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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

B.S. in Earth Sciences

Degree Programs

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences offers bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees. The bachelor of science degree is recommended for students intending to pursue a career in the Earth Sciences–either professionally or in academia.

Two bachelor of science degree tracks are offered within the department, the B.S. in Earth Sciences, and the B.S. in Earth Sciences with focus in environmental science. The B.S. in Earth Sciences provides a strong background in basic science and geology, and through appropriate choice of electives can be tailored to meet a wide range of possible interests within the Earth Sciences. The B.S. in Earth Sciences with focus in environmental science is offered jointly with the biology department, and is recommended for those students specifically intending to pursue a career in the environmental arena.

Most bachelor of science students continue on to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree, the standard entry-level professional degree in the Earth sciences, or a Ph.D. if they intend to pursue a career in academia.

The bachelor of arts degree in Earth Sciences is recommended for those students who enjoy and are intellectually intrigued by the Earth Sciences, but intend to pursue careers in other fields. The B.A. degree differs from the B.S. degree in that it requires fewer ancillary science courses and fewer electives from within the department. Along with intellectual enrichment, the B.A. degree provides a rounded science foundation and critical thinking skills that can be applied to numerous other fields. Graduates with B.A.s in Earth Sciences go on to be lawyers, teachers, business people, environmental planners, public policy makers, and politicians, as well as geologists.

Petition for a B.S.

Students are automatically enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts degree program when they declare the major. It is necessary for the student to petition to receive the Bachelor of Science degree. The completed petition and a copy of your transcript from myslice must be forwarded to the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Academic Coordinator in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The petition will be reviewed and approved if all the degree requirements are planned for or met. An ideal time to accomplish this milestone is during academic advising prior to registration for courses.

Graduating with Distinction in Earth Sciences

Departmental distinction is conferred upon students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement in the Earth Sciences and who complete and defend a research thesis. Departmental distinction could complement a degree with Honors, but Honors students would not automatically receive departmental distinction.

As stipulated by the University, all students receiving departmental distinction must have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 by the end of their senior year. In addition, these students must have a minimum GPA within the Earth Sciences of 3.6, and must complete a Senior Thesis project. The same thesis project may be used both to earn departmental distinction and to fulfill the thesis requirement of university honors, but it must meet the separate requirements of each program. Students in both the B.S. and B.A. programs are eligible for a degree with distinction.

Students must complete a research-based senior thesis in conjunction with a faculty supervisor. The thesis must constitute independent, hypothesis-driven research involving investigative tools and techniques in the Earth Sciences. Students must submit the written thesis to the department and give a public seminar reporting their results. Students should register for EAR 409 (Senior Thesis in Earth Sciences) or EAR 499 (Honors Capstone Project) in the semester in which they plan to submit the thesis. All else being satisfied, distinction is conferred following a vote of approval from the faculty of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Field Experience

One of the highlights of your undergraduate experience is the geology field experience. This requirement is usually satisfied by participation in an approved six week summer "field camp". These field camps are run by numerous universities outside of SU that routinely accept students from other institutions. There are traditional geological field camps, or a more discipline-specific field course (e.g. hydrogeology). Syracuse University typically approves geology field camp experiences that include 4-6 weeks of intensive field study including excursions to key geological sites as well as geological mapping and related exercises.

Choosing a Field Camp

It is necessary to apply for acceptance by a particular field camp. Among the factors you will want to consider when choosing a field camp are:

  • Geography (our general advice: West is Best);
  • Geology (structural complexity and style, principal bedrock types; ruggedness (some "rough it" all the way; others are tamer); and
  • Reputation (best judged by talking with seniors and graduate students who have had recent, first-hand experience).

Students should consult "How to Choose a Geology Field Camp". In addition, has a list of field courses offered by 100+ schools. You can examine brochures advertising many such programs in the department office (Room 204) or on the department bulletin board.

