Environmental geology continues to be the number one strength reported by North American college and university geoscience departments -- but employment trends suggest a significant change may be looming.
Bottom line: The number of geoscience students finding employment in environmental areas is shrinking, while the number finding jobs in petroleum geology is growing.
Those are some of the findings of the 1998 Report on the Status of Academic Geoscience Departments, a survey compiled annually since 1992 by the AAPG Research Committee to track academic geoscience trends.
The survey tracks trends in geoscience department size, student populations, technical strengths, post-graduation employment, research funding levels, research funding sources and restrictions on funding.
The employment trend, according to committee chairman Barry Katz of Texaco -- who personally organizes the survey and compiles the results -- is something that could have an impact on department strategies. Traditionally, he said, universities and colleges find themselves reacting to employment trends.
According to responses in the 1998 survey, about 35 percent of all geoscience graduates entering the job market in North America are still finding employment in the environmental sector. That remains the largest single block listed.
However, that number not only is down from the 1997 figure, it continues a steady decline since the mid-1990s.
In contrast, the petroleum industry in North America accounted for about 27 percent of the graduates entering the employment market last year -- a "significant increase over the past several years," Katz said.
"Interestingly," he continued, "around 14 percent of the students took non-geology positions following graduation."
Non-North American survey results showed similar trends.
Outside North America, about 35 percent of graduates entering the labor market found positions in the petroleum industry, reversing a decline in 1997. Approximately 10 percent of these positions were associated with research organizations.
Environmental positions outside of North America accounted for only about 16 percent of those entering the labor pool.
And although environmental geology continued to be the top "academic strength" in North America, Katz noted that the number of N.A. departments reporting petroleum geology as a strength increased by three to 12.
Last year's survey was mailed to 908 departments -- 277 in North America and 631 departments outside North America. It was completed by about 50 percent of N.A. departments but only by about15 percent of the departments contacted outside North America.
Based on those responses, it appears the average department size remained fairly constant in North America over the past five years at a median average of about 13 faculty members. Outside North America a slight dip in faculty size seems to have stabilized in 1998.
In addition, the survey responses indicate that nearly 80 percent of the faculty positions in North America are either at the full professor or associate professor levels, in contrast to approximately 48 percent outside of North America.
Other findings include:
- Student enrollment in N.A. geoscience departments averaged 79.9 in 1998, a slight dip from 81.8 in 1997. The decline was much more significant outside North America where the average number of students declined to 97.5 percent last year versus 107.1 in 1997.
- The proportion of graduate students remains higher in North America (44 percent of the total student population); outside North America graduate students represent about 31 percent.
Those percentages have remained fairly constant over the past few years.
- The number of graduate students in North America with prior petroleum industry experience was up slightly in 1998 to about 7.2 percent from 5 percent in 1997. The percentage of graduate students with work experience is nearly double in Canada than in the United States, 13.6 vs. 6.2.
However, outside North America the number of graduate students with experience is only slightly greater than that of North America at 8.7; that is up from 5.5 percent in 1997, but still off the 1996 pace of 15.5 percent.
- In North America, 33 percent of the Ph.D. candidates were non-U.S., compared with 10 percent of master's candidates. Those levels have remained fairly constant over the last several years.
- The three most commonly cited department strengths for North America remained, in order, environmental geology, inorganic geochemistry and stratigraphy/sedimentology.
Outside of North America, department strengths in descending order were stratigraphy/sedimentology, economic geology (excluding petroleum and coal), and environmental geology. In 1997 the top strengths were structural geology, economic geology.
The number of non-N.A. departments citing petroleum geology as a department strength increased by two to 11.
- Several departments listed "other" as a major strength, and these ranged from geoarcheology to geostatistics to planetary science. Also, regional geology was commonly cited as a department strength, and these regions included virtually every area of the world from Iceland and the Shetland Islands to Antarctica.
- N.A. department chairmen said the major non-monetary impediments to research activities within their departments were equipment, space, time as a result of teaching load and administrative paperwork, and qualified graduate students. Outside of North America the critical problems also appear to be time, equipment and qualified students.
- The number of graduates outside of North America leaving the geosciences is still significant, Katz said, although the number decreased to about 24 percent last year compared to 36 percent in 1997.
- A sizable number of students opt to continue their education. In North America the percentage of students continuing their education rather than directly entering the job market declined slightly to approximately 31 percent from 37 percent since 1995. Outside of North America about 41 percent of students continued their education, a decrease from around 54 percent in 1997.