Wits Geosciences are appealing to quality science students to enrol for undergraduate degrees in Geology, citing a chronic shortage of earth science professionals in South Africa.

Dr Susan Webb , gravity specialist in the School of Geosciences, said high school students seem unaware of the geology degree when they apply for university.

Even though 150 first year students are enrolled for the geology undergraduate degree this year, the biggest group in a while, Webb said that for many it was not their first choice and some are repeating the year.

Many top maths and science students seem to choose non-science degrees. “Of the top feeder schools [to Wits], none went into science,” she said. They may choose actuarial science or engineering careers over geology but some end up in geology after rejection from those courses.

Wits needs quality undergraduate students to produce excellent postgraduates and career-ready graduates, said Webb. To remedy the current lack of interest, the School of Geosciences will have an open day called “Exploration Earth” on April 5 where high school students and teachers will be exposed to the field.

“Who wouldn’t want to do this job?” asked geochemistry Prof Lewis Ashwal , explaining that geoscience is one of the few careers where you get paid to travel and spend time outdoors. Even an academic career has its benefits – “you should see my car and my hot tub,” he joked.

He concurred with Webb that geoscientists are needed in South Africa’s economy. Wits provides the only internationally recognised programme in southern Africa and its graduates feed the oil, mineral, engineering and water discovery industries, which are all important for development.

Another difficulty in recruiting good students is that undergraduate majors are declared very early on in South Africa, when students may not yet have a clear idea of the career they want to pursue. This is in contrast to the American system where students specialise after a few years of study.

“When I was a [first year] student, I wanted to have sex, drugs and rock ’n roll,” said Ashwal, who studied in America and only decided on geology when he was 20.

First year students at Wits have to enrol for three years of geology, maths, chemistry and physics for the best chance of postgraduate studies in geosciences