Engineering Geologists vs Geological Engineers vs Geotechnical Engineers

True Geoengineer, Ed Medley wrote an article attempting to answer this question in the March/April 2009 issue of the Geo-institute’s Geo-Strata Magazine I remember reading it at that time and enjoying it.  If you are a member (and you’re logged in), you can probably find his original article at the Geo-Institute site.  But he recently republished it in more or less the same form on his blog.  I highly recommend it for those who find their own specialty/degree/geo-profession difficult to define for people.  I particularly liked his elegantly simple “phase sequence” of Applied Earth Sciences which I will repeat here with on minor change, replacing his “Soil/Foundation/Rock/Groundwater Engineering” with just “Geotechnical Engineering”.

Engineering – Civil Engineering – Geotechnical Engineering – Geological Engineering – Engineering Geology – Geology

When you write it out like that, it really does make sense.  In fact it makes so much sense and I like it so much, I think I will create a scoring system out of it so you can plot where you fall on a 6-point…let’s make it a 10-point range covering all these disciplines.  Maybe we could call it the Ed Medley Factor or EMF or perhaps Applied Earth Sciences Scale (AESS) although that last one seems to be pronounced a little dirty.  Let me know if you have any better ideas.  But imagine the next AEG meeting or Geo-Institute conference where people had their EMF or AESS right on their name tag.  Just a thought, might have to ruminate on that a little longer to see if it’s really a good idea.

To continue on the same topic a bit longer, Ed also posted something about some recent discussions he was having on the LinkedIn group for Engineering Geologists.   There were differing opinions on whether geological engineers and engineering geologists were the same thing, or whether engineers could ever be geologists.  I won’t get into the details, but if you’re interested check it out.  I will say I think Ed has hit it entirely on the head.  I think much of the confusion simply arises out of the fact that people throw titles and labels around without really thinking about what they mean, and also the true Geological Engineering program and degree is quite rare, so most people really don’t even realize there is such a thing.

As I write this post, I’m thinking back to my undergraduate days in Geological Engineering, and I am pretty sure I didn’t really have a clue about all of the differences between these various disciplines.  And I distinctly remember that there was not much cooperation between folks in my program (housed in the Mining and Geological Engineering Department at the University of Arizona) and the Geologists in the Geoscience department or the Civil Engineering Department.  The Geologists seemed annoyed that we took spots in their courses and field camp and that we frequently were on the high end of the grading scale.  The Civil Engineers seemed to look down on us slightly, perhaps thinking that we didn’t have as rigorous of a program.  There were rivalries, cliques and very little cooperation.  But now all of that stuff just seems silly.

I work at a company that employs nearly all ranges on the EMF/AESS.   And I recognize the skills and value of all of those disciplines.  Very few people in consulting fly solo 100% of the time, and everyone has different skill sets that come into play and are needed to get the job done.  It comes down to recognizing what your skill set is, practicing within your area of expertise, and respecting the skills and abilities of your colleagues.  I wish I had realized that a little better back in school.


  1. As far as India is concerned, I agree with you that there is no graduate degree programme awarding a degree in Engineering Geology per se to Geologists, except one or two unit/credit course paper as part of syllabus. All graduate programmes are designed as per the market job absorbing potentialities, so I think this might be the situation in other countries as well because a domain specific graduate programme in Engineering Geology limits job opportunities for a ‘normal’ geology graduate. There are domain specific short term courses and Ph.D. programmes in Engineering Geology for professional and geology students to upgrade their qualification background and skills.

    Hence by and large practicing Geologists by virtue of working in engineering projects learn/acquire some basic skills of engineering geology in course of time. My strong feeling is that engineering geology is part of Applied Geology which is interdisciplinary i.e. a fusion of rock mechanics, civil engineering design and basic sciences inclusive of geology. In any case like other professions, the Engineering Geologist must hone his skills through institutionalized training programmes and exposure to emerging technological innovations and developmental issues.
    The distinction in Engineering Geologist – Geological Engineer-Geotechnical Engineer is a boggy question of semantics. An Engineering Geologist should not try to substitute for an Engineer and vice versa, a Geotechnical Engineer necessarily is more of an Engineer than a Engineering Geologist. thnks.

  2. I’m a undergraduate geology student. I was wondering what are some classes that would be important to take as elective or extra classes if I am interested in being a Engineering Geologist? Thank you.

  3. Well from what ive learnt, most of the employers (in th uk at least) seem to want an engineering degree to get into geotechnical engineering. If i had known that i wouldn’t have bothered doing a geology degree. Not much work in the UK for geology grads right now or so it seems

  4. what is the clear cut difference between engineering geologist and Geological engineer and mining engineer?

  5. Geological engineer from Spain (looking for job 🙂 ).

    As far as I concern, the difference is a question of specialization:

    – Geotechnical engineering is a specializaiton of both civil engineering and geological engineering.

    – Engineering geology is, in the same way, a specialization of geology and geological engineering.

    Thats why is very common see GeolEng working in structural desing and/or calculations whitin the field of geotechEng but is very dificult see pure geologist. In the same time, is easy find geological engineers work as mine geologist even as mining engineers and petroleum engineers (reservoir engineers, drilling..)

    Geolocial engineer has a very wide range of knowledges tha makes him a very polivalent professional… but depends on the countre.. in Spain 0 jobs avaible 🙁 Thats the reason i would like to work abroad ()

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