Geology for Global Development

Geoscience Careers In International Development

Earlier this year I gave a presentation at the UCL IRDR Careers Forum – on working within international development. Today I will be joining many other sectors at a similar event organised by the Earth Science Department at the University of Cambridge. In this post we share some of the top tips, ideas and reflections that have come out of preparing for these events…

1) A responsibility for everyone…

Working within NGOs is an important way that geologists can contribute to international development – we need more geologists at the heart of the development sector, inputting their knowledge of our planet and its resources. A core message of our recent conference, however, was that EVERY geologist can make a contribution to sustainable development and the fight against global poverty – no matter what sector they work in. Geologists go on to find work within sectors including insurance, risk modelling, academia, policy, government, engineering consultancies, NGOs, petroleum and the extractive industries, and geological surveys. In all of these, individuals with a passion for development can contribute to projects that are making the world a better place for some of the world’s poorest communities.


Dr Kate Crowley at #GfGDConf
Credit: Geology for Global Development, 2013

Dr Kate Crowley (profiled here) gave a great talk at our conference in which she gave some very helpful advice for those wishing to pursue jobs directly within NGOs (but also very useful to those working within other sectors). The key thing she advised delegates (with regards disaster risk reduction work) was to grow in their understanding of social science and social science tools. Much of disaster risk reduction (DRR) work within NGOs involves utilising tools to assess community vulnerability to hazards and climate change. She also talked about the importance of demonstrating understanding of United Nations reports/standards. The Hyogo Framework for Action being a current, and essential piece of reading for all those interested in this field.

Unless your degree is a joint honours with geography – you are unlikely to come across these factors in your taught undergraduate geology courses. It is therefore essential that you do some extra reading to expose yourselves to some of the underlying social science behind what causes disasters, what causes water projects to fail etc. We’ll be posting some accessible introductory reading suggestions on our website in due course.

This also includes languages. Investing in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swahili (or many more) can be invaluable when it comes to applying for jobs either overseas – or with overseas responsibilities.

3) Be prepared to volunteer…

Working within development can often put you in the position where you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get that experience without having a job. Volunteering can be an important way of gaining some of the experience necessary to take your career forward. This voluntary work does not always need to be overseas, or full-time. The key thing is that you can use any voluntary experience to demonstrate a commitment to international development.

Get involved in our work (or some other type of project) and start to build the skills and experience that will support you later on in life.

4) Look NOW at the jobs you’d like to have in the future…

I regularly download job descriptions that I am interested in from places such as and store them as PDFs. Reading these now I can see the skills, qualifications and character traits that they require – and start to invest in these. It is much easier (and better!) to build and develop them over the next few years then in the few weeks before doing the application. I have junior and senior level jobs saved – in sectors as diverse as government, research and geological surveys.

5) Carefully consider further qualifications…

Masters courses are expensive, and students need to consider carefully if they are worth it before embarking on them. If you have done a four year undergraduate course and would like to work within academia (hence need to do a PhD) you may not need to do an MSc. If you want to work vocationally in a field such as water and sanitation – then a MSc is perhaps much more advisable, giving you the professional skills required to get jobs in the sector.

When thinking about which course to choose – look carefully at the module content, the possibility of doing research projects overseas (again, great experience for the CV), and financial support for dissertations/scholarships for academic excellence etc.

We have put together some lists of possible courses relating to hazards/disaster management and water/sanitation/hydrogeology – but would encourage students to think about the above comments alongside these lists.

6) Be Strategic and Pro-Active…

Hunt for/create experience, don’t wait for it to come to you… speak to those in your department about the kind of work you would like to do in the future and see if they can help you get some experience. For example, if you know a researcher (PhD or lecturer) is doing work on minerals in Zambia – see if you can volunteer for a couple of weeks researching a topic. This will probably be at your desk/home in the UK and not in Zambia – but it is great experience and will show a commitment to employers. Or if it is a certain skill that you need (public communication/presentations) – organise a forum where you can develop that!

Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.