While an individual needs lots of schooling to become a volcanologist, perhaps the most important skills to obtain are those related to Earth science. Also, a basic overall understanding of computers, software and computer code could come in useful as the volcanology field is progressively getting more and more technology advanced. More specifically, though, let’s take a deeper look into what types of things a person should be looking for at the different stages of their education.
Developing your language skills is a major step towards becoming a volcanologist. Writing reports, giving talks and communicating clearly on some advanced and tricky subjects are eventually going to be a major part of your volcanology career. Preparing early can help you to better be prepared for this type of work when the time arises.
Also, students interested in majoring in geological sciences should include algebra, geometry, trigonometry, geography, physics, chemistry and either biology or Earth science into their high school curriculum. If a general geology class is offered, along with a lab, it is also highly recommended that an individual take this as part of their high school education.
University – Undergrad Program
Volcanology is made up of bits and pieces of numerous different fields and thus, there are no schools that offer full degree programs specifically in volcanology. Therefore, many individuals begin their volcanology careers by getting a bachelor’s degree in geology. Ideally, it is best to combine as much geology and geophysics as possible. However, this is very difficult to do and, usually, individuals just end up specializing in either one or the other.
Basically, students should build a strong foundation for themselves by taking lots of mathematics and physics courses. Calculus I, II and III, analytical geometry, differential equations, introductory linear algebra and at least one year of an upper division sequence in applied mathematics is recommended. A student should also complete 1 full year of physics with a lab. Classical mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism courses are also suggested. A year of chemistry with a lab is usually required as well. Clearly, introductory geology, historical geology, mineralogy, and many other courses are required for a geology degree and will be needed if you’re interested in becoming a volcanologist. Lastly, an oceanography course (numerous volcanoes are formed in the oceans) and a meteorology/atmospheric sciences class (eruptions can greatly affect the climate) can also provide useful background knowledge and help students prepare for a post-graduate program.
Finally, if money permits, perhaps one of the best things you can get involved in would be a summer internship. Doing volcanological fieldwork, either as a volunteer or even as a paid field assistant, is a first step towards your success as a volcanologist.
University – Post-graduate Programs
Most present volcanologists have gone on to get their degrees through a graduate program of some kind, but not all believe that it is absolutely necessary to get your Ph.D. However, in the pursuit of your graduate degree, the choice of specialization allows you to truly become a volcanologist. Here, under the supervision of an experienced, senior volcanologist, you conduct your own individual research. Choosing a particular university for this type of study depends on lots of things and may be a difficult decision to make. Factors such as the particular aspects of the field you are interested in; potential advisors’ interests, abilities and personalities; the university’s location; the available financial aid options; the language that most of the classes are taught in; and also the specific degree that you are interested in can all play a role in deciding where you would like to continue your education. (The link below offers a list of some of the schools that offer programs dealing with geology) Contacting researchers concerning their advice on certain projects and locations is usually a good idea. Also, if it is possible, meeting and visiting with prospective advisors at their university is highly recommended.
Lastly, after many volcanologists get their Ph.D., they also do something referred to as a “post-doc.” This is basically just a 2-3 year paid research job at a university, observatory or geological survey company.
For more information on universities that offer graduate programs related to volcanology follow this link: http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Outreach/StudyVolcanoes/UniversitiesColleges/