The Department of Earth Sciences views its program as a flexible one that allows students to develop a plan of study according to their interests (tracks include geoscience, environmental geoscience, education, and student-developed) around a required set of core courses. We offer a variety of courses that are appropriate for majors and non-majors.

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

Students usually begin the study of earth sciences with 100-level courses.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: Earth Science.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Introductory courses that fulfill the Division III Laboratory Science distribution requirement or the Quantitative Reasoning requirement include:

ERSC 141, Planet Earth
ERCS 142, Earth History

Suggested curricular flow through the major

The ERSC major was designed with the requisite flexibility to enable our students to study abroad for either a semester or a full academic year. As a result, we developed the curriculum so that the student who did spend a year abroad could complete all the requirements for the major, as long as she or he followed a few guidelines.

The guidelines are written for the entering student who knows he or she wants to major in ERSC. Rather than specify the courses that you "must" have in a given semester, the following are general guidelines regarding courses that we suggest you take during each year. You should think of these guidelines as giving you a fast track into the major - this provides maximum flexibility in your junior and senior year for study abroad and/or your capstone experience described below.

First Year
ERSC 141, Planet Earth 
ERSC 142, Earth History 
CHEM 131/132 or 141
MATH 121 or 170
PHYS 131/132

Sophomore Year
Two required cored courses (ERSC 302,305, 309, 331)
Two electives (ERSC 201, 202, 204, 208, 218, 220, 221, 306, 307)
Complete CHEM, MATH, and PHYS

Junior Year
ERSC general electives (refer to Academic Bulletin: Earth Sciences)
Two electives (ERSC 201, 202, 204, 208, 218, 220, 221, 306, 307)
Complete ERSC course requirements (ERSC 301, 305, 309, 331)
**Study Abroad - may require integrating required core courses**

Senior Year
Normally one credit course of Capstone per semester
ERSC electives as needed

For information regarding the suggested guidelines, please feel free to contact an ERSC faculty member. Students not following these guidelines may still be able to study for a year abroad and still complete the major, but will face a more demanding senior year. Many students who do study abroad for a year are able to complete both the ERSC major and a second major in Archaeology or Environmental Science due to the overlap in these programs of study.


An Independent Research project may be considered for departmental honors if it demonstrates superior quality of work. Such theses are read by all members of the departmental faculty as well as an evaluator from outside the department, selected by the project advisor for their knowledge of that specific field. Oral defense of the thesis is required, and final revisions to the written thesis are made based on the comments of the readers. Students who successfully complete the defense will be named in the Commencement Program as having achieved honors.

Students who think that their project is potentially worthy of honors should indicate that with a short written proposal to their research adviser by the end of the fall semester of their senior year. This provides an occasion for the faculty advisor to give feedback to the student on the worthiness of the project and to plan the second semester in order to assure the quality of the project. This conversation helps the faculty to consider potential outside reviewers and schedule oral defenses, and also solidifies in the student's mind the need for progress and ultimate goal of the project.

A first draft of the paper should be turned in to your advisor no later than April to allow revisions so that a final draft will be ready for delivery to the research advisor, the other faculty, and the outside reader by mid-April. The oral defense usually will be scheduled on or about the last day of classes. Defenses are open to other majors, interested friends, faculty, and other guests. After the defense, the faculty and outside reader will vote in private, based on careful consideration of the quality of the paper and defense, and of the academic maturity of the student during the project year.  Detailed guidelines can be found on the Earth Sciences Department web site.

Independent study and independent research

Most of our majors do an Independent Study or Research project during their junior or senior year. Students may ask any faculty member in the department to supervise a project. Ideally, you should try to contact the faculty member during the previous semester to make arrangements for advisement. Seniors are required to complete one of three capstone experiences: independent research completion of a pre-approved field camp, or a semester of student teaching (education track only).


Several have been done in the department. Although specific arrangements would need to be made, it is possible to arrange internships with state and federal geologic agencies in Harrisburg. Students have also done internships with local consulting companies. See any member of the department faculty for possible arrangements.and defense, and of the academic maturity of the student during the project year.

Opportunities for off-campus study

Recommended off-campus study programs include the Dickinson Science Program at the University of East Anglia, England. Other suggested programs are the Marine Science Program in the Bahamas every other January and a one-semester program at the University of Otago, New Zealand. The on-campus coordinators should be contacted for information.

Additional Remarks

Preparation for graduate study: Virtually all graduate programs in earth sciences expect incoming students to have a firm foundation in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics. The department strongly encourages students who plan to continue in graduate school to complete one year in each of the ancillary sciences and to start early in their earth sciences career at Dickinson.

Related activities: The Geology Club is a student-run group that organizes field trips and arranges for speakers during the year. Any Dickinson student may join the group, and it is common for some non-majors to belong.

Early each fall, the department sponsors a weekend field trip for majors and those taking intro earth science courses. Recent trips have explored the Folded Appalachians and the Chesapeake Bay area. In most years, a group of students and one or more faculty members get together for a field trip to some area of geologic interest either during Spring Break or early in summer break. Recent trips have included Hawaii, Yellowstone and Tetons area of Wyoming, the United Kingdom, southern California, Iceland, and Sicily. The field trip costs are partly subsidized by the department’s Cassa Field Trip Endowment.

Careers: In addition to graduate education for university teaching and research, environmental law or medicine, recent graduates are employed in environmental and geotechnical consulting, the energy and mining industries, State and U.S. Geological surveys, and other governmental agencies involved in environmental science and policy.

Off-campus study additional information: Some of our majors spend a semester or more in off-campus study. The right place for the right person can result in a richly rewarding experience, but it can also result in delays in completion of important courses for tracks within the major. One recommended off-campus study program is the Dickinson Science Program at the University of East Anglia, England; Professor Grant Braught is the present on-campus director. Other suitable programs are the Dickinson program in Queensland, Australia, and the Earth Sciences program at the University of Otago, New Zealand. A caution: Students who contemplate off-campus study should discuss their plans with one or more of the department faculty as early as possible.

Additional Information on independent study, research, and other academic issues may be obtained from the department web site.