Geosciences Major

Geosciences is a unique blend of lab experiments, field observation, data analysis and computer modeling. Courses in geosciences apply principles of biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics to real Earth problems, deal with length scales from global to atomic and consider timescales from billions of years to less than a second. The flexible academic program allows students to develop individualized courses of study. The Geosciences department offers five tracks for majors:

  • Microbiology
  • Environmental Geochemistry
  • Oceans, Atmosphere and Climate
  • Geology and Earth History
  • Geophysics

Prerequisites for declaring the geosciences major vary by track, but all require MAT 104, COS 126 or SML 201 and either GEO 202 or GEO 203.

The microbiology (MB), environmental geochemistry (EC), and oceans, atmosphere, and climate (OA) tracks all require GEO 202. The geology and earth history (GE) and geophysics (GP) tracks require GEO 203. 

By the end of junior year, students in every specialization must satisfy the statistics requirement by taking GEO 422 (or substituting ORF 245, ECO 202, PSY 251, or SPI 200).

If a student meets one set of prerequisites but would like to switch specializations, accommodations can be made with a member of the Undergraduate Work Committee (UWC).

General Requirements:

The major in geosciences requires 14 courses. In addition to the three prerequisites and the statistics requirement, each specialization in the geosciences major requires four core math and science requirements, two core GEO requirements and four GEO electives. The particular requirements are determined by the student's track of study.

  • Microbiology (MB) track: Core math and science requirements are EEB 211, MOL 214, CHM 201, and CHM 202; core GEO requirements are GEO 363 and GEO 417. Students then choose four electives from the following list: GEO 362, GEO 416, GEO 418, GEO 428, GEO 435, MOL 345, MOL 380.
  • Environmental Geochemistry (EG) track: Core math and science requirements are MOL 214, CHM 201, CHM 202, and PHY 103; core GEO requirements are GEO 363 and GEO 360. Students then choose four electives from the following list: GEO 361, GEO 369, GEO 370, GEO 417, GEO 418, GEO 428, GEO 435, GEO 470, FRS, CHM 301, CEE 311, CEE 306/307, CEE 471.
  • Oceans, Atmosphere and Climate (OA) track: Core math and science requirements are MAT 201, MAT 202, CHM 201, and PHY 103; core GEO requirements are GEO 361 and GEO 425. Students then choose four electives from the following list: GEO 362, GEO 363, GEO 366, GEO 367, GEO 369, GEO 427, GEO 428, GEO 435, GEO 203, FRS, MAE 305.
  • Geology and Earth History (GE) track: Core math and science requirements are MAT 202, CHM 201, CHM 202, and PHY 103; core GEO requirements are GEO 362 and GEO 464. Students then choose four electives from the following list: GEO 378, GEO 372, GEO 370, GEO 373, GEO 365, GEO 202, FRS, MAE 305, MAE 221.
  • Geophysics (GP) track: Core math and science requirements are MAT 201, MAT 202, PHY 103 or 105, and PHY 104 or 106; core GEO requirements are GEO 371 or GEO 422 and MAE 305.  Students then choose four electives from the following list:  GEO 419, GEO 424, GEO 441, GEO 422, GEO 464, GEO 370, GEO 202, FRS.

In addition to these courses, the Junior Colloquium is a weekly luncheon meeting, convened during the fall term, to inform juniors about proposal writing, and ongoing research in different areas of geosciences. This one-hour colloquium is mandatory for all geosciences majors.

All students considering a major in the department should see the director of undergraduate studies (DUS). Students are encouraged to consult as soon as possible, even as first-year students, to aid in the design of a course of study. The department offers an open house in both the fall and spring terms to introduce prospective students to departmental courses, faculty, students and research interests.

For additional information, see the Undergraduate Announcement 2023-2024.

Printable Departmental Specialization Poster

Color coded chart of GEO specialization

Certificate Programs

The department offers a certificate program in geological engineering in collaboration with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is described in the entry for the Program in Geological Engineering. The department also cooperates in the certificate programs in environmental studies, materials science and engineering, planets and life, and teacher preparation. Several geosciences courses fulfill the requirements of these certificate programs.

Geosciences Advisers

Each geosciences junior and senior is assigned an adviser, who is a faculty member and part of the Undergraduate Work Committee. Students are expected to meet regularly with their advisers for discussions on curriculum, course selection, choice of junior and senior research paper topics, study abroad plans and the like. Once the courses have been selected in consultation with the adviser, students turn in their signed fall and spring course worksheet to the undergraduate coordinator. Any course changes also should be discussed and approved by the adviser or the DUS. At the beginning of each academic year, students will be informed who their geosciences advisers are.

Independent Work

Please begin by examining the downloads below:

Junior Independent Work

All juniors are required to conduct independent research in both the fall and spring terms. Each term, this work includes a written progress report, final written report and a poster presentation of the student's final JP work.  Faculty members will evaluate student poster presentations and submit feedback and grades. Although geoengineers are not required to conduct JP research, some geoengineers have conducted independent research in geosciences or engineering for course credit.

Different research topics are available in any given year and some ideas are listed in the shopping guide, which students obtain from the undergraduate coordinator. Students are encouraged to consult with their faculty advisers for suggestions regarding selection of the JP project. If students have other exciting ideas for possible JP projects, they are encouraged to consult their faculty advisers to discuss the feasibility of pursuing them.

The fall JP consists of a research proposal. The proposal includes a statement of the hypothesis you are proposing to test, a literature review that motivates your work, and preliminary data collection (i.e., fieldwork, laboratory analysis and/or data mining) and analysis that convinces the reader you will be able to test your central hypothesis. The fall JP is introduced as a poster presentation to the geosciences department prior to submitting a final written report.

