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Geology Major Guide for 2010-2011

What is Geology

     Geology is the study of the physical composition, environments, and natural processes of the Earth and other planetary bodies. Geologists are an eclectic bunch -- climbing volcanoes to study their composition, measuring the violent shaking of earthquakes, investigating how mountain ranges form, examining climate trends in both the present and the ancient past, learning to keep our air and water clean, exploring for new mineral and hydrocarbon resources, and unraveling the origin and evolution of life.
     Why study Geology? A student might take one of two viewpoints about the study of the Earth. The first is simply the desire to understand the way the Earth works: the origin of the mountains and the seas. The diversity and evolution of life, the birth of the planets. The quest for knowledge is exhilarating!
      A second viewpoint can be summarized by a statement made by the historian Will Durant, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” We live on the Earth, use its resources, and cope with its upheavals. With the discovery of the accessibility, diversity, and utility of the minerals of the Earth’s crust, geological awareness became interwoven with cultural advancement. Today, we seek safeguards against natural threats from earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. We also have the power to befoul our environment. Many geologists try to find new mineral and energy resources. Others seek to minimize the effects of natural disasters on our lives. Some try to educate legislators and their constituents to form sound public policy. Other geologists help to clean up waste sites that were thoughtlessly developed.
     These viewpoints are not mutually exclusive -- a great testament to the diversity of the geosciences is that most geologists are interested in both!

Career Opportunities in Geology

     Career opportunities in the Geosciences are as varied as the science. Currently in the United States, there are over 120,000 people employed as geoscentists in industrial, educational, and government realms, and numerous more are employed overseas. The broad scientific and technological background of geoscientists, in particular, makes them premier hires in the industrial sector, where most geologists are employed by companies dedicated to environmental issues, water resource management, petroleum and mineral exploration, and geotechnical engineering. A strong scientific background is also favored by postgraduate programs that specialize in environmental law and policy.
     Geoscientists are also employed by private consulting and research firms, national laboratories (e.g. Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos National Laboratories), and by local, state, and federal government agencies (e.g. U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Energy, etc.).
     Employment in the educational realm spans college-level instruction and research, K-12 teaching in public and private schools systems, museum education, and public outreach. In particular, a nationwide shortage of science-educated elementary and secondary school teachers will assure a strong job market for K-12 teachers for years to come.

Salary Trends in Geology

     As with all professions, starting salaries vary with the employment sector, level of education, and years of experience. Although many jobs are available for students with only a Bachelor’s degree in the geological sciences, many positions for geoscientists, particularly in industry, favor the Master’s degree. Recent statistics from the US Department of Labor show that average salaries for all degree levels range as follows: 0–2 years experience – $25,000 to $60,000; 3–5 years experience – $40,000 to $70,000; 6–9 years experience – $50,000 to $80,000; 10–14 years experience – $60,000 to $90,000; 15–19 years experience – $70,000 to $100,000; greater than 20 years experience – $80,000 to $120,000. Variation in salary also reflects managerial skills, technological skills, verbal and written communication skills, flexibility of expertise and interest, and willingness to relocate, travel, or participate in domestic and/or overseas field excursions.

High School Preparation

     Many students entering college have had little exposure to the geological sciences. Because the geosciences are extraordinarily interdisciplinary, however, this lack of exposure to the Earth and Planetary Sciences is rarely a disadvantage to incoming college freshman. The best preparation for a college career in the geosciences is a broad background in the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences, which will foster analytical, reasoning, and problem solving skills. High school students should try to take as many courses as possible in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics. High school students should also concentrate on their verbal and written communication skills. Communication of scientific results to other researchers and to the general public is also a critical aspect of any scientific career. Students might also consider taking courses in topics as varied as computer programming and photography in art. Computer skills are becoming a mainstay of many different careers, and photography in art courses teach critical observation skills vital to geoscientists.
     Outside of school, future geoscientists frequently spend their time in nature: traveling, hiking and camping, orienteering, mountain climbing, kayaking, participating in environmental and nature preservation activities, and volunteering in local museums and nature centers.

How to Major in Geology

     To progress into the major, students must take 2 courses from Geology 101-­102-103-104, as well as Chemistry 120-130.

