Choosing EAPS for your Major

from Planets...     to Earth...    to Life...    to Climate

How did we get here?     Where are we now?      Where are we going?

These are just some of the wide-ranging and intriguing questions that students and researchers in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) endeavor to answer. As you learn more about EAPS, you will find that our work encompasses intersecting elements of biology, physics, chemistry, math, and engineering. If you possess broad scientific interests, a willingness to develop a similarly broad suite of skills, and a desire to tackle demanding questions, an undergraduate major in EAPS might be an excellent option for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of science does EAPS involve?

EAPS is made up of geologists, chemists, physicists, and mathematicians who apply our various skills to the study of the Earth and nearby solar systems. As an academic community, we are captivated by the interdisciplinary challenges that emerge in the geophysical sciences.

What will I do as an EAPS student?

Here is a sampling of what we do at EAPS:

  • Using the compositions and isotopic signatures of organic compounds found in rocks and sediments, we reconstruct ancient biotic communities to understand how life might have evolved within them.
  • To understand the processes that shape our current Earth, we study and learn the tempo of events and the rates at which processes have operated. The techniques of high-precision radiometric dating allow us to calibrate the geologic time scale. No Dates – No Rates.
  • Using the latest methods for combining materials at high temperatures and pressures, we study the chemical differentiation of the Earth and the development of the crust and mantle. From this information, we extrapolate the processes of formation and evolution of the interiors of other planets, including the moon, Mars, and meteorite parent bodies. Our ability to process seismic waves and generate images of the Earth’s interior leads us to a greater understanding of the movements along a fault and the generation of earthquakes.
  • Using a suite of techniques that include field measurements and mathematical and analog modeling, we gain a greater understanding of the link between the ocean and climate. A complete understanding requires knowledge of fluid dynamics as well as atmospheric and ocean chemistry.
  • Currently, EAPS faculty have had instrument packages orbiting Mars and Mercury, leaving  Pluto and heading toward a Kuiper Belt object. Faculty are actively engaged in designing new missions and building the required instruments for the payloads. EAPS researchers have access to the most up-to-date observatories, including Magellan in Chile and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) located in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.


Do EAPS students work in the field?

Yes. If you would like to see some of the places our students have studied, check out the pages of our Field Trips.

What can I do with an EAPS degree?

MIT’s EAPS undergraduates go on to pursue graduate work as well as meaningful careers in the energy, environmental, and space industries, including:

  • satellite tracking and operations
  • natural resource development
  • meteorology and hurricane tracking
  • risk assessment in the insurance industry
  • geotechnical engineering
  • land use planning
  • scientific journalism
  • marine policy development
  • teaching


As a sampling, some recent undergraduates are working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, serving as consultants, attending law school, and interning in Japan and Germany. Students who decided to attend graduate school in the geophysical sciences are at top-tier institutions in their fields, including MIT, MIT/WHOI Joint Program, Brown University, CalTech, University of Michigan, Princeton, and Stony Brook University.

Job opportunities in geoscience careers are increasing: A recent article in Nature describes the range of job opportunities and the growing need for geoscientists in the decades ahead. 

If you choose a job in industry or business, you can anticipate a competitive salary. American Geosciences Institute: 2011 Median Salaries for Geoscience-related Occupations (pdf)

Forbes Magazine ranked Geology as the #7 most valuable college major based on:

  • Starting Median Pay: $45,300
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $83,300
  • Growth In Pay: 84%
  • Projected Job Growth: 19.3%

CNNMoney/ list Petroleum Geologist as a position with:

  • Median pay: $149,000 
  • Top pay: $247,000 
  • 10-year job growth: 21.2%

A major in EAPS also provides an excellent background for professional careers beyond the geosciences.

Why are the geophysical sciences a compelling area of study?

The geophysical sciences have provided compelling evidence for three dramatic revisions in the way we view ourselves and our world: the Copernican model of the solar system, evolution as a process that has shaped modern life, and plate tectonics as a process that has shaped the surface of the modern Earth. The second and third of these revisions has required a fourth: “the discovery of time” (Toulmin and Goodfield, 1965)—the understanding that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old.

The geophysical sciences and astronomy/astrophysics are distinguished by the role of history in their research. The standard paradigm of conducting science focuses on the use of the scientific method; this is often interpreted to mean that we only gather data by controlled experiment. In studying the Earth system, however, we are studying the result of a series of experiments that have already been run. How then do we proceed to be scientifically and quantitatively rigorous about our conclusions concerning Earth’s history and the implications for Earth’s future? We do so by identifying critical environments in the modern world where the solid Earth, its fluid envelopes, and its biota interact, and where we can gather meticulous data to combine with that which we’ve gathered from innovative and precise laboratory techniques.

What is a typical plan of classes for an EAPS major?

EAPS majors build a common foundation by taking four core courses in the department and 18.03 or 18.034. Each student builds an individual selection of courses from among the Discipline and Suporting Science subject to customize their program to their interests. The capstone for the major is the research, writing, and presentation of a senior thesis. You can view more specific information here.