College of Arts & Science & University Studies
What Can I Do With a Major in Geology, Earth Science, or Environmental Science?
Geology/Earth Science is the science devoted to understanding the history of the earth and the physical and chemical processes that have shaped our planet since its birth and continue to shape it today. Geologists and earth scientists study rocks, minerals, landforms, water, air, space, and ancient life (fossils). Simply put, geoscientists ask questions about how the earth works. The goal of geoscience inquiry can be to obtain pure knowledge about the earth; to understand and lessen the effects upon society by geologic hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and floods; to understand and even minimize the environmental impacts of human activities; and to search for new reserves of essential minerals, fossil fuels, or water.
Every day, we see news reports about subjects such as global climate change, natural disasters, energy and mineral resources, pollution, waste disposal, and water issues. With a total population projected to be more than 8 billion by 2030, we constantly increase our demands on the earth for resources critical to human survival, deepen our impact upon the planet, and expand our potential exposure to natural and anthropogenic hazards. As a result, there is an ever-growing need for greater understanding of the earth on local to global levels, and thus for more people with geoscience knowledge. Such knowledge is essential to maintain key aspects of our increasingly global society, including economic security and growth, environmental protection, international competitiveness, material infrastructure, and even national defense. Geologists and other geoscientists are needed at the forefront of efforts to address these issues.
Miami's Department of Geology & Environmental Earth Science offers four degrees: the Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees in Geology, an A.B. in Earth Science and an A.B. in Environmental Earth Science. The degrees in Geology provide a core of traditional geology courses and then allow students to explore a range of advanced topics. The emphasis is on the physical and chemical processes affecting the whole earth and on the evolution of the earth's mantle, crust and life. These degrees prepare students for further graduate work in the geosciences, as well as many careers. The Geology B.S. degree is designed for those individuals who wish to become directly involved in applied and research-oriented earth and environmental science activities. The A.B. in Earth Science is for students who seek a broad understanding of the earth and how it operates but who do not necessarily wish to pursue a career as a professional geologist. It is our most flexible major allowing diverse exploration of earth systems and processes according to student interests. This degree allows more freedom to students who wish to more fully explore such fields as geologic hazards, groundwater hydrology, earth's climate (past, present and future), geomicrobiology, seismology, chemistry of earth systems or our fresh-water resources. The A.B. in Environmental Earth Science is for those students who are interested in Earth systems and processes, but who are also interested in applying their geoscience pursuits to environmental issues, problems and solutions. This major reflects the fact that most of our faculty are involved in environmental research and study. It also provides an opportunity to incorporate substantial environmental offerings from outside the Department. This major focuses on the interactions between people and various earth systems at or near the earth's surface. It addresses issues of sustainability, conservation and discovery of natural resources and the prevention and management of pollution and other environmental hazards.
Students also may elect to earn a B.S. in Earth Science Education offered through the School of Education, Health and Society, or they may elect to be certified in Earth Science through the A.B. degree in Geology.
A productive career in Geology/Earth Science/Environmental Earth Science requires an interest in earth materials and earth processes Earth scientists ask how earth materials and processes came to be, how they operate and what impact they have on our lives and what impact we have on them. In addition, Geology/Earth Science/Environmental Earth Science are all cross-disciplinary, melding aspects of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, environmental science and computational science. Excellent communication skills are also very important.
- Field Work:
- Fieldwork is an important part of the Geology/Earth Science/Environmental Earth Science majors regardless of one's specific emphasis or interests. Making observations and collecting data in the field provide much of the evidence used in unraveling Earth's history and processes. Often field data collection involves the recovery of specimens that form the basis for in-depth laboratory research. Diverse field investigations carried out by Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science faculty and students include mapping and sampling in complex geologic and tectonic settings; recovery and monitoring of geologic and microbiologic materials and processes through shallow and deep drilling in continental areas; recovery of geologic and microbiologic materials from lakes, oceans, and deep ocean trenches; deciphering ancient volcanic and tectonic events and processes and their effects on global climate and faunal evolution; monitoring current and future earthquakes and tsunamis; monitoring and assessing water quality and quantity issues; assessing regional and global climate variations via paleobotanical studies, and landscape reconstructions aimed at understanding the facts controlling Earth's dynamic surface and climate through time. Recent field work involving faculty, graduate students and undergraduates has been conducted throughout North America and in portions of South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and in various ocean basins.