The spring JP project is a full scientific research paper. A student may choose to work on the same topic they proposed in the fall or on a completely new topic with a new adviser. All spring JP work must include original data analysis; a literature review by itself does not qualify as a JP project. Many opportunities for collecting data are available, either through the student's own efforts (including fieldwork, experiments conducted in any of the several laboratories in the department, and computer simulations) or by accessing databases made available by and for the scientific community at large. The spring JP is presented as a poster to the geosciences department prior to submitting a final written report.

Proposals for funding to support independent work are due in late September/early October for the fall JP, and mid-February for the spring JP (but please see the ST/JP Guide for details each year as the due dates are subject to change). Part of the JP grade is awarded based on two reports submitted at two different milestones during the semester. The final grade for both fall and spring independent research is based on the quality of the research and the written and oral work of the student.

Senior Independent Work

The senior research thesis project involves a more in-depth study in the chosen topic and is a full-year effort. Students should budget their time accordingly. Each geosciences senior will choose an appropriate faculty member as their senior thesis adviser in consultation with the departmental adviser and the faculty members who support the student's interests. The student is expected to conduct research in the adviser's laboratory and work closely with the adviser and/or graduate students/postdoctoral fellows.

The department publishes a shopping guide, which lists some research topics that the geosciences faculty members currently are pursuing. The shopping guide is a good starting point to identify a list of topics and research advisers from which students can select a topic and adviser for their senior independent research in consultation with the departmental adviser and faculty members. Students interested in pursuing a topic that is not part of the shopping guide are encouraged to approach their departmental adviser to discuss the feasibility of conducting the research either under the supervision of a faculty member in the department or in another department in the University. Many students select their projects early, in consultation with the faculty adviser, and begin the research during the summer preceding senior year. The department and the faculty adviser usually provide the necessary funds to conduct the independent research.

The department requires that a student submit a thesis proposal (due in late September or early October) and several interim research progress reports, including the fall semester progress report, a rough draft of the thesis for feedback, and the final thesis. The goal of the interim reports is to facilitate timely adviser-student feedback, help minimize the unavoidable thesis rush at the end of the year, and ensure that the final product of the thesis is of the highest quality. In addition to writing their theses, all students give oral presentations to the faculty and students of the geosciences department. The grade for the thesis is based on the quality of the research, the written report and the oral presentation.

Senior Departmental Examination

The comprehensive examination in the department consists of an oral examination based on the senior thesis and related topics.

Grading and Honors

Senior Thesis: You will be graded on (1) your thesis research plus written report and (2) oral presentation plus answers to questions.

Thesis Grade:     

i.         Written thesis: Quality and clarity of writing, proper organization and citations, illustration of results, interpretation, and discussion, originality, and commitment to doing the best possible lab-, field-, or model-based research. Grade determined by adviser and second reader.

ii.         Oral presentation: Based on quality and clarity of presentation in lecture and illustrations as well as facility in answering questions pertaining to research results. Grade determined by the entire faculty. The final thesis grade will be set only after a meeting of the faculty to discuss and rank all theses. In general, an A on a senior thesis means that the work and write-up submitted have sufficient merit to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. The final thesis grade is reported to the registrar and appears on the student's transcript.

Academic Honors

The department awards academic honors (Honors, High Honors, Highest Honors) based on a combination of factors, including the overall grade point average (GPA), departmental GPA, the relevance and degree of difficulty of course load, junior research papers and senior thesis. If the student has taken more than the required courses, then the courses with the highest grades that satisfy the major and breadth requirements are used in the calculation. For the senior thesis and junior research papers, the assigned grades will be used. In addition to grades, dedication to research, academic participation and the overall impressions the student has made on the faculty are taken into consideration in the honors calculation. To ensure that the quality of honors remains consistent from year to year, the faculty compares student achievements with those from previous years.

Preparation for Graduate Study

Specialization in any one of the Earth sciences today requires graduate study. Students interested in pursuing graduate studies in any of the specializations are encouraged to take advanced chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology and computer science courses. More specific information on graduate education can be obtained from the director of undergraduate studies or other faculty members.

Additional Information

Field Programs

Since experience in field geology can be an important aspect of professional training, students are encouraged to take a course in field methods in geology and oceanography.

Geological Field Camp

After their first year, sophomore, or junior year, many of our students enroll in a geosciences summer field camp (students should consult their faculty adviser in the November before they plan to attend summer field camp). Other students choose to work with a faculty member or a graduate student in the field, and may conduct independent research for junior or senior independent research as part of this opportunity. Geosciences facilitates student enrollment in these field opportunities by providing financial aid.

Experience at Sea

Students interested in ocean studies can participate in ongoing studies at sea or at the Bermuda Biological Station. The department tries to make available opportunities to interested undergraduates to participate in an oceanographic cruise at some time during their undergraduate years.

Information on other opportunities for field experience is made available annually. The student should consult the DUS if interested in participating in field programs.

Financial Assistance

Grants for fieldwork in geology are available through the Tony Conway '36 Memorial Scholarship Fund. Grants for field and museum studies and research in natural history during the summer are available to students of high scholastic standing from the John Boyd '43 Memorial Fund and the Glenn L. Jepsen '27 Fund. Grants are available from the Erling Dorf '33 Fund for fieldwork and the field course. The Howard T. Vaum Jr. '78 Fund supports studies in geological engineering in a field study program. Grants for environmental studies are available from the High Meadows Environmental Institute. Students seeking assistance from any of these funds should present a proposal (two pages of research description) by February 15 to the DUS.

Funds are available from time to time for qualified undergraduates to serve as research assistants to faculty members during the regular academic session as well as during the summer months.

In some instances, summer employment for qualified students can be arranged with governmental, commercial or academic field parties.