Requirements for Geology

     Geology requires a broad background in the physical sciences. Co-requisite requirements include Math 141 and 142, Biology 130 or 111, and either Physics 135 or Physics 221.
     Upper-division requirements include Geology 310, 320, 330, 340, 370, 380 (24 hours), a minimum of 5 hours of an approved field camp, and 9 elective hours at the 400-level or above. We encourage students to participate in undergraduate research (Geology 493). A maximum of 3 hours of Geology 493 may count towards the major.
     Students with five completed upper-division Geology courses and a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 are encouraged to pursue an honors concentration.  In addition to fulfilling all requirements for the geology major, an honors concentration requires successful completion of nine hours of honors course work (including Honors-by-Contract courses or other honors courses), 3 hours of Geology 491, 492, or 493 beyond normal major requirements, approved written thesis, and oral presentation of the thesis results.  A GPA of at least 3.25 must be maintained throughout matriculation.  Interested students should consult their academic advisor for details.  
     A minor in Geology consists of two courses from Geology 101-102-103-104, and an additional 16 hours at the 200-level or above. A maximum of 6 hours at the 200-level and 3 hours of Geology 493 may count towards the minor.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

     There are many opportunities in the geosciences for undergraduate students to participate in special programs, co-ops, and internships. These programs help students develop their interests in the geosciences, offer practical field and laboratory experience, and provide invaluable contacts and experience for the future.
     Within the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, we strongly encourage all students to participate in undergraduate research opportunities. These opportunities allow students to participate directly in geoscience research for periods of 3 months to a year or more and can be done for undergraduate credit (Geology 493) or for pay. Following their research, students frequently present the results of their research at regional or national conferences.
     Research opportunities are also available outside of the department. These opportunities include summer research internships at national laboratories, government agencies, national parks, and in the industrial sector. Research opportunities are typically announced in the department as they become known, and there are several internet sites that provide links to these special programs:

Highlights of Geology

     The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences prides itself on a student-friendly atmosphere. Major classes are small (typically <20 students), there are opportunities (through undergraduate research and 400-level electives) to tailor the program to personal interests, and students have many opportunities to get to know their professors on a one-on-one basis. We encourage undergraduate participation in departmental activities -- everything from interacting with graduate students, to participating in departmental seminars, brown-bag lunches, barbecues, and parties. The department provides undergraduates with in-house computer services, a study lounge, and access to conference/ workshop travel grants and more than $10,000 in awards and scholarships that are presented each Spring.
     To facilitate undergraduate involvement in the department, EPPSA, the Earth & Planetary Sciences Student Association, has both graduate and undergraduate officers. EPPSA typically arranges weekend excursions (spelunking, white-water rafting, visits to local geologic sites, etc.), encourages student involvement in community activities (McClung Museum, Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, Eastern TN Geological Society), plans several departmental parties per year (Fall BBQ, Halloween Party, Spaghetti Supper, Spring Pig Roast), and produces the annual Spaghetti Supper Movie, in which students display their creativity while mercilessly making fun of their professors.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

     "Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.  Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus.  Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings.  Visit the Center for International Education web site ( or the Ready for the World web site ( for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities. 
     Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad.  Visit the Programs Abroad Office web site ( for information on study abroad opportunities.

Learn more about UT's Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today's world.

Sample Curriculum

Freshman Year Credit Hours
English Composition 6
Geology 101-102-103-104 (choose two) 8
Chemistry 120-130 or 128-138 8
Social Science 6
Communicating Orally 3

Sophomore Year Credit Hours
Foreign Language 6
Math 141-142 or 147-148 or 151-152 6-8
Geology 310-320 8
Geology 330-340 8
General Electives 0-2

Junior Year Credit Hours
Foreign Language and/or General Electives 8
Biology 111 or 130 or 138 4
Physics 135 or 137 or Physics 221 or EF 151 or 157 4
Geology 370-380 8
Geology 440 (major-field camp) 5

Senior Year Credit Hours
Upper-level Distribution 6
Geology (major 400-level or above) 9
Arts and Humanities 6
Non-US History 6
Communicating Through Writing 3

GRAND TOTAL (minimum) 120

For More Information

Students interested in geology as a major are encouraged to visit our departmental web site ( or contact a departmental advisor for more information. 

Dept. of Earth & Planetary Sciences
1412 Circle Drive
The University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: 865-974-2366
Fax: 865-974-2368



The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.