Education & Training

What education, training and qualifications do hydrologists need? 


There are no first degree courses in the UK in hydrology as a subject in its own right (but there are a few under-graduate courses in the United States - see list). However, hydrology is well covered as a part of programmes in civil engineering, geography, environmental science and environmental management. It also interfaces with geology, soil science and ecology degrees. Detailed training in hydrology is mostly provided at the postgraduate level. A number of universities offer postgraduate courses in (inter-alia) hydrology and water resources subjects, usually for one year leading to a Master's degree. Most of these courses are full time, but some may be taken in modular form on a part-time basis. The attached list of courses are those known to to the Society but BHS does not maintain a list of current prospectuses and annual publications listing degree courses should be consulted for a comprehensive and up to date statement. Most public libraries and career services hold copies of reference books on university and further education courses, in some cases you may be able to examine the individual prospectuses issued by educational establishments. Alternatively, you could search for course and faculty information on-line via this masters portal, or at a university’s website or post an online request for a printed copy of their undergraduate or postgraduate to be sent to you. Most courses require a pass in mathematics at A- level, or an equivalent qualification.

For a career in hydrology, the choice of first degree is not so important, but it may be appropriate to consider whether the university or college course you choose to take is accredited by the Professional Institution to which you may subsequently apply for Membership (see also  Professional Qualifications below). Further information should be obtained at an early stage from the educational  establishment where you intend to study. It should be noted that Membership of a Professional Institution may also have associated requirements in the form of pre-requisite A-level subjects. You may also find it helpful to look at a hydrologist’s occupational profile and further case studies given by recent graduates at www.prospects.ac.uk, found by searching on "hydrologist” under "explore types of jobs”. There are also possibilities for internships now being offered by some university business enterprise departments.


There is no substitute for ‘on the job experience’ in hydrology, gained through finding solutions to real world problems. For those embarking on a career in hydrology, the guidance of a mentor or colleague who has extensive experience in hydrological analysis and techniques (both in the UK and overseas) can be very important. The support of a wider group of skilled individuals or project/research team is also valuable and will help to consolidate your knowledge and build your confidence in exercising hydrological judgement and conveying ideas to others. Wherever possible, you should aim to learn from those around you and try to establish regular contact with a more senior hydrologist in your place of work, somebody with whom you can discuss the progress and diversity of your ‘on the job’ training. 

Joining a recognised society such as BHS, and taking part in their programme of organised events, can also be an effective way of meeting counterparts in other parts of the water industry and benefiting from the knowledge they have to impart. Such meetings often count as accredited training days towards professional qualifications.

For those seeking a change of direction in their hydrological career, the brief descriptions provided on the page 'Careers in Hydrology - Profiles' should give some indication of the alternatives that are available, both in the UK and overseas. Depending on your aspirations and the extent to which you wish to specialise, you may or may not need to re-train through an academic course. In certain cases further formal qualifications will be necessary. But there may also be instances where you can broaden your skills base and gain insight into other ways of working by undertaking secondments to other areas of your company’s or organisation’s business, by changing departments or project/research teams, or by working from a different geographical location e.g. an international office. An understanding of basic hydrological concepts and principles, and a willingness to adapt to the issue in hand are key factors. Indeed, you may be surprised to find that you possess many transferable skills that simply need to be applied to different subject matter. Hydrologists seeking a professional qualification (see page on 'Professional Development') will be required to prove that they have a variety of experience which meets specified criteria. During their career they must also demonstrate that they are keeping up to date by undertaking continuous professional development. This may include participation in topical meetings and seminars organised by relevant learned societies such as BHS.

Individuals who wish to progress to positions of greater responsibility in an organisation will need to develop skills in the management of project budgets and programmes and in the supervision of people. At the highest levels, hydrologists are employed in senior management positions and are required to make difficult decisions on sensitive and controversial matters. They also need to be skilled communicators in presenting scientifically complex issues to national and local politicians or in giving expert witness evidence to a public inquiry or in a court of law.