Earth Sciences is the study of the solid Earth – the continents and ocean floor, mountain belts and volcanoes, earthquakes, mineral deposits and fossils – its waters – oceans, lakes, rivers and ground water – and its atmosphere. It is based on the natural sciences and on observations in the field and the laboratory. The Department of Earth Sciences in Stellenbosch offers a variety of these study fields and our programme is broadly subdivided into an Environmental Stream (water and atmosphere) and an Applied Stream (solid Earth). Studies conclude with a BSc (Honours), Master of Science or Doctoral degree, leading to a wide range of later employment, both nationally and internationally, in the fields of mining and exploration, environmental management and hydrology, academia or government.
What is Earth Sciences?
Earth Sciences is part of your daily life; using clean water in the morning, filling your car at the petrol station, admiring diamonds in a jeweller’s window… Earth Sciences is a multidisciplinary field, combining Geology (and the lithosphere) with aspects of the hydrosphere (freshwater, groundwater, ocean), the atmosphere and the anthroposphere (us humans). In essence, Earth Sciences aim to understand key problems of the Earth, including evaluating crust, rock formations or seabed for economic purposes as much as evaluating cleaning procedures for hazardous waste and understanding climate change.
Are there many field trips?
Yes, the BSc Earth Sciences curriculum offers a wide range of field skills modules from 1st year through to Honours. In the field, the student learn how to identify rocks and geological structures, work with maps, recognise ore deposits, improve their understanding of the natural environment and modern human impact. For more information, student feedback and photos go to: https://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/prospective-students/undergraduate-programme/field-trips
Are bursaries available?
Yes, bursaries are available from a number of sources, both for under- and postgraduate studies. Bursaries are available from the National Research Foundation (NRF), industry (highly recommended, because this often leads directly into a job), and parastatal institutions such as the Council for Geoscience, the University, Faculty of Science and the Department. Some information is provided on our website: https://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/bursaries-opportunities/bursaries
What are the admission requirements to enrol for a BSc Earth Sciences?
Please visit the SU website:
Click ‘Sciences’. Then click through to the Programmes in the Physical Sciences on the right hand menu and find ‘BSc in Earth Sciences’.
Or consult the Faculty of Science Calendar (Part 5)
What is the language of tuition in Earth Sciences at Stellenbosch University?
English, but exams and assignments can be completed in Afrikaans or English.
Can you paint me a picture of a typical day as a student in Earth Sciences?
Studying Earth Sciences needs commitment. You will have daily lectures as well as practical sessions where you will learn to work with the rocks, maps, microscopes, water samples, specific computer programs etc. Additionally, you will learn to apply what you have learnt in the lectures, on field trips e.g. taking rock and water samples, constructing maps, identifying geological structures in nature. In your first year, your subjects are more general e.g. Geo-environmental field skills, Mathematics, and Chemistry. As you progress the subjects become more specific e.g. Sedimentology, Hydrogeology, Structural Geology. You will be expected to study independently, complete quizzes, write essays and field reports. Your work will be assessed by means of tests, exams, orals and presentations.
What is the structure of the BSc in Earth Sciences program or where can I find that information?
Please consult the SU website
Click on ‘Sciences’, then click through to the Programmes in the Physical Sciences on the right hand menu and find ‘BSc in Earth Sciences’.
And our departmental website (http://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/Pages/Course-structure.aspx)
The curriculum, as well as module content are available in die 2021 Faculty of Science Calendar (Part 5)
What advice would current students give me?
Please see below a few comments from our current student group:
- Appreciate the field trips, as they will become some of your best memories.
- Keep an open mind about Earth Sciences, if you feel a bit lost in the beginning, please push through, the subjects become more interesting and focused, along with your growing understanding of the field.
- Lecturers are not as scary as they seem, they are actually approachable. Do not be afraid to ask questions and for advice.
- Don’t give up; push through, as the light is so bright at the end of the tunnel.
- Being an outdoorsy person is a big plus, as you go on fieldtrips where you camp and hike a lot.
- Enjoy the years of your BSc degree as they go by so fast.
What are future career paths?
They are very diverse, ranging from mineral exploration and mining in smaller junior companies, to consultancies or large mining houses. Hydrogeology (groundwater exploration) and the environmental sector, mainly in consultancies on national and international level, or mining houses, but also municipalities or parastatals. Academia: teaching and research. Insurance companies, banks, and investment houses dealing with large data bases, commodities and trading. To name but a few.
Where will I work? What is my future work environment likely to be?
This will depend on your choice of career path. Work can be field based, often in remote areas or from a central base. The work is often based in larger cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban, etc.) with employees flying or commuting to respective sites. Should you be doing analytical jobs, you will be laboratory based. Invariably there is a component of office work including report writing, digitization and computer modelling. Here is a list of a few places where recent graduates are employed:
- Exploration & Mining: TECT Geological Consulting, Remote Exploration Services, Minrom Consulting, SRK Consulting, Anglo American, Glencore, South32, IMDH, Vedanta Resources, Black mountain, BHP, Royal Bafokeng Platinum, ExxonMobil, Burgundy Diamond Mines, Longford Exploration
- Environmental consulting: IBIS, AECOM, STM Environmental, SLR Consulting
- Engineering geology: Core Geotechnical Consultants
- Hydrology: Groundwater and Earth Sciences (GEOSS),Umvoto, Aurecon, WE Consult, WISA
- Academia & Research = Universities; research institutes such CSIR, NECSA or parastatals such as Department of Water & Sanitation, Council for Geoscience, Geological Survey of Namibia
What can I expect as starting salary?
For students with a BSc Earth Sciences degree, ca. R 25 000 – R 30 000 per month, depending on your location and the job description, and significantly higher when working outside SA. Salaries increase rapidly with experience, 40-80K with five years of experience, again depending on your location, your qualifications and specific career path. The sky is the limit.
Can I apply for jobs overseas?
Yes, all our postgraduate degrees (Hons, MSc and PhD), are internationally recognized. Our postgraduate students regularly find employment in other African countries, Europe, the Americas, or Australia.
What does the job market look like?
Job opportunities for graduates in South Africa are still a bit subdued, but distinctly on the up after a quiet period (2012-2018). In general, geology and geochemistry, (both with their many sub-disciplines), are listed as “scarce kills”. This means that there is a shortage in the mid- and long run given South Africa’s need for Earth Scientists in different disciplines. Jobs are easy to find after three to five years of job experience. In exploration and mining, most of the employment available are per contract (6 month to 3-5 years). Fixed, long-term positions are rare and commonly only at senior level. Consultancies also hire at junior level (with a BSc or BSc Honours degree) on a permanent basis typically after an internship or probation period. The diversity of projects requires a good degree of flexibility in most jobs.