Occasionally, students are able to meet the field course requirements with an NSF-sponsored Research Experience for undergraduates (REU) or Keck Consortium field experiences. Students are encouraged to visit the websites for these programs to see what is available to them for the particular year they plan to satisfy the requirement.

Advanced Faculty Approval and Transferring Credit

Prior approval for field camp locations need to be secured from the Director of Undergraduate Studies. In some cases students may need to petition the faculty for approval.

Six or more transfer credit hours may be accepted by Syracuse University if the field camp is pre-approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The credits are awarded by the outside University program and transferred to SU as EAR470, experience credit.

When Do You Go to Field Camp?

Most Earth Science majors take field camp in the summer between their junior and senior years, but you can also receive a B.S. degree at commencement, pending completion of the requirement in the summer following graduation. An important consideration in timing is your own background: courses in Structural Geology and Sedimentology or Stratigraphy may be required.

Pre-Requisites for Field Camp

Students attending a traditional geological field camp (the majority of our students) should have successfully completed EAR317 and EAR333 before they attend the field course. If they have not yet taken those courses, they will need to supply a written communication with the director of the field camp of their choice to the effect that those courses are not required.

Scholarship for Field Camp

The department recognizes that these courses constitute an extra financial burden on students. Therefore, if available, the department will provide a supplement (currently $400) to our students to offset the cost of this course. To be eligible for the supplement, students must request support in writing to the Chairperson by April 1 of the year that they intend to attend field camp. A brief email requesting support and specifying the field camp is sufficient.

In addition, students are encouraged to make every effort to secure additional funding from outside this institution to offset course costs. For example, the National Association for Geology Teachers offers a scholarship for field study, and many individual field programs offer a variety of ways to offset costs, both merit-based and need-based.


As soon as you develop an interest in possibly majoring in Earth Sciences, let us provide you with an advisor. That advisor can not only help you with Arts and Sciences Core Requirements, as did your original "freshman" advisor, but can also help design a program to meet your goals as a major in our Department. If you intend to minor in Earth Sciences, your primary advisor will probably be in another department, but be sure to consult us concerning our side of your program.

We are a very "open" department, and you should feel free to seek advice from any of us at any time! However, our "official" assignment is:

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Robert Moucha, 208a Heroy Geology Laboratory,, 443-6239

Four Year Plan Templates

In an effort to help you schedule your courses in compliance with the program requirements of the various Earth Sciences degrees, we have developed the following four year plans that are meant to be a guide that can be adjusted as needed. Click on the link to see the detail:

  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Science
  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Science with a Focus in Environmental Science
  • Four Year Plan for a Bachelor of Arts

Each semester, you will meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Academic Coordinator to review your transcripts and proposed course selections to ensure your steady progress toward your anticipated degree program. Once this advising meeting occurs, your advising hold will be lifted and you will be able to register for classes for the next semester.

Outside the Classroom


Field experience is so important to geology that we incorporate field trips into many of our courses. But we urge that you take advantage of other opportunities to get in the field. Sometimes you can go along on trips in courses other than those in which you are enrolled (or intend to enroll). Or someone may informally organize a departmentally sponsored trip completely separate from any course. Watch bulletin boards.

Also watch for announcements of trips sponsored by regional or special-interest organizations. Every fall, a wide selection of field trips are offered by the New York State Geological Association (NYSGA) and the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference (NEIGC). Similar trips are run each spring by the Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists. Undergraduates are very welcome on all of these, and the cost is minimal. Watch bulletin boards. Often, a van will be going from Syracuse.


Participation in meetings of professional organizations may seem like something you are not ready for, but that is not necessarily true! Such meetings consist of all-day "technical" sessions, each dedicated to a particular theme or subject area, in which a series of 20-minute presentations are given by individuals who have research results to report. One can pick and choose the particular "papers" and sessions one attends. If you attend such meetings, you will be astonished by how much you understand, you will learn a lot , and you will gain perspective on your field that is obtainable in no other way.

