The Work: Take your pick among a dozen rock-jock jobs, including seismology (dig trenches across California fault lines to find signs of tectonic shift) and digital mapping with the U.S. Geological Survey. Or work as a petroleum geologist, scouting for oil traces along the continental shelves.
Time Outside: 80 percent for government researchers, 25 percent for academics, 10 percent for consultants and oil seekers.
Payback: $25,000 as a rookie USGS hire; $30,000-$50,000 as a private consultant; $100,000-plus as a full professor or Exxon explorer.
Prerequisites: A B.S. in the geophysical sciences gets you started, but to rise in the ranks you need an advanced degree: Try the University of Chicago (773-702-8101; geosci.uchicago.edu).
Networking: The Geological Society of America (303-447-2020; www.geosociety.org) offers a monthly bulletin of job leads.
Peon to Pro: "At first, all the rocks look gray," says Dartmouth geologist Page Chamberlain, "After 20 years, you see hundreds of shades of gray."
Drudge Factor: Hauling rocks.
Outlook: Academia is tight, but private sector work follows the economy. When the world's reserves go down and the price of oil goes up, so will the demand for geologists.