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Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Geological Sciences

The geological science program is designed to give students broad training in the basic sciences as well as field, theoretical, and practical experience through research in their specialty. The program has particular strengths in geophysics, geochemistry and petrology, structural geology, sedimentology, marine ecology, and energy resources. However, the exceptional flexibility of Cornell's graduate program provides ample opportunity for students to work across disciplinary areas. For example, arrangements exist for study of marine ecology, water resources, and various branches of applied geological science. Faculty members in other fields or divisions offer interdisciplinary courses including planetology and extraterrestrial geology, paleobotany, ecology and systematics, biogeochemistry, limnology, soil genesis, soil mineralogy, soil and rock mechanics, remote sensing, environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology, fluid dynamics, elasticity, geotechnical and earthquake engineering, regional planning, hydraulics and hydrology, and materials science and engineering. 

At least one minor subject outside the field is required for the doctoral degree. Before the end of their third semester in residence, all students must take a qualifying examination. This exam, an addition to those required by the Graduate School, determines the candidate's fitness for undertaking advanced studies and enables the Special Committee to plan programs that will make the student familiar with the requisite knowledge in the chosen areas.

Research and Study Opportunities: 

Research programs are being conducted by the field in such diverse areas as fluid cycling in subduction zones; space-based geodetic studies of faults, volcanoes, and anthropogenic deformation; interaction of tectonics, topography, and climate in major mountain systems; investigation of igneous rocks in arc systems; tectonics, seismology, sedimentation, and geomorphology of the central Andes; planetary science, comparative planetology, and solar system exploration; seismic reflection profiling of the deep crust and upper mantle; mechanics and properties of subduction zone megathrusts and other large faults; induced earthquakes; using seismic signals of earth noise to understand atmospheric and solid-earth phenomena; development and application of Earth System models; response of marine ecosystems to climate variability and change; surface responses to extreme precipitation; dynamics and mechanics of the lithosphere and asthenosphere; application of geophysical techniques to environmental and archaeological problems; marine ecological and paleontological studies; sedimentology and diagenesis of mudstones; dynamics of marine ecosystems and organisms from plankton to whales using remote sensing and other tools; volcanic hazard assessment; biogeochemistry, soil development, and dynamics in young volcanic terrains; geochemistry and geophysics of oceanic islands, mid-ocean ridges and island arcs; and remote sensing of seismic and volcanic deformation of the crust.

The field maintains working agreements with institutions worldwide to facilitate research projects in those areas or to work on materials especially accessible there. Current and recent graduate students have carried out field investigations in such diverse places as Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Honduras, Chile, Argentina, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Monterey Bay (California), Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and Tibet. The Paleontological Research Institution, located near the campus, has world-renowned facilities and collections available to students interested in paleontology.

Major Concentrations:

economic geology
engineering geology
environmental geophysics
general geology
geochemistry and isotope geology
ocean science and technology
petroleum geology
planetary geology
Precambrian geology
Quaternary geology
rock mechanics
structural geology

PhD students choose a major advisor representing one of the above concentrations and two or more minor advisors, one of which must represent a minor from a field outside of geological sciences. Astronomy, Chemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Education, and Civil Engineering are just a few of the examples of typical outside minors. Together, these advisors form the special committee that guides the student's program.  The same is true for MS students, but they need choose only a single minor advisor.  There are no specific course or course credit requirements for the MS and PhD degrees; rather, a student's course work is determined by the special committee.  Generally the last 2 to 3 years of the PhD program and last year or more of the MS program are devoted entirely to dissertation or thesis research. 

Application and Admission

How to Apply

We accept applications online via the Cornell Graduate School website. You should specify the "Field of Geological Sciences" as there is no graduate field of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. In your essay, please indicate clearly the discipline(s) within Geological Sciences in which you are interested (e.g., "active tectonics," "low temperature geochemistry," "global change," etc.). Your essay, and indeed your entire application, will be stronger if you have carefully investigated Cornell's strengths via these web pages and individual faculty pages, the published literature, and have contacted individual faculty with whom you might be interested in working.

Please note that Cornell University expects all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credential services, or other paid professional assistance. The use of such services violates University policy, and may lead to the rejection of application materials, the revocation of an admissions offer, cancellation of admission, or involuntary withdrawal from the University.

Application deadlines

Fall: January 1st

Spring: Check with field (we typically don't admit students for the spring term)

Visiting the Department

We strongly encourage all prospective graduate students to visit our department. Most visits take place between December and March of the academic year prior to the one which you wish to enter. Please arrange your visit in advance by contacting the professor with whom you would like to study, Professor Geoffrey Abers (the Director of Graduate Studies), or Savannah Williams (the Graduate Program Coordinator). We will then set up a schedule which will allow you to meet and talk with both faculty and graduate students.

Financial Aid

Information on Cornell tuition and fees can be found on the Cornell Graduate School web page. There are a variety of forms of Financial Aid available to graduate students at Cornell. Nearly all our PhD and MS students receive financial aid that includes tuition, stipend and health insurance. This financial aid is generally available for up to 5 years for PhD students and 2 years for masters students and is contingent upon students making good progress toward their degrees.

  • Department Fellowships — The EAS department generally awards two fellowships in geological sciences each year, known as the Long Fellowship and the McMullen Fellowship. Traditionally, these are given to the most deserving incoming graduate students. These fellowships are awarded for a single year, with the assumption that the recipients will segue onto other forms of support for subsequent years. Fellowships provide tuition, a full year of health insurance, and academic year (nine month) stipend.
  • Cornell Fellowships — The Field of Geological Sciences usually has available to it two of Cornell's prestigious university wide graduate fellowships.
  • Teaching Assistantships (TA's) — Students with TA's receive full tuition, health insurance, and academic year stipend in exchange for an average of 15 hours a week assisting with the teaching of courses in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. This teaching experience is vital to those wishing to go on to a teaching career and it is likely that many graduate students will be TA's at some point during their Cornell career.
  • Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA's) — Most graduate students in Geological Sciences are supported as GRA's on one of their professor's externally funded research projects. The research carried out is commonly, though not always, directly related to their thesis research. GRA's commonly provide full tuition, health insurance, and academic year stipend; most also provide summer stipend.
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships — We encourage all applicants and first year graduate students to apply directly to NSF for these prestigious and competitive graduate fellowships.
  • NASA Fellowships — Graduate students commonly apply for these fellowships after their first year, when their research project has become well-defined.
  • Fellowships from international governments, agencies, or companies — Graduate students may be sponsored by an agency in their home nation.
  • Other fellowships — We occasionally have students supported on Department of Energy or Department of Defense fellowships.

Cornell's Graduate School site lists potential sources of funding for current and prospective students as well as providing information about how to apply, various student services and student life at Cornell.  And, of course, the Cornell University homepage is a good place for general information about the University as a whole.

Geoffrey Abers

We strongly recommend that potential applicants contact faculty members with whom they are interesting in studying before applying. For general questions, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Geoffrey Abers, by phone at 607-255-3879, e-mail at, or fax at 607-254-4780.  He will be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have about our programs.  For additional questions about the application process, please contact our Graduate Programs Coordinator, Savannah Williams at or 607-255-5466.