Featured Major: Geological Science

This month's featured major comes from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. They offer undergraduate BA/BS degrees in Geological Science or you can double major to earn a BSMAS in Marine Science & Geological Science.
Featured Major: Geological Science
Photo Credit: Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Geological Science is the study of Planet Earth, its origin, structure and evolution, the materials of which it is made, the processes that act upon it, and the history of life. The geological sciences are important for mineral and hydrocarbon exploration, evaluating water resources, understanding natural hazards, the remediation of environmental problems, and providing insights into past climate change. Geoscientists use a wide variety of methods to understand the Earth and its history, including field work, geophysical techniques, chemical analysis, physical experiments, and numerical modelling. Students of the Geological Sciences pursue careers in the environmental sciences, petroleum or mining Industry, research, or outreach and education.

Professor James Klaus, 15 years at UM

What will I be learning with this major?

Students of the Geological Sciences learn about the integrated Earth System. That’s how the solid Earth, its ocean and atmosphere, and the myriad of life forms combine to create the habitable planet we live on. The geologic record provides an archive for studying the history of our planet and how the Earth System has evolved over the past 4.6 billion years. Geoscientists assess and discover the rich mineral, water, and energy resources of our planet. They also manage their safe and sustainable utilization. 

What makes this major unique?

Geoscientists draw on a broad range of scientific disciplines to study the Earth System. We study the chemistry of Earth’s minerals and natural waters. We study the physical properties of the Earth, drawing on data from natural and induced seismic waves, or orbiting satellites, just to name a few. We study the history and evolution of life uncovered from the fossil record. Geoscientists integrate these data to unravel what the Earth was like in the past and the processes that have driven it to change over time. The vastness of geologic time is what sets geology apart from the other basic sciences.

What are the key characteristics you look for in a student?

I think the key characteristic of students in the Geological Sciences is an innate curiosity about the Earth and the history of our planet. Our students have a passion for being outdoors, exploring the natural world, and solving complex problems.

What kind of research/hands on learning can you do with this major? 

In addition to getting students out in the field, we also encourage students to get directly involved in faculty research. Student research topics range from paleoceanography and climate to earthquakes and natural hazard mitigation. These experiences often result in scientific publications and provide an important stepping stone to careers in the geosciences.

What are the career opportunities for this major?

Students of the Geological Sciences pursue careers in the environmental sciences, petroleum or mining Industry, research, or outreach and education. Given the broad scope of work geoscientists do, there are incredible opportunities for well paid jobs.  Many companies and organizations recruit students directly from our program. While roughly half of our students pursue careers immediately following their bachelor’s degree, the other half choose to pursue a graduate degree. Once in the workforce, most geoscientists split their time between working indoors in offices and laboratories, and working outdoors. Geologic fieldwork often involves travel to remote locations, either on land or at sea. Geologists also study the solid nature of the Moon and other planets, relying on imagery and data from probes and rovers.

What excites you as a teacher about this major?

There are two things that I most enjoy about teaching in the Geological Sciences program. First, the natural world and the history of Earth is awe inspiring. Teaching students about this incredible planet and the basic tools we use to study the Earth never gets old. Second, showing students that they can make a career out of pursing their passion and curiosity about the Earth is very rewarding. Our students go on to do incredible things and it is always exciting to see where they go after UM.

Hannah Shernisky, classof 22

Why did you choose this major?

I have always had a passion for the Earth, the environment and science in general. When I began researching majors that can lead into research-based environmental work, geology checked all the boxes for me. Furthermore, the geological sciences program at UM stood out to me because it has an added focus on the oceans and the environment which was unique compared to other similar programs I had looked at.

Did you know that you wanted to study this before you got to UM? If not, how did you discover it?

Prior to attending UM, I was studying engineering at a different university. I quickly realized it was not my passion and that is when I first heard about geology. I found UM’s marine science/geology double major and since coming here, I have fallen in love with geology and plan to pursue a career in the field.  

What’s been your favorite class for this major?

My favorite class so far has been a summer field course that took place in Utah. It was incredible to be out in the field getting hands on experience analyzing the rock record and surrounding geological features.

What about this major is exciting to you?

I love being able to get a glimpse into what past earth looked like by analyzing the rock record. A simple rock or sediment sample can reveal so much about the paleoclimate—including past sea level, temperatures, ice volume and more. The earth preserves so much of its own history and geology allows us to unpack all this hidden information.

What are you planning to do once you have completed your studies?

Once I finish my undergraduate degree this coming spring, I plan to stay at UM to get my PhD in Marine Geosciences. While I am not certain what I want to do after that, one of the best parts of the program here is the wide variety of skills I have acquired. This makes me confident that not only will I discover exactly what I want to do over the next few years of graduate school but will also have ample job opportunities once I graduate.  

Learn more about Geological Sciences and other exciting opportunities at the Rosenstiel School of Marine Science.