Among the best are the annual (spring) meetings of the Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America (NEGSA). The host city changes from year to year. Usually it is within reasonable driving distance, and almost always there will be a van of SU people, some of them attending as presenters.

Even this early in your career, you might want to consider joining a professional organization - the Geological Society of America (GSA), Society of Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), American Geophysical Union (AGU), or some other. Journals, newsletters, and meeting-registration discounts come with membership, and most such professional organizations offer reasonably priced student memberships.


Often, individual professors may have projects that can involve undergraduates in field or laboratory work, but without the formal structure that would be required if you were to register for EAR 490. Although such participation would not involve academic credit and would not appear on your official transcript, it can provide enjoyable opportunities for you to get involved in research activities in your chosen field. Such projects are usually discovered through the departmental grapevine, or by directly approaching a professor whose interests you share.


Too many undergraduates think of their professional training as limited to their formal academic program, and overlook the enormous opportunities available to them in the form of special presentations and other activities. Almost every week, the Department hosts a visiting scientist as part of our Earth Science Seminar Series. The main talk is usually given in Room 113 at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, followed by light refreshments in 333 Suite, but often the speaker will give other presentations, as well. Some of these talks may be specialized, and presume background you do not yet have. Even so, attending can often provide insights into the kinds of research and developments that are at the cutting edge of your major field. And some talks will be readily accessible and interesting even to a general audience.

Apart from their technical content, special events such as the Seminar Series provide you with opportunities to meet prominent people whose important contributions will become well known to you later in your career. Indeed, you may well find yourself shaking hands with someone who will be part of next week's evening news, or featured on the cover of Time.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

One of the advantages of being at a research university like SU is that faculty are conducting cutting-edge research and students have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to it. Because Earth Sciences is a relatively small program, our majors have a greater chance of getting involved in research projects and working one-on-one with faculty members than might students in other more heavily subscribed majors.

Getting involved in research while you are an undergraduate is a great way to see how what your are learning in class can be applied to a field of the geociences that particularly interests you. Research experience will give you a taste of what graduate school is like, and having that experience will give you a distinct advantage in applying for graduate schools. As well, if you plan to use your degree for industry, consulting, or regulatory work, showing that you have been involved in research already makes you more competitive when applying for jobs. Working closely with a faculty member also lets that person get to know you and your abilities, so they will be able to write you a detailed letter of recommendation when you apply to graduate school or for jobs. Professional ties that you establish now can last a lifetime - your faculty mentor can become a valuable resource for you now and in the future.

Several different avenues exist for Earth sciences students who want to get involved in research while they are still undergraduates at SU. Whether you want to gain some experience by contributing to a faculty-led project or formulate and conduct your own research project, we can help you to realize your goal. There are also off-campus research oriented programs in which students can participate, generally over the summers.

Participate in an Ongoing Research Project

Even if you don't yet know what your specific interests are within the Earth Sciences or you haven't taken many classes yet, you can gain valuable research experience by participating in a research project being conducted by our faculty. This kind of experience can involve any and all aspects of doing research, including preparing samples and gathering data, field work, and/or training on one of the pieces of analytical equipment housed here in the department. Such experience is always productive, as it gives you a chance to learn important skills and interact with graduate students and faculty to solve a research question. These sorts of opportunities can lead to independent research projects if you choose to become more involved. It is possible to obtain class credit or do an independent study in association with this work, and in cases where a faculty member has research funding, you can even get paid. Interested students should inquire of faculty members directly about getting involved in ongoing research projects. Students who are eligible for work student should be sure to mention this during the conversation, as this often makes working for pay more feasible.

Conduct Your Own Independent Research

Once you get into the Earth Sciences and start to learn about all the exciting questions being addressed in the field, you may decide that you'd like to get more involved in the process of doing research. In our department, you have the opportunity of working closely with a faculty member to identify a research question that interests you and to design a project by which to address it. Independent research projects could start as a class project, be an outgrowth of a faculty member's existing research program, or could simply be a good idea that you can convince a faculty member to work on with you.

