Geophysics bachelor's degree programs can introduce students to Earth's structures and processes, physics, data analysis and research methodology. Undergraduate programs focus on using quantitative, physical methods to study Earth. They can prepare graduates for master's degree programs or for some entry-level positions as geoscientists. Master's degree programs can instruct students on advanced topics, teach them specialized research techniques and prepare them for professional work. Doctoral degree programs can cultivate students into competent leading geophysics researchers and instructors.
Bachelor of Science in Geophysics
Geophysics bachelor's degree programs concentrate on geology, physics and math subjects. Students can learn about geophysical applications in contemporary issues, such as flood control, resource exploration, energy extraction and water contamination. Field trips and laboratory research are important components of geophysics training. Students are introduced to research processes like computational procedures, data analysis and information presentation. These research opportunities help students develop practical skills like critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and professionalism.
Applicants must have earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Accepted students may need to complete science and math prerequisites before beginning advanced coursework.
Upon completing prerequisite courses, students can enroll in their major coursework. A student in this field may study geophysics in conjunction with geology may have the opportunity to choose an area of specialization in a topic like environmental science, ocean climates or paleontology. Common coursework could include:
- Structural geology and stratigraphy
- Seismology and remote sensing
- Global tectonics and geodynamics
- Resource extraction
- Global geophysics
Master of Science in Geophysics
Master's degree students can learn about field methods that include surveying, creating maps and utilizing special instruments. They can practice using equipment like seismic recording systems, digital mapping devices, magnetometers, gravimeters, probes and computer programs. Through field research, students can observe and study phenomena like Earth's tides, rotation, magnetic field, gravitational field, polar activity and sea floor spreading.
Students usually choose a concentration within geophysics and choose their classes accordingly. Geophysics students can specialize in areas such as remote sensing, seismology, atmospheric studies, oceanography, sedimentology, mineral physics, space physics, deep crust studies, mantle studies, geochemistry or hydrogeology. They must conduct a thesis research project and pass an oral presentation and defense to complete the program.
Applicants must typically have earned a bachelor's degree. Some programs may require that the major was in a related field, such as geology, engineering or environmental science.
Programs are likely to include some required courses, but students may have the opportunity to choose the majority of courses according to their concentration. Students may take courses in:
- Field methods and data processing
- Reflection seismology
- Waves and ray theory
- Petrology and geochronology
- Gravimetric exploration
Doctor of Philosophy in Geophysics
Geophysics doctoral programs can provide students with a broad educational experience in geophysics, assist them in designing and carrying out original research projects, and prepare them to enter advanced positions in a geophysics career. Students will commonly need to conduct a research project, write and successfully defend their dissertation and pass examinations in order to complete the program.
Some doctoral programs only require a bachelor's degree with a major related to geophysics. Other schools will necessitate a master's degree or equivalent amount of graduate coursework in a related field. All programs usually require that applicants have completed several geology, math and physics courses prior to admission.
Students will study many of the same subjects that are covered in master's degree programs. They have the opportunity to enroll in numerous specialized elective courses. They may study topics like soil mechanics, petroleum reservoirs, wave propagation, seismic modeling, earthquake engineering and groundwater cycles. Other courses could include:
- Mathematical geophysics, borehole geophysics and crustal geophysics
- Geohydrology and reservoir geology
- Inverse scattering
- Computational seismology
Popular Career Options
A geophysicist with a doctoral degree may be employed by government agencies, businesses, educational institutions or laboratories. A doctoral degree may be mandatory for high-level research or professorial careers, but individuals with master's degrees and those with doctoral degrees are equally qualified for many positions. Possible career titles could include:
- Field researcher
- Environmental manager
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of geoscientists was expected to grow 10% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that geoscientists earned a median annual wage of $89,700 in May 2015. Wages varied according to industry and geographic location, with geoscientists involved in natural gas distribution earning the most.
Although bachelor's degree holders might find entry-level work, those who have earned higher degrees are much more likely to be hired. So, many graduates opt to apply to graduate programs. Master's degree programs can be useful for individuals interested in fieldwork, while doctoral programs may be better suited to those who want to work in research or academia.
Students who are interested in the intersection between geology and physics can choose an undergraduate or graduate-level program in geophysics. Going from a bachelor's to a master's to a doctoral degree, these programs provide increasingly specialized and research-focused training in the field.