What is Geophysics and the Difficulties Studying it?

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I am in my second year (of three) at a UK Russell Group University studying Geophysical Sciences. I am sure after reading the word ‘geophysics’ in the title some of you will have no idea what this is.

It is an Earth Science. By definition, geophysics is ‘physics of the Earth’. I believe a better description of what it is I am studying would be “the physical processes behind the Earth’s systems”.

A big part of geophysics is about determining sub-structure (what is beneath the ground) using geophysical techniques, for example looking for small variations in the Earth’s gravitational field. An example of work that a geophysicist can do in the world could be working in the oil and gas industry. By using the geophysical techniques, they can work out where large oil and gas reserves are found which can then be extracted for our everyday needs.

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I would love to go into more detail (I am sure you would rather I did not!), but the truth is I still do not know too much more about what I am studying yet. This is because in my first year of university you do not study any geophysics. The first year consists of core modules for geology, physics and mathematics. This is to give you a foundation before you can study geophysics.

Being strong at three different fields is no easy task, so there is a lot expected of you when you pick this degree. The problem with this is that when you take these modules, you are expected to be at the same standard as a geologist, physicist and mathematician. Which I hope you could see is not easy! A main problem of mine is how different geology is to the likes of physics and maths. If they were all interlinked, they would all help each other, but unfortunately this is not the case.

Now that I have reached second year, I have started a module on Exploration Geophysics. Personally I am really enjoying the module as it is nice to be studying my actual degree! The only issue with this module is that it is very basic and does not go into much depth. This is because the module is compulsory for geologists too. As you can tell, you must be highly motivated – having to wait such a long time to learn about what you actually signed up for can often (at least in my case) mean you lose motivation from time to time.

Next semester, we start physics based labs, which should be fun as it all refers to geophysical applications. To my knowledge, it is only the geophysicists taking it! But you actually only study what I consider to be ‘proper’ geophysics in year three. From this I would say that geophysics is a risk. It is very hard to get experience before coming to university, so for the most part you know very little about it (but then again this is why you go to university) and if you have to wait until year three before you go in depth, you do not actually know if you like geophysics till then. Luckily for me, I have enjoyed it so far and have every bit of confidence that this will not stop when I go into year three.

I want to end by making it clear that these are only a few difficulties in studying geophysics. There are far more positives than negatives to my degree and I have no regrets. I hope to in the future write about the positives! If my degree was not challenging and did not keep me on my feet, then it would not be for me. It is highly rewarding and I believe I have a good chance of employment after I graduate. geophysics is such an unknown field of study to the public yet will play a big role in the future. I hope to one day be a part of that.

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