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Geosciences

Professor John Brady and students

Why study geosciences? Because the Earth is fascinating! Our planet is geologically dynamic, with 4.5 billion years of history and a future we want to protect. The Earth’s environments are subject to ever-increasing modification by human intervention—potentially changing everyday life as we know it.

Studying geosciences at Smith means you’ll learn to the fullest extent possible how the Earth works. You’ll explore multiple disciplines, including geology, biology, chemistry, physics and math. Courses highlight hands-on and discovery-based learning by doing, modern field and laboratory techniques, and interactive student-faculty research experiences. A degree in geosciences can lead to a variety of rewarding careers that address pressing issues, including climate change, energy and water resources, environmental stewardship and natural hazards.

Keep up-to-date on the latest news, events and opportunities in the geosciences department by signing up for our email lists for students and alumnae.

Requirements

Graduating geoscience majors:

  • Are able to integrate ideas and knowledge from a variety of areas within geosciences and other sciences and programs.
  • Can write well and speak clearly and coherently.
  • Are able to critically read and understand scientific literature.
  • Know how to define and address research problems individually and as part of a team.
  • Can collect and properly utilize geological data from the field and laboratory.
  • Know how to solve problems using geological data, including specimens and maps.
  • Are able to use resources and technology to access, display, and analyze data.
  • Can think creatively and reach conclusions based on a limited data-base.

Majors in geosciences study a wide variety of earth science disciplines.

Advisers

Class of 2018
Amy Rhodes

Class of 2019
Robert Newton

Class of 2020
Bosiljka Glumac

Class of 2021
Sara Pruss

Requirements

  • Six intermediate-level geoscience courses (30 credits): 221, 222, 231, 232, 241 and 251.
  • Two 300- or 400-level geoscience courses (at least 8 credits total); a 4–6 credit summer geology field camp may substitute for one.

Majors in environmental geosciences prepare for a career in a field that addresses environmental issues. In addition to a range of courses within the department, environmental geosciences majors take classes in chemistry, ecology and environmental policy.

Advisers

Class of 2018
Amy Rhodes

Class of 2019
Robert Newton

Class of 2020
Bosiljka Glumac

Class of 2021
Sara Pruss

Requirements

  • Two chemistry courses. No more than one at the 100 level. Aqueous Geochemistry (GEO 301) may count for one.
  • One ecology course.
  • One environmental policy course approved by the major adviser.
  • Four intermediate-level geoscience courses (200 level).
  • Two 300- or 400-level geoscience courses (at least 8 credits total); a 4-6 credit summer geology field camp may substitute for one.

Majors in geosciences education prepare for a career in elementary or secondary science teaching by combining courses in the sciences with education and child study.

Advisers

Class of 2018
Amy Rhodes

Class of 2019
Robert Newton

Class of 2020
Bosiljka Glumac

Class of 2021
Sara Pruss

Requirements

  • Three education courses.
  • Six additional geoscience courses above the 100-level. One of these must be at the 300-level or be a 4- to 6-credit summer geology field camp course.

Note: This track does not lead to educator licensure. If you wish to satisfy licensure requirements, you must take all EDC courses listed above, plus EDC 346 Clinical Internship in Teaching. You should consult with a faculty member in the Department of Education and Child Study.

Students contemplating a minor in geosciences should see a departmental adviser as early as possible to develop a minor course program that must be submitted for approval no later than the beginning of the senior year.

Advisers

Class of 2018
Amy Rhodes

Class of 2019
Robert Newton

Class of 2020
Bosiljka Glumac

Class of 2021
Sara Pruss

Requirements

Unlike the major, where some courses outside the department can be counted toward the major, all courses counting toward the minor must come from the geosciences department. You must have a total of 24 credits in geosciences, with no more than 14 credited at the 100-level.

Please consult the director of honors for specific requirements and application procedures.

Honors Directors

Amy Rhodes, 2017–18

Robert Newton, 2018–19

Requirements

Honors students must complete all the 100-level and 200-level requirements for one of the three geosciences tracks, at least one 300-level class, plus an honors thesis, GEO 430D or GEO 432D.

GEO 430D Honors Project
Credits: 4 per semester, 8 for yearlong course

GEO 432D Honors Project
Credits: 6 per semester, 12 for yearlong course


Courses

Our courses are designed to present an interdisciplinary body of geological knowledge and methodology to the broadest possible range of students. We contribute to programs at Smith where geological input is vital, including archaeology, environmental science, marine science, public policy and engineering. We also provide geological leadership through our cooperation with the Five Colleges, the Keck Geology Consortium, and our outreach to local, national and international communities.

Geosciences courses highlight:

  • hands-on, discovery-based learning by doing substantial field-based geological inquiry
  • modern field and laboratory techniques
  • the use of specialized equipment
  • interactive student-faculty research experiences

All introductory-level courses are designed for non-science majors but are appropriate for science majors as well.

Consult the Smith College Course Catalog for more information.

