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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs


Geosciences (GEOSC)

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TIM BRALOWER, Interim Head of the Department of Geosciences
535 Deike Building
University Park, PA  16802


Degrees Conferred:


The Graduate Faculty


M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees

The Department of Geosciences offers M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs that provide students with a broad background in any of the major areas of geological sciences and intensive research experiences culminating in the preparation of a formal thesis. The goal of the programs is to prepare students for scientific careers in academia, government, or industry. A wide range of faculty interests and exceptional laboratory and other support facilities provide an extensive variety of areas of specialization in which students may choose their course work and research topics, which include: aqueous geochemistry, chemistry and physics of rocks and mineral, geodynamics, global change and earth history, sedimentary geology and paleobiology, solid earth and applied geophysics, surficial processes. A complete listing can be found at:

The research of faculty and students is facilitated through: the Biogeochemical Research Initiative for Education (BRIE, an NSF-sponsored graduate program in microbial biogeochemistry), the Petroleum Geosystems Initiative (an industry-sponsored, team-based M.S. program) linking the Department of Geosciences and the Department of Energy and Geo-Environmental Engineering and the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center (PSARC, an NSF-sponsored interdisciplinary program in the origin and evolution of life in the universe, aimed at understanding the connections between the environment and the biota on Earth, especially during the stages of its evolution) as well as the Environment Institute of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, including the Earth System Science Center, and the Center for Environmental Chemistry and Geochemistry.

In addition to extensive computing and supercomputing facilities developed in association with the Earth System Science Center, students have access to a wealth of analytical, experimental, and field equipment. State-of-the-art analytical equipment is maintained by the department and the Material Characterization Laboratory. The Department of Geography and the Office for Remote Sensing of Environmental Resources have remote sensing facilities.

Admission Requirements

Scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are normally required for admission. Exceptions must be approved by the department.

Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

For admission, applicants generally are expected to have a bachelor's degree in some branch of the natural or physical sciences, engineering, or mathematics. An applicant also is expected to have completed standard introductory courses in geosciences, chemistry, physics, and mathematics through integral calculus, plus 15 credits of intermediate-level work in one or a combination of these subjects. Greater than minimal preparation in chemistry, geology, biology, mathematics, or physics may be required for particular subdisciplines. Applicants who have taken somewhat less than the indicated minimum in these subjects may be admitted but must make up their deficiencies concurrently with their graduate studies.

Students with special backgrounds, abilities, and interests whose undergraduate grade-point average in courses pertinent to geosciences is below a 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) will be considered for admission only when there are strong indications that a 3.00 average can be maintained at the graduate level.

Students are admitted both to the M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs. A student may work toward a Ph.D. degree without first earning a master's degree. If this option is desired, the student must arrange the scheduling of a candidacy evaluation no later than the end of the third semester of residence at Penn State.

Faculty Advisers

Upon arrival, students will be advised initially by a committee appointed by the associate head for Graduate program and Research. The committee in turn will designate an interim adviser. Before the end of the first academic year of residence, the student is expected to develop specific academic and research interests so that an appropriate permanent academic adviser and research supervisor may be chosen. The academic adviser and research supervisor are usually the same person, except when the research supervisor is not a member of the geosciences graduate faculty. In such a case, a geosciences program family member serves as the academic adviser.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships available to students in this program and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin. In addition, several graduate fellowships are available for students within the Department of Geosciences.

Programs of study are planned to require no more than two years for the M.S. degree and three additional years, or five years total, for the Ph.D. degree. A student transferring to the department with the M.S. degree should plan on four additional years. Financial support from teaching or research assistantships or from fellowships is available to students in good standing, but not awarded beyond these limits except in unusual cases.

Common Degree Requirements

All graduate students in geosciences, including both M.S. and Ph.D. students, are expected to acquire breadth of knowledge in the geosciences, a fundamental and advanced knowledge of their subdiscipline, and skills in the areas of data collection and quantitative analysis. Toward that end, all graduate students must select one of the approved courses in each of the following areas: (1) Geosciences Breadth -- 3-4 credits; (2) Disciplinary Fundamentals -- 3-­4 credits; (3) Data Gathering -- 3­-4 credits; and (4) Quantitative Analysis -- 3-­4 credits.

