What it takes to become a Seismologist

Sylvana Pilidou, Seismologist at the Geological Survey Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment in Cyprus. A seismologist is a scientist who studies earthquakes, their causes, such as the movement of tectonic plates on the Earth’s crust as well as their effects, such as tsunamis. A seismologist analyses and interprets seismological data through the use of seismographs and other instruments, which measure the magnitude and intensity of an earthquake.


  • Monitoring of the earthquake sequence and informing the public and media.
  • Processing, evaluating and interpreting earthquake data (a network for recording earthquake data may detect thousands of earthquakes), sharing this information with collaborators, and posting it to social media (website, twitter, facebook).
  • Maintaining specialized instruments at remote seismological stations or fixing a problem that has caused a disruption in its operation and maybe loss of seismic data.
  • Working on telecommunication networks. Continuous data from all remote seismological stations reach independently seismological centres in real-time, via satellite communications and terrestrial internet communications.
  • Investigating problems on the various servers and computers of a seismological centre, where specialized software is in continuous operation to receive, archive and process seismic data, to supply public websites and several other venues.
  • Expanding of networks for recording earthquake data with new stations, which involves supply of equipment by special procedures, configuring the equipment, preparing the installation site, and installing it.



  • IT skills
    tools and instruments used by a seismologist: seismometers, accelerometers, seismic sensors, software etc.)
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills:
    Gathering all sorts of different information (from scientific data, to testimonies of people who experienced the earthquake, to field observations) and employ all sorts of different skills to try to understand and explain an earthquake
  • Analytical skills:
    Processing earthquake data and evaluation of seismic data
  • Computational thinking skills:
    Pinpoint errors that might be introduced in the computing processing by human mistakes or algorithm bugs.


  • Collaboration:
    Collaborating with academic institutions for research projects.
  • Communication:
    Dissemination of information related to earthquakes to the public via the social media (website, twitter, facebook), articles and face to face presentations


Which subjects´ knowledge is essential for a career?

Knowledge from physics, mathematics, geology, computing for data processing and evaluation and interpretation of results, and then engineering, telecommunications, information technology to keep the specialized instruments of seismological stations operational and to keep the network of recording earthquake data in good shape, delivering data from all remote stations to seismological centres 24 seven.

A bachelor’s degree in Physics and a Master’s degree or a PhD on earthquake seismology are recommended.


Knowledge and skills provided in secondary education, e.g., physics (geophysical topics: theory of elasticity and elastic waves etc.) and geography (Earth’s layers, description of tectonic plates movements, tectonic plates boundaries and seismic zones, recognize and name natural dangers and natural disasters, e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, interaction between disasters, that threaten and affect the planet etc.).

Conducting fieldwork and getting research or laboratory experience are good ways for prospective seismologists to prepare for a career. These experiences may be available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Summer camps may also allow students to apply their knowledge by collecting and analyzing their own data.


The development of earthquake early warning systems will affect future opportunities in this field. The development of these systems is still in experimental stage, but they will save lives in the future provided that they will become fully functional.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in this field are expected to increase 14% from 2016-2026, which is faster than average for all occupations.

Q: If you could start all over again, how you would change your career path?
A: “If I could start all over again, I would still follow some branch of applied physics, but I would most probably decide to stay abroad and follow a purely academic career, as the opportunities for such a career in Cyprus are quite limited.”

Sylvana Pilidou, Seismologist at the Geological Survey Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment in Cyprus

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