Students contemplating a major in geosciences should elect 101 and 102, or FYS 103 or 108, or any 100-level geoscience course and GEO 102. We encourage you to see a departmental adviser as early as possible to learn more about the tracks within the major. Prospective geoscience majors should seriously consider introductory-level courses in chemistry and/or calculus.

Course offerings include:

Fall

GEO 101–Introduction to Earth Processes and History
GEO 102–Exploring the Local Geologic Landscape (2 credits)
GEO 105–Natural Disasters: Confronting and Coping
FYS 109–Exobiology: Origins of Life and the Search for Life in the Universe
GEO 180y–Biogeochemical Cycling in the Avery Brook Watershed (a yearlong research course, 2 credits per semester)

Spring

GEO 106–Extraordinary Events in the History of the Earth, Life and Climate
GEO 108–Oceanography: An Introduction to the Marine Environment

Consult the Smith College Course Catalog for more information.

Prospective geoscience majors should seriously consider introductory-level courses in chemistry and/or calculus.

Smith courses that satisfy the advanced-level course requirement include any 300-level geoscience course, Ecohydrology (EGR 315), Seminar: Topics in Astrophysics-Asteroids (AST 330), Mechanics of Granular Media (EGR 340), and advanced work or Special Problems in Geology (GEO 400). Courses taken at other institutions also may qualify, as does a 4- to 6-credit geology field camp.

Consult the Smith College Course Catalog for more information.

Our majors and minors regularly use state-of-the-art field and laboratory facilities for course and research projects. Experience with specialized and sophisticated equipment, much of which is more typical of graduate school departments, provides students with valuable skills for graduate school and the workforce. 

Laboratory and Field Facilities

Instruments and Field Equipment

  • X-ray diffractometer
  • Scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer
  • Field geophysical equipment, including a 12-channel seismograph, gravimeter, proton/precession magnetometers and electrical resistivity meter
  • Field hydrology equipment, including current meters, data loggers and pressure transducers
  • Research-grade petrographic microscopes with cathode luminescence

A summer field course is strongly recommended for all majors and is a requirement for admission to some graduate programs. Majors planning for graduate school will need introductory courses in other basic sciences and mathematics. Prospective majors should see a departmental adviser as early as possible.


Smith Off-Campus Field Experience

Each year the department sponsors an off-campus course designed to offer a field experience that lets geosciences majors and minors observe and study a fascinating area in detail. This course may be entirely during interterm or it may be a spring semester course with a field trip during spring break or the following summer. Courses include Carbonate Systems and Coral Reefs of the Bahamas (270j) and Geology of Hawaii (223j).

Because there are many important geologic features that are not found in New England, geoscience majors are encouraged to take at least one of these courses to add breadth to their geologic understanding.


Field Camp

Attending a field camp is also a recommended experience for all students. Field camps give you the opportunity to apply your classroom and laboratory knowledge directly out in the field, fully engaging in the actual work of a professional geologist. Many, but not all, field camps are run during the summer for three-to-six weeks and allow you to earn credit toward the advanced geoscience requirement of the major.

Summer field camps in geosciences
A variety of summer field courses are offered at locations across the United States and around the world; most emphasize general geologic field methods and mapping, but some focus on specialties such as hydrology, volcanology or geophysics.

GSA/ExxonMobil Bighorn Basin Field Award
This one-week, all-expenses-paid field seminar in the Bighorn Basin of north-central Wyoming emphasizes multidisciplinary, integrated basin analysis.

National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) Scholarships for Field Study
This organization offers $500 scholarships to support student participation in field-based courses, including (but not limited to) summer field camps. It offers a small number of awards specifically for women geoscience students, sponsored by the Association of Women Geoscientists (AWG).

Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP)
This is an exciting summer field project in southeastern Alaska and British Columbia, with emphases on glacier monitoring, glacial landscapes, climate studies and alpine environments.  For more information, contact Mark Brandriss in the Department of Geosciences or visit the JIRP website.


Keck Geology Consortium

Smith's geosciences department is a member of the Keck Geology Consortium, a group of 18 colleges funded by the National Science Foundation to sponsor cooperative student/faculty research projects at locations throughout the United States and abroad.

 

Events

Featured Event

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Many study abroad and study away experiences can be integrated into the the department curriculum. Several study abroad and study away programs are particularly well suited to the pursuit of a geosciences degree, including:

Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program
This is a one-semester, interdisciplinary program based at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, with emphasis on marine sciences, marine policy and the literature of the sea. It includes extended field seminars on the Pacific Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a 10-day voyage on a sailing ship. This program is part of Smith's 12-College Exchange.

Frontiers Abroad
This organization offers half-year Earth and environmental study abroad programs in New Zealand. Most programs run from January through June, including the Geology of New Zealand program that has been popular with Smith students in recent years.

Study Abroad Adviser: Amy Rhodes

We encourage all students to pursue independent research, either with a department faculty member or through external opportunities. Because we have been a leader in interdisciplinary initiatives, the geosciences department has close ties with other departments throughout Smith, as well as with the Five Colleges and elsewhere, in such programs as archeology, public policy, environmental science, marine science and engineering. These connections open up a wide range of opportunities for research and internships. Don't hesitate to seek our advice on any opportunities that may be of interest. Faculty members are engaged in a wide variety of projects, and they often involve students in research and field trips.