- Laboratory Data Acquisition and Interpretation:
- The incorporation of techniques developed in other natural sciences has led to the emergence of emphases such as geochemistry, geophysics, and geobiology. Geochemistry, for example, provides much of the theoretical basis for traditional geologic disciplines such as mineralogy (the study of minerals) and petrology (the study of rocks). Additionally, it also forms the basis for studies that examine the atomic structure and behavior of minerals in the natural environment, that constrain the geologic evolution of the earth using rock chemistry or chronology, that explore and develop mineral deposits, that evaluate the quality of groundwater, and that provide a framework for development and management of disposal sites for hazardous and toxic wastes. Geophysics utilizes methodologies common in disciplines such as mathematics, computational science, and physics to documents, model, and interpret shallow to deep earth materials, structures, and processes, and the emerging field of geomicrobiology blends aspects and techniques of geochemistry, biochemistry and microbiology.
- Computer Modeling and Numerical Calculations:
- Use of computers and knowledge of mathematics play increasingly important roles in Geology/Earth Science/Environmental Earth Science. In some instances computers are essential in the transformation of instrumental measurements in the laboratory and the field into usable information about the earth. Computers are also used to create numerical models that seek to simulate geological processes, such as those active in rivers and groundwater, sediment dispersal and accumulation patterns, oil and gas migration and accumulation, igneous and convective processes in the deep earth, and also to better understand the origin and distribution of potentially hazardous geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes.
- Resource and Environmental Assessments:
- Assessments of critical mineral resources and fossil fuel abundances are based on many of the other competences described here, and lead geoscientists into considerations of economics and politics at both national and international levels. The same is true of environmental assessments, which in all cases must be constructively and practically related to social, economic and political factors at local, national, and international levels.
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the geosciences is that they offer so many different possible career paths. Geologists and other Earth Scientists are typically employed in environmental consulting and planning firms, energy and mineral resources companies, and materials analysis firms, as well as government agencies such as the National Park Service, environmental protection agencies, and health departments. They are also employed in schools and universities, a wide array of both small and large corporations, legal practices, non-profit organizations, and even the news media. Because geoscientists are continually urged to recognize and assess the world around them, and to see both the large and small aspects of a problem or solution, they acquire and hone skills that are highly valued in many disciplines. In recent years, about 50 percent of graduates from the Department of Geology & Environmental Earth Science have furthered their education in graduate and professional programs. About 30 percent have obtained immediate employment in geoscience or related disciplines. A bachelor's degree, in most instances, provides the background to obtain support or assistant positions as a geologist or environmental earth scientist in government agencies or environmental consulting companies as well as the laboratory or field programs of natural resource exploration and development corporations, and state or national geological surveys. As the nation's and the world's attention continues to focus on environmental concerns, environmental consulting and geotechnical companies employ a steady number of geology graduates. Additionally, heightened national and international interest in oil and gas exploration and recovery recently has expanded opportunities in this traditional geologic employment sector. Most recently, with increased interests in alternative energy sources, geoscientists again find themselves well prepared to engage in this important emerging area of research and technological advancement.
Opportunities - Graduate/Professional School
Of the approximately 50 percent of recent Department of Geology & Environmental Earth Science graduates who choose to continue their education, most move on to master's or doctoral programs in the earth and environmental sciences. The master's degree is the terminal degree of most practicing geologists and provides a wide opportunity for professional achievement and advancement. The doctoral degree is the entry into academic careers and into the research divisions of certain industries. In recent years, an increasing number of students who have earned bachelor's or master's degrees in Geology have entered law school or business school and many also have sought additional training in schools of education in order to prepare for a career in earth science education.
Opportunities - Experiential
All graduates from the Department of Geology & Environmental Earth Science enroll in some sort of field experience. Students seeking an A.B. or B.S. in Geology enroll in a five-week summer field course, usually taken between the junior and senior year, at the Department's field station in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. Several other two- to five-week domestic and international field courses also run annually during the summer. Shorter field courses (7 to 10 days) often are taught over the winter and spring break periods, affording undergraduate students ample opportunity to participate. In addition to these stand-alone courses, many of the upper-level geology courses contain field components that typically take advantage of key aspects of the local and regional geology through multi-hour to multi-day field projects.
There also are many opportunities to interact with active scholars in virtually all of the Department's courses, scholars that bring their contemporary geological research findings and experiences directly into the classroom. Many courses are designed to provide hands-on laboratory experiences utilizing equipment and techniques of varying sophistication. All Geology & Environmental Earth Science faculty members and graduate students are working on research projects, many of which regularly involve undergraduate students. These independent study research opportunities often are the most rewarding aspects of one's undergraduate career because it is here that students gain hands-on experience applying principles and concepts learned in coursework to outstanding questions in the geological sciences. Working closely in the field and/or laboratory with faculty and graduate student mentors, the undergraduate research experience typically culminates in either a formal presentation at a professional meeting or a formal literature publication, or both.
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