Independent research projects generally lead to a written report of your work, detailing your methods, results and conclusions. Such reports can become a Senior Thesis in the Earth Sciences, and can fulfill the requirements of a capstone project for students in the Honors Program or for Graduation with Distinction in the Earth Sciences. Student doing research often present their results at regional or national meetings (e.g. Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, Central NY Association of Professional Geologists), and there is support available from the department for students attending a conference to present their work. Some projects even get published in the peer-reviewed literature with undergraduate students as co-authors or even as the lead author.

If you are interested in doing an independent research project, speak with a professor whose classes or work inspires you and see if there might be an opportunity to get involved. It is never too early to inquire about this - some students get involve das early as their freshman or sophomore years.

Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) Program through the National Science Foundation

Students can also gain experience doing research by applying to the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. NSF REU programs provide for a small group of undergraduates (usually around 10) to work closely with faculty members and other researchers on a particular project. Work might be done on a university campus, at a field station, or at remote locations in the field, and usually operate over the summer. SU Earth Sciences students have participated in REU projects in places as far away as Svalbard (glacial environments), east Africa (rift basin tectonics and evolution), and Costa Rica (watershed hydrology). Students are granted stipends and may also receive support for travel and housing. Applications are competitive and students apply directly to the host institution, not through the NSF. See the projects you can apply for at the National Science Foundation site. Deadlines are generally early in the spring semester for the following summer, if not before, so plan ahead. Depending on the project in which you are involved, you might be able to use participation in an NSF-REU to fulfill the requirement of an approved field experience for the Bachelor of Science degrees. Discuss this possibility with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Funding for Undergraduate Research

Funding is available from a variety of sources for students doing faculty-supervised research. Generally, an application for funding involves a short description of the research project and why it is interesting and important, plus a proposed budget for the work to be done. Applications are competitive. Several processional societies offer funding for student research (see link below). Students should discuss these and other possible outlets for funding with their faculty supervisor, as they generally require a letter of support from the advisor. Deadlines are typically early in the spring semester. Students can also apply for funding from the Department through the John James Prucha Field Research Fund, or from the College when suitable outlets are available.

Course Credit and Degree Options

Students may register to receive course credit for independent research work. In each case, a faculty sponsor must sign the petition agreeing to supervise the work and specify the criteria upon which you will be graded.

EAR 490 Independent Study 1-3 Credits
Independent study credits can apply to a range of focused topical work with a faculty member, including work on a research project. These credits can be applied to a short-term project completed in one semester, or they can be applied toward various stages of a project that stretches over several semesters and that may or may not culminate in a senior thesis. This is a graded course, and you and your faculty supervisor need to specify the types of work to be done and how you will be assessed for a grade.

EAR 409 Senior Thesis 3-6 credits
A senior thesis is independent, hypothesis-driven research involving investigative tools and techniques in the Earth Sciences. Students must submit a written thesis to the department and give a public seminar at the conclusion of their work. Students interested in doing a Senior Thesis in the Earth Sciences should discuss this with their faculty research supervisor as early as possible. It is important to develop a clear plan for completion of the work, with deadlines by which to have specific tasks completed and draft versions submitted to the faculty sponsor. Students should register for EAR 409 in the semester in which they plan to submit the thesis; credit in prior semesters should be for Independent Study (EAR 490). Written approval by a faculty supervisor and permission of the department are required in order to register for thesis credits. EAR 409 is open only to seniors in the B.A. and B.S. programs in Earth Sciences. Students striving to graduate with Distinction in the Earth Sciences are required to complete a senior thesis.

EAR 499 Honors Capstone Project 3-6 credits
Students in the Honors Program are required to complete a senior thesis (capstone project) in their major. Honors students should register for EAR 499 rather than EAR 409, but all of the statements above for EAR 409 apply equally to EAR 499. This is the equivalent course number for those students enrolled in Honors.