The 10 Best Paleontology Graduate Programs for 2014


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Years of human interference and negligence on this planet have interrupted the natural processes of the earth. Processes which restore, repair and sustain the resources and systems essential to the continued health of the many inhabitants of the planet are not functioning as they were intended. These interruptions of the natural cycles and resources have caused detrimental consequences. Now the inhabitants of the planet are relying on expertly trained earth scientists to discover solutions to these problems and effective methods to repair the existing damage already causing environmental hazards. Alternative methods of doing business are necessary to prevent further damage to the earth’s systems and resources. The methods of performing the tasks of manufacturing, waste disposal, of controlling chemical emissions, of developing property without damaging the ecology of the area and nearly every other task associated with the various business industries are affected by these necessary changes. And it is the earth scientists on whom businesses, governments and citizens are relying to direct and implement these changes.

The Earth Science fields, archaeology, statistics, psychology, history, and business fields are complex and dynamic areas of study. The vast amount of knowledge accumulated in these disciplines throughout science’s brief history is barely a fraction of what is necessary to understand the forces and processes of the earth. Researchers and academics in the earth science fields continue the quest for understanding and advancement; striving to discover solutions for current concerns and to predict potential future issues and events. A bachelor degree program would scarcely graze the surface of what is necessary to discover and effect the changes necessary to protect and restore the earth and its resources. Graduate degrees are necessary for this purpose and to be effective in the field. Individuals interested in pursuing careers in these fields will need to obtain a graduate degree in order to assure career success. Organizations, companies and governmental agencies employing geo-scientists require graduate degrees of their employees.

In order to find solutions to present and future concerns, it is essential to first know and understand the past and how it all began. Paleontology is the study of prehistoric life, evolutions and the relationship of both with the environment. The field of paleontology explains the causes of events and occurrences so that the effects can be better understood. Without understanding how everything came to be it would be impossible to determine how and what caused the negative consequences and how to repair them. Below is a listing of the top ranked graduate programs in paleontology.

10. Yale University

The Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University is ranked as the premier institution for earth science due to its extensive resources, superior academic programs and highly successful research efforts. Many of the faculty members at Yale University, past and present, have been credited with significant contributions responsible for advancing knowledge of the earth sciences discipline through their scholarly pursuits. The interdisciplinary approach at Yale University provides students with a comprehensive education encompassing the breadth of the earth science fields. Students are offered the opportunity to engage in cutting edge research projects, participate in domestic and international field trips to gain field experience, apply for fellowships within and outside of Yale University and to teach courses. The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale offers a substantial collection of paleontology specimens which students can view first hand and the Institute for Biospheric Studies provides essential interdisciplinary research and academic training in environmental sciences.

The interdisciplinary graduate program offered at Yale University incorporates many aspects of the various disciplines of earth sciences including chemistry, physics, biology and geology. The curriculum is designed to provide a thorough understanding of the various aspects of the earth to assure graduates of the program attain an expertise in their fields. Students select an area of concentration around which to tailor their curriculum; geodynamics, geomicrobiology, inverse theory, mineral physics, paleontology, paleobotany tectonics and sedimentology. Courses include introductory geoscience; atmosphere, ocean and environmental change; natural disasters; mantle dynamics, earthquakes and volcanoes; geochemistry, stratigraphy; isotope geochemistry, invertebrate paleontology and structure and deformation of the lithosphere. The concentration in research provides students with extensive experiential learning opportunities. Research seminars and independent research are an integral aspect of the program.

9. University of Chicago

The Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, established in 1961, provides comprehensive studies in the geo-sciences fields with concentrated, research intensive programs. The department draws on the academic resources of other related departments and incorporates the concepts in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology which correlate to the geosciences fields. Students are exposed to the varying disciplines which offer insight into the evolution of life, earth, atmosphere and the oceans. The research facilities at the University of Chicago are equipped with the most current, state of the art technologies available where students gain practical experience and training in their use. Faculty members of the Department of Geophysical Sciences have a history of engaging in pioneering research resulting in significant discoveries in the field of paleontology and other geo-sciences areas of study. Students are trained to become leaders and are afforded the opportunity to make their own contributions to their individual fields of study.

The unique graduate degrees offered at the University of Chicago’s Department of Geophysical Science are flexible programs designed by the students with the assistance of an adviser. The university does not have a requisite set of core courses students are required to complete. Instead, the students tailor the programs towards their individual interests. Students are required to take weekly seminars in varying subjects and to complete independent and collaborative research projects. Research projects are designed by the students with the assistance of a faculty team of advisers. Students are also expected to participate in journal clubs. The curriculum relies on student autonomy and ensures students develop a comprehensive understanding of the theories, history, techniques and knowledge of the varying disciplines through field work, laboratories, theoretical modeling and statistical study. Courses offered to students include analytical stratigraphic analysis, taphonomy, macroevolution, topics in paleobiology, morphometrics, chemical formation in the sedimentary and fossil records, biomechanics and evolutionary history of terrestrial ecosystems.

