Major in Earth and Planetary Sciences

The EPS major is for undergraduates interested in the study of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that shape the Earth and the other planets, drawing on the disciplines of geology, geochemistry, hydrology, ecology, geobiology, oceanography, and atmospheric science.

Students can design a specific plan of appropriate courses in consultation with the coordinator for undergraduate programs in the department. Depending on the student’s background, it may be appropriate initially to take a freshman seminar or 100-level course designed for the non-major. Those who wish to be majors may proceed directly to courses at the 200 and, in many cases, the 300 level. Our courses provide a broad educational base in the Earth and planetary, and the environmental earth sciences, and enable exploration of a set of electives at the 300 level, depending on the area of interest.

Learning Goals

Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in earth and planetary sciences will be able to:

  • Understand the scientific method and how it applies to Earth and Planetary Sciences.
  • Understand the characteristics, origin and evolution of the main component reservoirs of the Earth and planets. For example, the atmosphere, ocean, biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, mantle, and core.
  • Understand and quantify the processes cycling key conserved quantities in the Earth, such as: energy, water, abundant elements, rare elements.
  • Exhibit quantitative understanding of a core sub-discipline of Earth & Planetary Sciences, such as: geology, geophysics, geochemistry, geobiology, oceanography, atmospheric science, or planetary science.
  • Demonstrate disciplinary knowledge and skills in basic science germane to Earth and Planetary Sciences, including mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.


Please note that these requirements are not related to General University Honors. General University Honors are automatically assigned to all students who graduate with a 3.5 or higher.

To receive honors in earth and planetary sciences, you must have met the following criteria:

  • Have a GPA in your major requirements of a 3.5 or higher. See the KSAS advising webpage on Departmental Honors for more information.
  • Complete a senior thesis at a level judged to be sufficiently high by the faculty of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
  • Present the results of the thesis orally in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

To notify us that you are eligible for honors you must:

  • Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies- Dr. Kevin Lewis- [email protected]
  • Complete a senior thesis at a level consistent with a course grade of A- or better. Such a grade will indicate that the student has gone beyond merely completing the thesis. At its best, the depth and breadth of the thesis research is noteworthy, and the quality of the data, analysis, and writing is exceptional. The student has produced a paper that would be suitable for publication in a professional journal or other equivalent forum.
  • Present the results of the thesis orally in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
  • Complete the checklist between February 1 and April 1 of your senior year if graduating in May, or between September 1 and November 1 if graduating in December, and have it signed by the DUS of the EPS Department.

Senior Thesis in EPS

The senior thesis in EPS is an exciting opportunity for an EPS senior to conduct independent research under the guidance of an EPS faculty member.  Completion of a senior thesis is one of the requirements for earning honors in EPS and is excellent preparation for graduate study in the sciences.  It is looked favorably upon by graduate school admissions committees, so students who plan to go on to an advanced degree in the field are encouraged to undertake a thesis project.

Students interested in conducting a senior thesis should identify and talk with their intended faculty research adviser to determine the nature and scope of the project before the end of the second semester of their junior year.  They should have taken courses that provide a solid foundation for thesis research. Some faculty research advisers may require submission of a formal thesis proposal before agreeing to supervise a project, but this is up to the discretion of the faculty member.

The nature of senior theses will vary by subject, but they all involve the following:

  1. A choice of topic that could potentially result in publishable research.
  2. Scholarly review of the literature.
  3. Some combination of hypothesis-driven generation and/or analysis of observations, laboratory data, or model results.
  4. Interpretation that places these results in a broader context.

The thesis should be written in the style of a scientific manuscript, including an abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusions, references, and acknowledgements. Students will work with their faculty adviser on all parts of the thesis process (data collection, analysis, writing, presentation).


At least six credits worth of research completed over the course of two semesters or an equivalent time period is expected. The accumulation of the credits should be decided in advance with the thesis advisor.

By the end of the first semester, students are expected to have made clear and demonstrable progress towards completion, as agreed upon with the advisor. Either a continuing grading option or a specific grade will be assigned at the discretion of the advisor.

A draft of the thesis will be due four weeks before the final day of classes of the final semester to enable feedback from the advisor. The final thesis will be due two weeks before the end of classes of that semester.

A 20-minute oral presentation to the E&PS department should be given toward the end of the final semester. The presentation should contain a clear statement of the problem and a review of the state of research that is understandable to the departmental audience. It should then describe what was actually accomplished and the significance of the results.

Students should submit an electronic copy of the final version of their thesis, approved by their faculty adviser, to the EPS director of undergraduate studies (DUS).

Non-Thesis EPS Research

Students interested in conducting non-thesis research during any year of study should contact the EPS faculty member with whom they are interested in working. Students may sign up for Independent Study credits for the semester(s) in which they conduct their research.

All students doing research are encouraged to participate in the Undergraduate Research Day (DREAMS) held in April and to apply for undergraduate research funding, such as the PURA and DURA awards.  See here for funding sources in the Krieger School.

Minor in Earth and Planetary Sciences

The EPS minor is for science undergraduates interested in applying their major discipline to Earth’s environment through geology, geochemistry, ecology, geobiology, oceanography, and atmospheric science. Students are expected to have at least 16 credits in (N), (Q), or (E) courses. Students will take 12 credits in the department, at least six of which are at the 300 level.