be
an MS or PhD.
There are a wide number of universities that provide excellent educational
opportunities that could put you on track to becoming a volcanologist.
The choice of undergraduate and graduate level study really depends on your
individual interest, as each university has strengths and weaknesses in the
areas mentioned above. It is very useful to do some research on the universities
you consider attending well ahead of time.
In many cases you can email or write individual professors to get more information.
This is also a good way to make contacts for the future. It is probably a good
idea to read some of their publications first so that you will be able to ask
informed questions. Once you start your undergraduate studies, keep your eye
out for internships and volunteer opportunities. They are good ways to obtain
valuable training and experience for the future.