I am wondering if there are alternative ways to study glaciers apart from obtaining a PhD. I would be glad to build a career around glaciology, however, with the issues in regards to my PhD, a new Ph.D. with a supportive research group or a new career option altogether feels like an alternative. I was wondering if there are jobs in which I can get training to excel and also learn about glaciers. I am confused on how to look for job positions that can satisfy my hunger to learn about glaciers (instead of doing it through PhD) Thanks

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    $\begingroup$ You're sort of exactly describing what a phd does... $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2023 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Are you saying that you already have a PhD, and you're trying to find a way to study glaciers without earning another PhD? $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Jun 7, 2023 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ No, I have enrolled myself into a PhD, I do not have it yet but i feel either i need a super supportive environment or maybe I am not ready for PhD at all. I want to study glaciers and have my career in understanding glaciers, however, I understand that PhD is the way to go about it but I am wondering if there are other options. What if i am not a good fit to pusue PhD? $\endgroup$
    – kc_nul
    Jun 9, 2023 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @kc_nul What is the subject of the PhD you are currently pursuing? $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2023 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ I am currently pursuing in glaciology itself, sorry for the late reply, I have been totally unfocused. $\endgroup$
    – kc_nul
    Jun 20, 2023 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


I'm a glaciologist; my career path started as an undergrad in astronomy and then a Master's and Ph.D. in geophysics. However, many other paths lead to glaciology, often starting from geology, geography, physics, math, computer science, and many other fields. People who study glaciers usually do it in academia or private companies.

For an academic path, I would say that a Ph.D. is almost mandatory. Some people have managed to work as research assistants for a long time without it, but that is very difficult. At least in North America, and it is probably the same in Europe.

The other option is to seek to study glaciers in private companies, and in that case, you don't necessarily need a Ph.D. These companies are usually in the business of environmental impact assessments and water resources, often linked to hydroelectric power, mining or dam operations, and building. Many countries perform academic research on glaciers. However, the private companies I mention usually exist only in countries with many glaciers and those industries.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you mean to say "countries with many glaciers"? $\endgroup$
    – Barmar
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Barmar yes, that's what I meant. Thanks Dan for the edit. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2023 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ How about government agencies, such as NOAA in the US? $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2023 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @SolomonUcko sure, that's a path in the US, some European countries and a handful of countries elsewhere. It is an option worth adding. However, in that case, for a new hire specialized in glacier research it is quite likely that a PhD would be required as well. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2023 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ I do think a PhD is the best way and I will pursue this no matter what. Thank you for all your answers. $\endgroup$
    – kc_nul
    Jul 2, 2023 at 15:43

The answer to your question lies in what you yourself expect to get out of "studying glaciers". The traditional way is of course through a PhD and to become a specialist on some aspect of glaciology. However, one can study glaciers from other perspectives than to advance the science itself. You can become a scientific communicator taking deeper science issues and communicating it to the general public. You can of course become some form of technical staff to help scientists to obtain data that leads to new insights. To be short, there are numerous avenues to pursue depending on your own backrguond and preferences.

If you in fact want to advance the science itself, I sincerely doubt that you will be able to contribute much without specializing in some subfield and purssue a doctorate. Advancing science is a highly specialized effort that does require deep knowledge in a specific field and possibly one or several related field apart from knowledge about analysing and communicating new findings.

In the end all contrubitions count so the desired degree of contribution to the field of glaciology will be personal and can be achieved by several means. No avenue is to be underestimated but at the same time not all will lead to major steps in understanding. Hence you need to consider what your potential will be in the grander scheme of things and pursue whatever avenue may be feasible.

One aspect that can be of interest to contemplate is that the term glaciologist is not as specific as e.g. optomologist or other professional specialist terms. Thus anyone can essentially call them a glaciologist, it does not formally require a PhD. As inadequate as this may seem it is the reality so when you study glaciers you may call yourself a glaciologist but in essence the expertise lies in the level of your education and experience beyond a PhD.

  • $\begingroup$ No matter how many times I have thought about the situation, I can't seem to think of a way other than Ph.D. that would make me happy. I think I will end up looking for a Ph.D. again if the current option does not work. Thank you for the guidance. $\endgroup$
    – kc_nul
    Jun 23, 2023 at 8:24

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