FAQs for Undergraduates

  • The Earth and ocean sciences are an interdisciplinary exploration of the dynamic processes that formed and continuously modify the Earth and other planetary bodies. We study earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, climate, fossils, groundwater, Earth’s crustal rocks, and even other planets in an effort to understand complex, interconnected planetary systems.

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  • All students interested in majoring or minoring in our department need to take EOS 1 The Dynamic Earth and EOS 2 Environmental Geology. These courses can be taken in any order, and once you have completed them you have the prerequisites for most of our upper level courses. (You also would have satisfied the Natural Sciences distribution requirement for graduation.) The lecture classes for EOS 1 and 2 are comparatively large, typically enrolling 50 to 80 students (despite this, the professors generally learn the names of each student in the course). You will also be in a lab section, and here the enrollment is usually between 10 and 25 students. The labs complement and supplement the lecture part of the course, and include numerous demonstrations, working models, experimental activities, and several field trips.

    Our upper level courses are small. There are usually fewer than 20 students enrolled, and the faculty members get to know the students well. Many of these courses have labs in which you undertake projects, prepare geologic reports, work with mineral, rock, and fossil samples, or gather data from experiments. There may also be homework problem sets for the course. We encourage students to work cooperatively in these courses (though each is responsible for his or her own work), and this promotes a very friendly atmosphere among our students. It is common for geology majors to come into Lane Hall in the evening or on weekends to do lab or course work, and some students consider the Department a home away from home.

    We have high, but realistic expectations of our students. We provide support, advice, nudging, and encouragement. We expect students to work hard in our courses, and to supplement their EOS courses with the supporting sciences of chemistry, physics, and mathematics to get the most out of their education and to prepare for grad school or a career. Our faculty are committed to teaching, and take our mission to educate our students very seriously.

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  • Since geology is such a visual and experiential science, we ensure that there are ways for students to explore geologic problems in the field as well as in the lab. Most of our courses have some component of field work. There are afternoon field trips during lab periods for our introductory courses and some upper level courses. In the upper level courses, there may also be field trips on weekends from 1 to 3 days in length.

    We offer optional extended field trips for our majors. In alternate winter breaks, we often go on a 14-16 day field trip to Arizona and New Mexico where we study the geology of famous and not-so-famous localities. The trip culminates in a 3-day hike in the Grand Canyon, examining rocks that represent nearly 2 billion years of Earth's history. In alternate spring breaks, we offer an optional 8-day field trip to southern Utah to visit spectacular geologic sites that include ancient fossil-bearing rocks that accumulated in a shallow sea, the deposits of 180 million year old deserts in Capitol Reef National Park, and the iconic Delicate Arch near Moab.

    In addition, the faculty welcome students to participate in their research. Faculty with grants may be able to fund student research on their projects over the summer, and such work often has led to a senior thesis during a student's last year at Tufts. For example, in the past 2 years Prof. Jack Ridge has had 4 students work with him on an NSF-funded project to study glacial lakes that formed at the end of the last ice age, and 2 students did senior theses based on their work. Another senior is working with Senior Lecturer Jacob Benner on trace fossils in sedimentary rocks that are about 310 million years old, near Attleborough in southern Massachusetts. Trace fossils are the impressions or traces that organisms make as they live on and in sediment – tracks, trails, burrows, etc. The student and Jake discovered the impression of a winged insect that is the oldest of its kind.

    If you have the background and motivation to participate in such projects, our faculty are very enthusiastic about including students in their work. Most often, students are at least in their junior year by the time they get involved in research, so they would have enough background to do meaningful work.

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  • Our students have moved into a wide array of fields following graduation. Many go to graduate school for an advanced degree - we encourage student to pursue at least a Masters degree, since that it is very useful in many employment sectors. However, a PhD is essential for some career tracks, especially if you want to go into university teaching or a position in a research lab. Students often work for a year - or a few years - before returning to school for an MS or a PhD. A graduate degree allows you to more readily advance to positions of greater responsibility or to do more in-depth science.

    Regardless of your degree, careers in geology span a range of fields, and the dominant employment sectors have varied through time. In recent years, many of our students have sought and found employment in environmental or engineering firms after graduation, especially if they have taken courses in groundwater and related fields. Other fields include energy resources, mineral exploration, independent drilling and other support for industry, state geological surveys, the U.S. Geological Survey, teaching (from elementary to university level), research at national labs, and a variety of specialized positions in banks, insurance companies, law firms, and other businesses.

    The pie charts at right show the general fields that people with a Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in geology have gone into, as of 2000. These data are from the American Geological Institute, which maintains an interesting website featuring people in specific geology-related jobs as well as a lot of links to companies who hire geologists. Visit the careers guide at AGI for much more information about careers in geology in general, http://www.agiweb.org for a lot of general information about the field of geology, and check out this advice from the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists.

    In some careers, it can be helpful to have a double major or at least have taken extra courses in another field. For example, geology and engineering is a natural combination. However, we caution students that it is more important to have a solid major in geology with depth and breadth rather than 2 majors where neither of them is exceptionally strong.

    Some of our students pursue careers outside geology. We hear from them that regardless of where they ended up they have used valuable skills and analytical ways of thinking that they developed in studying geology.

    Geology is a science that has undergone great change in the past few decades. For example, plate tectonics provides an explanation of earthquakes and tsunami events, volcanic eruptions, mountain-building processes, and even the locations of geothermal fields. As we begin to understand the complexities of our Earth's climate, we are drawing on geologic studies of how ancient climates are recorded in glacial lake sediments, deep ocean sediments, and rock strata exposed on land. Rocks may appear to be static and silent, but geologists use all kinds of techniques to extract information in the quest to deal with both scientific and societal problems.

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