I have decided to leave industry and pursue a PhD in geology. I studied physics (bach) and mechanical engineering (masters) but have been working in ML/software for 4 years. Due to my situation I wasn't ready to apply to programs in Dec 2023, but now am daunted at another year+ at my job if I wait until Dec 2024 to apply to grad programs.

The cards seemed stacked against me, coming from a different field, from industry, and at the wrong time of year. I'd like to reach out to professors whose research is interesting. Is there any chance of finding a PhD position in this circumstance, in the US or UK?

I have selected some schools with interesting programs and began reading up on professors' research and papers, and begun formulating arguments for why my interests + skills fit their work - while staying humble about needing a lot of learning to catch up on geology.

How would you recommend I proceed? If I can't find a PhD placement and stay at my job until December, what can I do to boost my application?

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    Geology is vast. If you apply for geology positions that require even 1 hour of field work, you have a 99.99% chance of being rejected, because you did not do any field work during your bachelor and master. Nonetheless there are plenty of solid Earth Science aspect where you can contribute. Do you need to focus on geology? what about geophysics? geochemistry? hydrogeology? seismology? geotechnical engineering? engineering geology?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 26 at 21:54
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    I am using geology as a catch-all, which maybe isn't appropriate. I am open to other fields, mainly I am looking for an intersection between my math/physics/data science skills and learning bout earth physical properties that relate to climate change. There seems to be blurry distinctions in terms between different professors at different department at different universities.
    – Spuds
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:37
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    Some programs may admit for spring of 2025, but typically few if any slots.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 27 at 0:48
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    Given your background, geology will never be your strong selling point (even if you get a PhD in geology, since you have seen that it is a broad term, albeit geology is a subset of Earth Science), what you need to know as "geology" can be aquired by volunteering at the local geology museum (even science museum and fossils collection will help a lot), or taking part into excursion with amateur geological societies. And Earth Sciences are in dire need of skilled data-people to figure out what to do with all the data (and all the simulation results), you have a potential!
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 27 at 6:08

3 Answers 3


A BS degree in physics will add you points in the eyes of professors doing geophysics and planetary sciences. Your hands-on experience with ML and software development will boost your chances with (a) teams engaged in theoretical & computational modeling of planets or of the Earth interior, and (b) teams involved in processing the data obtained from spacecraft missions. Also, both your computer experience and your MS in engineering will be of use for teams involved in mission planning.

To sum up, you may consider contacting professors working in geophysics and planetary sciences.

There also exists a different path where you will be welcome: exploration of minerals in labs. Like, say, investigation of their acoustic and mechanical properties. A combination of BS in physics and MS in mechanical engineering will make you an invaluable asset for these colleagues.

Finally, you may consider contacting professors working in seismology. This is an area where your combination of skills will make you a very strong candidate.

If you are interested, I can mention to you several teams, in the US, in Europe, and in Australia. You are welcome to write to me directly. My e-mail can be found on my web site.

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    Excellent answer showing areas where previous skills are transferable. +1
    – Elk
    Commented Apr 28 at 15:16

One possibility to explore is a PhD in Australia or NZ. Australia and NZ run on a different academic year to the UK and US. Applications for PhDs commencing in February 2025 (the start of the 2025 academic year) are open now at most Australian universities (and close sometime between June and September, depending on the university). Your industry background would be seen as a plus as long as you also have the grades to back it up. In Australia, you’d also need to be able to demonstrate some research experience, but if you don’t have that, you could start with an MPhil and switch over to a PhD after a year.


How would you recommend I proceed?

  1. Stop "staying humble about needing a lot of learning to catch up on geology." If you are after a research doctorate then show them that you have confidence in your past being a support to their doctorate program's future reputation. "I can't do it. Please help me. Wah. Wah." does not work so well for doctorate programs. "Let me at it." might work far better. Give them confidence that you can solve complicated problems. Give them confidence that you can research and do it well. Prove to them that you have self-confidence based upon proven experience. Give them confidence in your being an asset to their program.

If I can't find a PhD placement and stay at my job until December, what can I do to boost my application?

  1. Have a list of your positives, with supporting arguments for those positives printed out for YOU to study and easily recall. Work at having at least 10 of these positives. If you only find 1 then that is at least 1. Go with that in your mind, but work at finding and documenting more. Then, after that, contact the dean of a college that you might like to attend for your doctorate, but not the college that you most desire to attend. Ask for an interview. Try, without seeming to be desperate, to obtain the interview as soon as possible. Try to make the sale, based upon starting a year from then. Do this at a few colleges, gradually increasing desirability until you reach the one college most desirable to you. All based upon starting a year from then, but none being given a guarantee of your availability. Use your experience from one interview to the next to fine tune your presentation. If you are rejected by the most desirable and accepted by any of the rest, then you are potentially in at least one program. Use the time up until your start in the program to further your skills and experience toward your future in academia.

Be prepared. "Know thyself and in 100 battles you shall lose none." A quote from long ago.

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    Thanks for the solid advice, I probably will need to refine my outlook.
    – Spuds
    Commented Apr 27 at 12:43

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