Prescribed courses (3 credits): GEOSC 500 (3)

Additional Courses
Disciplinary Fundamentals: Select 3 credits from GEOSC 488(4), GEOSC 489(4), GEOSC 502(4), GEOSC 507(3), GEOSC 518(3), GEOSC 519(3), GEOSC 533(3), GEOSC 542(1-4), GEOSC 548(3), GEOSC 585(3)

Data Gathering and Interpretation: Select 3 credits from GEOSC 410(3), GEOSC 413W(3), GEOSC 483(3), GEOSC 508(3), GEOSC 558(4), GEOSC 565(3), GEOSC 572(1-2)

Quantitative Analysis: Select 3 credits from E MCH 524A(3), GEOSC 514(3), GEOSC 560(3), GEOSC 561(4), MNG 557(3-6), P N G 425(3); GEOSC 597(3) (either Multivariate Analyses in Geosciences OR Data Analysis in the Earth Sciences)

A current list of approved courses is maintained by the Department's Graduate Program Office in room 507 Deike Building. The list of approved courses may be modified by approval of the Department's Graduate Program Committee.

Additional Master's Degree Requirements

Master's degree students are required to take 30 graduate credits, which include at least 18 credits at the 500 to 600 level. The 12 to 16 common degree credits described above satisfy the Graduate School minimum of at least 12 credits in course work in the major program.

As part of the M.S. program, each student is required to complete a thesis. The thesis must be defended in an oral examination administered by an M.S. committee.

Additional Doctoral Degree Requirements

Admission to Ph.D. candidacy is determined by an oral examination before a candidacy committee. Preparation and defense of two research proposals will serve as one means of assessing the student's ability. At least one of these proposals should represent original work by the student, but the other may be an actual thesis proposal and involve limited initial input from the adviser or others.

Course work in addition to the common degree requirements described above will be selected by the student in consultation with his/her committee.

The comprehensive examination is both oral and written. It is administered by the doctoral committee after the student has essentially completed course work and after a foreign language requirement (if required by the committee) is fulfilled. A final oral defense of the thesis is required.

Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program

Graduate students with research and educational interests in biogeochemistry may apply to the Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program. Students in the Biogeochemistry Dual Title program are required to have two advisers from separate disciplines: one individual serving as a primary adviser in their major degree program and a secondary adviser in an area within a field covered by the dual-title program and a member of the Biogeochemistry faculty. Additional coursework from an approved list of courses is required. All students must pass a candidacy examination that includes an assessment of their potential in the field of biogeochemistry. A single candidacy examination that includes biogeochemistry will be administered for admission into the student's Ph.D. program, as well as the biogeochemistry dual-title. The structure and timing of this exam will be determined jointly by the dual-title and major program. The student's doctoral committee should include faculty from the major program of study and also faculty with expertise in biogeochemistry. The field of biogeochemistry should be integrated into the comprehensive examination. A Ph.D. dissertation that contributes fundamentally to the field of biogeochemistry is required.

Integrated B.S/M.S. Program in Geosciences

The Department of Geosciences offers an integrated B.S./MS. Program that is designed to allow academically superior students to obtain both the B.S. and the M.S. degree in Geosciences within 5 years of study. Students who wish to complete the Integrated B.S./M.S. Program in Geosciences must apply for admission to the Graduate School and the Integrated B.S/M.S program by the end of their junior year

During the first three years, the student follows the course scheduling of one of the options in Geosciences (see Undergraduate Degree Program Bulletin); however, if a student intends to enter the Integrated B.S./M.S. program, he/she would be encouraged to take, wherever appropriate, upper level classes. By the end of the junior year, the student normally would apply for admission to the program. A decision of acceptance would be made prior to the beginning of the senior year and a M.S. Advising Committee would be appointed. During the senior year, the student would follow the scheduling of the B.S. Geosciences option he/she has selected, with an emphasis on completing 500-level coursework wherever appropriate. During the senior year, the student will start work on a thesis designed to meet the departmental requirements of a M.S. Thesis. During the fifth year, the student will take courses fulfilling the departmental M.S. degree requirements and complete the M.S. Thesis. Undergraduate tuition rates will apply as long as the student is an undergraduate, unless the student receives financial support, for example, an assistantship requiring the payment of graduate tuition.

