The Real Poop
(Okay, that one was bad, but Beetlejuice needs to be remembered.)
When the Earth gets a case of the shakes, it's the seismologist's job to figure what the deal is by measuring the seismic waves that ripple through the ground. Why bother reporting on something that already happened? Oh, only because engineers and architects can use this info to design earthquake resistant buildings that help keep it all from a tumblin' down. Seismologists can also warn us when a tsunami is coming to crash our beach party, or ya'know, our entire island nation.
Of course, these days the big bucks for seismologists are in Big Oil. The vast majority of these earthquake experts actually spend their days making earthquakes, well, mini earthquakes, earthquake juniors, if you will. Seismologists set off minor explosions underwater or pound the earth with thumper trucks (yes, that's what they're called), and then measure the seismic waves to detect pockets of black gold. You'll probably never be able to date an environmentalist if you have one of these jobs, but you'll have a pretty good-looking 401k by the end of it all.
Some seismologists also help the government to spy on other countries...err, we mean "promote world peace." If a foreign nation tries to hide its secret nuclear tests by setting bombs off underground, seismologists can totally tell. Next thing you know, the President is on the phone with the other country saying, "Hey, you guys ever heard of the nuclear test ban treaty?" We’d like to imagine that the lives of these seismologists are intense like on Homeland, but it's probably not quite that exciting.
To be a successful seismologist, you have to be super into geophysics. If you were just like, "What's geophysics?" then click here. If you weren't enthralled, find another career. Seismologists also have to be crazy good at math. As a seismologist you have to be like, "Pshhaw, physics? I was born for physics." Computer skills are also absolutely essential. Most seismologists spend all day staring at a screen, so if you're a technophobe, this is definitely not your bag.
Seismologists also need killer analytical skills. You have to be able to accurately analyze the mountains of info that your instruments throw at you. You need to be a detailed person, whose idea of fun is methodically trolling through data. You should get excited when you see lines of numbers and the squiggly lines of a seismograph. This has to be fun for you, or you might go insane, or worse, you might make an incorrect conclusion, which could literally lead to disaster for you and a bunch of other people too.
If you're one of the few seismologists who work out in the field, you have to be kind of hardcore. You might spend a month doing work in some rugged, volcanic mountain range measuring seismic data. Since rugged, volcanic mountain ranges don’t usually have Holiday Inns, you've got to be ready to rough it. Even if you’re working for Big Oil, you need to be ready for a rougher lifestyle than some. What if you spend a month on a ship out in the open ocean prospecting for black gold? Big Oil has big money, but we bet the showers on those boats are still pretty gross.
All these long trips away from home can wreak havoc on the personal life. Sometimes there's not much of a dating scene in rugged, volcanic mountain ranges. A family life? It could get rocky. Sure, plenty of seismologists manage it, but you just have to be aware of what you’re getting into. You might have a tough time starting a family at all. If this kind of demanding work schedule is a big problem for you, you might want to think about teaching at a university, or finding a government job that doesn't require you to travel.
Whether your thing is working for the government, an oil or mining company, a university, or a private research company—the jobs are actually out there for seismologists. The field is only about 100 years old, making it a baby when compared to a lot of other scientific fields. This means that there are a lot of new discoveries out there to dig into. And get this, the field is growing faster than the national average. Yes, we're happy to report that somewhere in America, job prospects are actually getting better. Better jump on this prospect before the Earth swallows it whole.