Faculty Research

John Brady
Metamorphism of rocks from Syros, Greece
Geology of the Tobacco Root Mountains of Montana

Mark Brandriss
Continental arc plutonism and magma mixing in Alaska, Iceland and Scotland

H. Robert Burger
Comparison of the structural evolution of Death Valley
and the Connecticut Valley
Geophysical imaging of Connecticut Valley structure

H. Allen Curran
Coral reefs of the Bahamas, Belize and the Dominican Republic

Bosiljka Glumac
Use of isotopic techniques in sedimentology and stratigraphy of carbonate rocks

Jack Loveless
Use of GPS data to constrain earthquake cycle processes
Active tectonics of southern California, Chile, Japan and the Tibetan Plateau

Robert Newton
Groundwater contamination issues
The role of groundwater/wetland interactions

Sara Pruss
Understanding the role of ancient skeleton-producing invertebrates
in the carbonate cycle

Amy Rhodes
Hydrology of cloud forests in Monte Verde, Chile and Costa Rica
The impact of road salt on Kampoosa Bog, Massachusetts

Student Research

In the past several years, geosciences majors have done research projects in Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Costa Rica, Croatia, Alaska, New York and Massachusetts.


Internships and External Research Projects

The Clark Science Center Director's Office site lists research opportunities, both in the Five Colleges and other locations, including the Smith Summer Research Fellows (SURF) Program.

A number of scholarship, fellowship and grant opportunities are shared via the Science Students mailing list. Students can self-subscribe to this list at any time. The following sources offer assistance for various projects.

GeoStars
This Smith geosciences fund provides small grants to help students pay expenses for attending geological conferences and meetings.

Goldwater and Udall Fellowships
These highly competitive fellowships are coordinated through the Clark Science Center. Application procedures typically begin in October of each year. Contact a geoscience faculty member if you are interested in competing for one of these fellowships.

International Experience Grants
These Smith grants provide partial funding toward study, research, internships or volunteer projects outside of the United States during interterm or the summer.

NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program
This scholarship is designed to increase undergraduate training in oceanic and atmospheric science, research, technology and education and to foster multidisciplinary training.

Praxis Internships
Praxis programs provide stipends to Smith students who are doing unpaid summer internships. This page explains the guidelines.

Schalk Fund
This Smith geosciences fund provides small grants to help students pay for summer field camps and other field geology projects. To apply, submit your request to the geology department chair. Include a description and the dates of your intended field activity, as well as anticipated expenses and the level of support you are seeking. Note: You are not eligible for Schalk funds if you are receiving money from Praxis.

Smith Students' Aid Society
This source offers additional assistance to students whose needs are not met by financial aid. Available grants include helping students with emergency expenses and spring break and summer study opportunities.

Special Programs

American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Master of Arts in Teaching Program
This full-time, 15-month program takes place at the museum and in urban partner schools. All degree candidates receive free tuition and books and a $30,000 living stipend; in return, candidates commit to teaching in a high-need New York State school for four years. Graduates also receive a $10,000 annual salary supplement for their first four years of teaching.

Churchill Scholarships
This highly competitive scholarship program offers a year of graduate study in the sciences at Cambridge University, with Smith applications coordinated through the Science Center Distinguished Fellowships and Scholarships Committee (application procedures typically begin in October of each year). Contact a faculty member if you’re interested in competing for one of these scholarships.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
These are fellowships for beginning graduate students.


Graduate Programs

Many geoscience students go on to pursue graduate studies in other academic fields. Geosciences support a broad range of interests, including:

  • Climate science
  • Environmental science & policy
  • Environmental law
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry
  • Geophysics
  • Marine science
  • Oceanography
  • Petroleum geology and economic geology
Funding for Graduate School

Most Smith alumnae who pursue graduate studies have their graduate work funded through research and teaching.

Common Requirements for Further Study

Most graduate programs require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

Enhancing Your Curriculum

Students who are considering graduate studies can enhance their transcript by taking courses in chemistry, physics, math, statistics and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Students majoring in geosciences can also add to their credentials by participating in undergraduate research, which is highly desirable and further demonstrates interest in a science-based career.


Careers

The geosciences department at Smith has been a leader in interdisciplinary initiatives, enjoying close ties with programs in archeology, public policy, environmental science, marine science and engineering. These connections enable us to advise students about opportunities for careers in a wide range of fields that interconnect well with a geological background.

The American Geosciences Institute offers a number of career resources, and GeoCorps America lists a variety of positions.

A sampling of careers supported by a geosciences major include environmental consultant or lawyer, environmental health specialist, hydrogeologist, laboratory or research technician, land use planner, landscape/environmental geoscientist, oceanographer, professor, soil scientist, seismologist and volcanologist.


Contact

Department of Geosciences

Burton Hall 115
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3805
Fax: 413-585-3786

Administrative Assistant: Donna Kortes