Getting started

Understand the sector

Non-profit organizations are numerous, with many types of roles a geoscientist might fill depending on their skills and interests. As you explore employers, you will notice that many positions overlap with other sectors. Understanding the structure of non-profits and how non-profit careers are related to jobs in other sectors can be helpful as you begin navigating the job search. For example, if you are interested in working as a research scientist, you could explore both government laboratories and non-profit research institutes. If you'd like to go into science communication, you'll find opportunities that span the range of non-profits, universities, media outlets, government agencies, and more. Remember, the borders between sectors are fluid! 

Similarly, if working for a mission-driven, non-profit organization is your goal, you can find a variety of positions that require geoscience-related skills. Explore communications, policy, science, and education roles at non-profits that match your interests to see where your skills might best fit. An exciting aspect of working for a non-profit is that employees tend to have a diverse range of responsibilities, especially in smaller organizations with fewer employees.

Volunteering and networking are great ways to learn the landscape of the non-profit sector and discover opportunities near you. The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers is a useful general reference for learning about careers, volunteering, networking, job searching, and interviewing in the non-profit sector.

Gaining experience

Volunteer or intern

Volunteering or interning is a common way of gaining experience in the non-profit sector. Spending time working for an organization is great way to become familiar with the structure of non-profits and learn firsthand how the non-profit sector is different from government or industry. You can try out different roles to identify the types of job opportunities you'd like to pursue. 

Volunteer or internship experience shows potential employers that you are mission-driven and committed to benefiting your community. In addition to gaining experience for your resume, you can make important connections with organization staff and learn about job openings. 

Many professional societies offer volunteer and intern opportunities. A few of these are highlighted below. You can find other geoscience societies listed here and in the Join a Community section of the Find Your Fit page. Look for organizations that align with your interests and social identity, then visit their websites to look for internship programs and volunteer opportunities. If you don't find an established program that meets your goal, create your own internship and make a proposal to an organization. 

International Association for Geoscience Diversity (volunteer or student ambassador)
National Association of Black Geoscientists (volunteer)
American Geosciences Institute (intern)
American Geological Union (intern)
Geological Society of America (intern)
Society for the Advancement of of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (volunteer - graduate students)

Internship or volunteer positions with other non-profit organizations can be found by searching job directories like Idealist. A few examples are listed below. Internship opportunities are typically posted as positions become available, but you can always reach out to an organization to inquire about volunteer opportunities or propose your own internship. 

The Academy of Natural Sciences (intern)
Student Conservation Association (intern) 
Stroud Water Research Center (volunteer & intern)
The Nature Conservancy (intern)

To learn more about becoming a strong job candidate, refer to Chapter Five of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.

Skill building

Hone a variety of transferable skills

Transferable skills are those can be applied across multiple roles, and are particularly important in the non-profit sector where employees typically work on many different tasks and projects. Non-profit work often involves collaborative team efforts that may require employees to step into leadership roles or play a supporting role. A non-profit employee wears many hats, while using their passions, identities, and skills to make an impact. 

You will want to show potential employers that you can contribute to the mission in multiple ways, with a broad skill set suited to a variety of tasks. Some key transferable skills to develop and demonstrate are:

Problem solving: Can you adapt to challenges and keep a project moving forward? Do you know how to seek out resources when you need help? Can you identify problems and implement solutions?

Communication: Can you effectively communication with team members to avoid misunderstandings and work efficiently? Are you adept at explaining ideas and concepts to non-experts? Can you write clearly and concisely for scientific and general audiences? Can you give engaging oral presentations? Are you an active listener? 

Project management: Can you meet deadlines and visual a task from start to finish? Can you break down large projects into smaller tasks and set milestones? How do you assess progress and adapt to changing plans? Can you coordinate team efforts? 

Quantitative skills: Are you proficient in a variety of computer programs or languages? Can you work with large datasets? Do you have experience with statistics or data collection? 

Teamwork: Do you have strong leadership capabilities? Are you able to work effectively with a diverse group of people? Do you pull your own weight and contribute new ideas? Can you build good working relationships with your coworkers? Can you resolve conflicts?


Find open positions

Non-profit jobs are not always posted on the job boards commonly used by employers in industry. You should also search directories of non-profit jobs like Idealist, Foundation List, or the National Council of Nonprofits.

As in other sectors, networking is often the best way to find open positions. Connect with other employees in the non-profit sector by volunteering, reaching out to alumni of your department or university, visiting the Ask an Expert page, or directly contacting organizations you are interested in working for.

To learn more about networking in the non-profit sector, refer to Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.


Secure a job

Ready to apply for a non-profit job? Read Chapters 8 and 9 of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers for advice specific to non-profit jobs. Resources by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Career Learning Center and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology Career Modules provide general advice on application materials and interviewing. You can also find support through your department, your campus career center, or your personal network. 

  • GROW is a collection of career resources for undergraduate and graduate students in the geosciences, intended to help students identify and pursue career paths beyond academia.
  • This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #1911527) and our many contributors who generously volunteered their time and knowledge to assist our team.

  • Any opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation nor of contributor employers.
  • We welcome feedback from the geoscience community. Please contact us with your suggestions, including new career resources and Ask an Expert contacts.
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