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Geology major, thinking of going for MS geophysics, advice?

  1. Nov 27, 2011 #1
    I am currently in my third year of my geology degree which I am enjoying but I love physics too. I don't really want to be strictly a geologist after I graduate, more like a geophysicist as I've taken an interest in seismology after narrowly surviving the 2011 Christchurch quake while in New Zealand. However, it would appear that it's harder to get into geophysics with just a bachelors in geology unless you have had lots of calculus etc. and I have not yet taken a calculus course before (not to say that I couldn't learn it).

    I'm trying to decide whether I should stay in school for a few extra years so that I can graduate with a double major in geology and physics or just finish my geology degree and then apply to a geophysics grad program and take extra math and physics in grad school. Would double majoring in geology and physics be a waste? I'm feel that if I chose that route I'd end up having to take a lot of physics which would be of no use to me as a geophysicist. Then again, while a BS in geology or physics is sufficient for an MS in geophysicis, people tend to be of the opinion that it's easier for the physicists than it is for the geologists.

    Thoughts or advice on this matter?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2011 #2


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    I'm guessing this came out wrong. At first glance, it sounds like you're implying that geophysicists don't actually do or need to understand any physics. I suspect that you mean to say courses in for example, astrophysics, or won't be immediately applicable to your desired profession and for someone who's already three years in, you don't have much desire to study just for the sake of learning.

    The first thing you need to figure out is what qualifies you for graduate school in geophysics. I don't know if a bachelor's degree in geoloogy will suffice. If it does, then you only have to worry about whether your own particular background is strong enough to keep up with the program and research demands. If it doesn't, then you have your answer and know what you have to do.
  4. Nov 27, 2011 #3
    I'm not implying that geophysicists don't do physics, that's just silly, but there are areas of physics (astrophysics, particle physics, special and general relativity, etc.) which I doubt would be of much use to a geophysicist. Nevertheless might be required learning for someone getting a BS in physics.

    I like learning for the sake of learning but I don't want my degree to depend on how well I do in areas like sub-atomic physics if all I really want to do is geophysics. It's a moot point if my school just requires x number of credit hours in physics to get the degree and not select core physics courses (I'll have to look into that).
  5. Nov 27, 2011 #4
    Does your school have a program that contains an emphasis in geophysics? The full introductory sequences to physics and calculus and a course in differential equations are the usual requirements I have seen from different universities that have this emphasis. There are also courses such as "Physics of Earth" that are taken as well, but the geology departments teach these.
  6. Nov 28, 2011 #5
    My only experience with real geophysics is an undergrad level course I took in it while studying for a physics degree, but I can say at least based on that (and my understanding of what geophysicists do), that you absolutely need many of the core essentials of an undergrad physics degree to be successful in that field. Of primary importance are introductory level physics courses and, if your institution offers it, upper level courses in fluid/continuum mechanics and normal theoretical mechanics (junior and senior level courses, that is). Also, calculus through the introductory differential equations level is key. You are correct in saying that you don't need all of an undergraduate physics degree to understand enough of the subject to start an MS in it. However, being a geophysicist is really being a physicist who studies the properties of materials inside the Earth, so the more physics problem solving skills you can develop, the better. If you want to be a successful geophysicist, you really do have to be unafraid of the high-level math and mechanics; so, you can simply do a concentration in physics as an undergrad and pick up more as you go.
  7. Nov 29, 2011 #6
  8. Nov 29, 2011 #7
    My advice would be try to take these 6 courses (after your typical first year calculus and calc-based physics):
    multivariable calc
    differential equations
    linear algebra / vector analysis
    classical mechanics

    It's kinda obvious, but try to take any geophysics course your institution may offer.

    Assuming everything else about your application is ok, I'd say you've got just as good of a chance with getting into grad school for geophysics via just taking those vs if you'd do a double major ... which getting the added few courses won't really be worth doing the extra year ... at least not in the long run.
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