Nobody will ever tell you their salary. That is generally because it is less than they would like you to believe.

Professors lie through their teeth about the salaries offered to their graduates. The higher the claim starting salary, the greater the number of new students they can attract.

Reporters focus on high salaries and wages because the fashion-story right now is that there is a shortage of mining graduates and because it is easier to write about success than to write about true averages.

These three personal opinion-observations are prompted by the following report from a Spokane newspaper. I repeat the report in its entirety. Then I repeat comments on mining salaries from a colleague who does not believe the report. You will have to make up your own mind as to whether the reporter or my colleague’s opinions are correct.

Spokesman Review – May 10, 2008

Geology degree a hot commodity - High cost of metals, oil gives new graduates host of options by Shawn Vestal Staff writer

It's a good time to be a geology major.

Graduates in the field are facing lucrative opportunities as they enter the job market, thanks to record metals and oil prices. The average pay for a petroleum geologist with two years experience or less has risen about 60 percent in the past eight years.

"This year it's just booming," said Peter Isaacson, professor of geological sciences at the University of Idaho. "It's really going great guns."

Students in Isaacson's programs – some of whom will graduate today – can choose among jobs and salaries that would make many other graduates salivate. Some students may get signing bonuses.

"We simply cannot provide enough graduates to meet industry demand," Isaacson said. "Bachelor of science graduates are being snapped up. I've never seen this before in my career. Currently, new hires are starting with salaries ranging from $80,000 to $140,000, depending on the degree."

The average salary for new petroleum geologists has climbed above $80,000, according to a survey by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Salaries are similar in the mining industry.

Judd Case, dean of the college of science, health and engineering at Eastern Washington University, said the job market is drawing more students to the field. EWU is also resurrecting a master's program in geology because of the growing demand.

Case said mining has been the bigger career opportunity for EWU graduates, though he expects to see increased interest from oil companies.

"There's lots of opportunities," he said. "The mining industry's snapping up our students at a high rate."

The boom times have shown up in other places, too. EWU offers a three-day certification course in mining safety. For years it drew 20 to 30 students – typically mine workers who want to further their careers.

"It more than doubled last year and doubled again this year," Case said.

Christina Bader, a graduate student in geology at UI, has interviewed with ExxonMobil for a possible job – though she's not sure whether she'd accept it, because most oil jobs start in Houston and she doesn't want to live in a big city.

"If you're young and ambitious and want to get a good job that pays well, you're going to get shipped to Houston to start," she said.

Bader may decide to continue her graduate work instead, pursuing a doctorate in Alaska, studying the geology of natural disasters like volcanic eruptions. But she and her fellow students have options.

"They need people," she said. "They really do. They're exploring everywhere, all over the planet, for oil."

In the light of the gushing good-news that pervades this report, I hesitate to throw cold water on the parade or point out that maybe the Emperor is naked, but here goes. The following are comments from a colleague who doubts the veracity of the above report:

We are in the process of completing a survey of Canadian Mine Compensation and International Exploration and U.S. mine salaries.

With the exception of Canadian very remote mines and the oil sands, we are not seeing the highly publicized huge salaries, particularly for new graduates. It seems that an employee has to jump ship and head into these highly paid areas to capitalize on these wages. We also see very high wages in the coal fields in Wyoming - again, not a great place to live or work.

Wages have increased over the last several years, and the shortage of qualified professionals is real. The industry is paying more for qualified professionals than ever before, but how much more?

Note how, as reported in the Spokane newspaper article above, Christine Bader was "offered a job", but is going to graduate school instead to pursue natural disasters and volcanology. Seems that these people are being offered the big bucks but not actually taking the jobs. The American Association of Professional Geologist (AAPG) reports an "average" starting wage of $80K for petroleum geologists, but professors are reporting $80K to $140K.

One major mining company in Denver told us a very interesting story. They offered three Colorado School of Mines (CSM) geology graduates salaries that ranged from $48,000 to $55,000 depending on experience with no signing bonuses. These were exploration positions in the U.S. They were turned down flat by the students to whom the offers were made; the students said that they were holding out for $80,000+ salaries that the schools said were available. Two weeks later, the same three graduates were calling back, asking if the jobs had been filled. I believe that the schools are perhaps touting much higher salaries than are really available.

One CSM petroleum engineering graduate last year received three offers ranging from $62,000 to $80,000. Two were in Colorado, and one in Midland, Texas. No surprises, the Midland job paid the most and that was the one he took. He wishes now he had taken one of the lower paid jobs because of location. He reported that the company just hired two more CSM grads at $82K and he got a $5K raise. Again, even in the petroleum industry, the new hires are not getting the $100K+ offers, except for maybe in Houston. Two of his friends with degrees in mining engineering took jobs in the mining industry for about $50,000 to $55,000, one in Nevada and one in Montana.

Oil and gas jobs in Houston seem to be the highest paidand not necessarily reflecting the same in the mining industry.

Where is this going? Well, it would be interesting to see if the wages individuals report are substantially different from what the companies report. One wonders if bragging rights factor into what the schools and the graduates are reporting.

I would love to see a survey for individuals, especially exploration personnel.

There you are. Maybe you can get back to me and tell me what you were offered. Or just provide me with your opinion about the “truth” as told by professors versus reporters.