Becoming a Hydrogeologist

The usual route to employment in hydrogeology is to obtain an MSc or PhD qualification, but other routes are possible as indicated below. Most students undertaking MSc courses have geology or environmental science first degrees, but a significant minority have engineering, geophysics, mathematics, physics, or chemistry degrees (and there is a major role for specialists from other disciplines in groundwater work). Entry to PhD programmes requires at least an upper second class degree or equivalent.

The non-MSc Route

Currently, there are no hydrogeology BSc degree courses offered within the UK. Some geology, environmental science, and engineering degrees do contain some training in groundwater, but many have very little.

In recent years, four-year undergraduate geology degrees have been offered by some English universities (most Scottish BSc courses have always been four years long). These are called by various names, but two of the more popular are MSci and MGeol; though called masters, they are classed as “undergraduate” degrees. Some allow a significant amount of specialisation, and it is possible at some universities to take a series of modules in the fourth year which will all be relevant to groundwater studies: however, these degrees are not at the level of MSc courses, and do not offer the very focused training of MSc courses.

Because of the difficulty of filling posts with MSc-qualified personnel in recent years, some employers have taken on staff without postgraduate training. The work undertaken tends to be at a fairly junior/technician level (e.g. drilling supervision, basic pumping licence processing). Sometimes such employment leads on to sponsorship to undertake an MSc course full- or part-time. Sometimes a company will not be able to sponsor an employee, but will be willing to guarantee employment on completion of the MSc. On return, the newly-qualified employee can expect to be given more responsibilities and further promotion opportunities usually become available.

Some of the Universities offering MSc courses also have Diploma courses with specific hydrogeological modules.

The MSc Route


There are two MSc routes available – via mainstream dedicated hydrogeology MSc courses and via MSc courses which have significant groundwater training but which also cover a significant amount of other material. The former route is the most common.

Mainstream Hydrogeology MSc Courses

There are three full-time MSc courses currently available in the UK:

Since 2005, the University of Sheffield has offered an MSc in Contaminant Hydrogeology. This course offers both full-time and part-time study and is aligned with the other mainstream UK hydrogeology courses in providing integrated training in contaminated hydrogeology.

Other MSc Courses

There are many other MSc courses which include some groundwater training. Most are environmental science courses with only a module or two covering groundwater. However, there are a few courses which allow significantly more groundwater modules to be taken. Examples of such courses are given below. The list is by no means comprehensive, and we would welcome feedback and suggestions for additional courses to include.

As is the case for the mainstream MSc courses, applicants are likely to need a first or second class degree in a relevant subject area, sometimes with evidence of mathematics training usually to A level or equivalent, and usually with evidence of an adequate standard of English for those not from the UK.

The PhD Route

PhD research can be very exciting and fulfilling, and can help with career progression in the long run. However, it does take longer to become qualified, and, unless you have a strong interest in research for its own sake, the other routes are probably better. PhD research requires a considerable amount of self-motivation. Some universities offer a new sort of PhD – ‘PhD with integrated studies’ – which includes a taught component as well as a research component.

A number of universities undertake research in hydrogeology, though PhD funding may not be available in every year at all universities. Funding is often from the Natural Environment Research Council or the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, but industrially-funded and university-funded studentships are also often available.

Most advertisements appear in the autumn for studentships available from the autumn of the following year. However, it is not unusual for studentships to become available at other times of year. Advertisement locations include the websites of the universities concerned and In addition, a very important window for advertisement is the Geological Society careers fair, held in November each year.

Funding by the UK Research Councils usually covers the fees and a contribution towards maintenance. University and industrial scholarships provide varying amounts of support. Sometimes it is possible to obtain a research post which allows a part-time registration for a research degree: thus payment is higher, but the time available to undertake the research used in the MSc/MPhil/PhD may be less.