Admission Requirements

Students who wish to complete the Integrated B.S/M.S. Program in Geosciences must apply for admission to the Graduate School and the Integrated B.S/M.S program at the by the end of their junior year. Typical test scores of students admitted to the Geosciences Graduate Program are: GPA 3.5, and GRE's Verbal 570, and Quantitative 700. Three letters of recommendation by faculty members for admission to graduate studies are required. The applications are reviewed by the Admissions Committee of the Geosciences Graduate Program and acted upon by the Associate Head for Graduate Programs.


B.S. Degree Portion: Total B.S. Requirements - 121 Credits
(For details on courses see the Undergraduate Degree Programs Bulletin.)

General Education: 45 Credits
18 of these are included in the REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR

Requirements for the Major - 94 Credits

Common Requirements for all options - 61 Credits

Prescribed Courses - 61 credits

Additional Courses - 3 Credits

Additional Geosciences Courses - 15 Credits

Supporting Courses and Related Areas - 15 Credits

M.S. Portion: Total M.S. Requirements - 30 Credits

Prescribed Courses: GEOSC 501(1), GEOSC 600(1-15)

Additional Courses - 9 credits

Disciplinary Fundamentals: Select 3 credits from GEOSC 479, GEOSC 481, GEOSC 489, GEOSC 519, GEOSC 533, GEOSC 548, GEOSC 585

Data Gathering: Select 3 credits from GEOSC 413W, GEOSC 483, GEOSC 558, GEOSC 565, GEOSC 572

Quantitative Analysis: Select 3 credits from E MCH 524A, GEOSC 560, GEOSC 561, GEOSC 514, MNG 557, P N G 425, P N G 430, P N G 511, STAT 500

Additional Geosciences Courses at the 400 and 500 level - 6 Credits

Supporting Areas: 6 Credits of Graduate course work.
These courses should be related to the thesis work of the student.

If a student has accumulated more than 121 Credits as an undergraduate student, 9 credits of 400- or 500-level class credits can be transferred to the MS program, provided these courses were not used to fulfill BS requirements.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 599 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.


NOTE: GEOSC 439, GEOSC 470W, GEOSC 472A, GEOSC 472B includes from one to several field trips for which an additional charge will be made.

Unit A.
(MATSC) POWDER X-RAY DIFFRACTION (1) Compound identification, lattice parameter measurement, and other applications of the powder diffraction method.

Unit B.
(MATSC) TRANSMISSION ELECTRON MICROSCOPY (1) Principles and practice of transmission electron microscope operation. Students undertake individual projects.

Unit C.
(MATSC) SPECTROSCOPY (1) Emission spectrographic analysis of powders and atomic absorption analysis of solutions.

Unit D.
(MATSC) ELECTRON MICROPROBE ANALYSIS (1) Qualitative and quantitative elemental analysis of microvolumes within solids. Emphasis on individual student projects.

Unit E.
(MATSC) SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPY (1) Principles and practice of scanning electron microscope operation. Students undertake individual projects.

Unit G.
(MATSC) ANALYTICAL ELECTRON MICROSCOPY (1) Modern analytical electron microscope techniques: scanning transmission electron microscopy; electron energy loss spectroscopy; energy dispersive analysis of X-rays. Prerequisite: MATSC (GEOSC) 511B.


Last Revised by the Department: Fall Semester 2008

Blue Sheet Item #: 36-06-185D

Review Date: 4/15/08

Faculty linked: 6/9/14


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