8. University of California, Berkeley

The Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California, Berkeley was the first program of its type in the Western United States and has continued in this pioneering trend since its inception. Berkeley researchers are credited with uncovering and discovering some of the most influential findings in modern geo-sciences including the evidence that dinosaur extinction was caused by the impact of a comet and the development of potassium-argon dating. As one of the premier research institutions in the world, Berkeley is committed to advancing knowledge in the geosciences and developing innovative solutions to the pressing environmental issues facing society and threatening future inhabitants of the planet. The challenging, superior quality programs offered at Berkeley are continuously expanded; adding additional courses and areas of relevance. The faculty members are award winning experts in a wide range of geo-science areas of study. Berkeley offers substantial resources including the Atmospheric Science Center, Center for Isotope Geochemistry and the Geo-chronology center where students are able to perform and observe research.

Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in geo-sciences are offered in the department of Earth and Planetary Science. Graduate students can pursue a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree. The curriculum is designed to encourage independent and creative thinking in the students. The degree requires students to complete core courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics and quantitative sciences. Enrolled students in the master degree program must complete 20 to 24 graduate level courses credits. Students select an area of specialization to tailor their degree programs to their interests. Two research propositions must be developed and presented by students pursuing the doctorate degree to a committee of faculty members and a master’s thesis is required. Students are expected to publish academic articles in scholarly journals, participate actively in professional meetings and organize seminars. Graduates of the advanced degree programs have a 90 percent successful job placement rate.

7. Harvard University

Harvard University has earned international regard for the superior quality of its academic programs, research success and expert faculty members. An Ivy League research institution, Harvard University has been credited with the advancement of knowledge, technology and tools in a vast array of disciplines and sub-disciplinary areas of study. Both the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Earth and Planetary sciences endeavor to gain and develop a comprehensive understanding of the earth and its multitude of organisms through academic and scholarly pursuits as well as through cutting edge research projects. Faculty members and students at Harvard University strive to discover answers to the complex questions of how and why: How organisms work and interact with their environment. Both departments offer state of the art research facilities equipped with the latest technological tools. The rich resources of Harvard University include the renowned Museum of Comparative Zoology where students are able to view an extensive collection of scientific specimens.

The graduate degrees offered at Harvard University are comprehensive interdisciplinary programs. Students pursuing graduate study in paleontology are associated with either the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences or Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Students can pursue an interest in analytical paleontology, vertebrate paleontology, paleobotany, paleobiology or paloentomology. The curriculum provides an understanding of the history and evolution of the earth and its inhabitants; an examination of the development from a single cell to a complex organism with multiple biological process. The program also encompasses the origins of the earth and the results of human interference and interruption of these systems and their impact on the organisms inhabiting the planet. Students learn through field research, bench work, laboratory research and engaging classroom discussions and seminars. Field trips offer first hand experience observing and studying the concepts and theories being studied. Courses include isotope and trace element geochemistry and geochronology, introduction to igneous petrology and petrogenesis, earth-like planets and planetary materials, historical geobiology, stratigraphy and sedimentology and paleobiological perspectives on ecology and evolution.

6. University of Michigan, Anne Arbor

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor boasts nine nationally top ranked schools due to the high quality of their interdisciplinary educational programs and extensive resources. The University of Michigan endeavors to improve the condition and quality of life and the environment through research, education, public service and the academic examination of knowledge. A global leader in research in a multitude of varying disciplines, the University of Michigan is credited with significant contributions intended to respond to and eliminate threats to the health, safety and welfare of the environment and, subsequently, life on the planet. The award winning faculty members at the University of Michigan include winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship and Fulbright Scholarships. The university houses more than twenty state of the art laboratories equipped with the most cutting edge technologies where students perform research alongside expert faculty researchers

The Rackham Graduate School of Study at the University of Michigan offers an extensive array of degree options with the geological sciences field. Students can pursue specialized degree programs in a range of paleontology sub-plans such as paleoclimate and global climate change, paleoclimate records and paleoenvironments, paleoclimate and paleoclimate modeling, paleoclimate and paleoceanography, paleomagnetism and paleontology. Students can pursue either a Master of Science or doctor in philosophy in any of these areas. The curriculum includes 22 credits in graduate level courses, research credits, and a thesis or research essay. Students of either program have the opportunity to attend field trips both within and outside of the country where field study and observation of the concepts being studied in the classrooms can be performed. Research projects encompass the most prevalent topics of interest in geological sciences. Courses offered to students in the programs include organism function and evolution, paleontology, mineral physics, principal physics of oceanography, depository environment, field study courses in tectonics and structure, mineralology and petroleum and stratigraphy and paleontology, evolution of vertebrate and fossil and evolution of mammals.

5. University of Cincinnati

The Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati, established in 1907, has earned its place among the top programs due to its highly regarded expert faculty instructors, superior research efforts and the number of works and rate at which faculty members and students are published. The comprehensive academic programs are designed to develop the skills and interests of the students and to prepare them to become effective leaders in the teaching and professional industries. The geology program is consistently reviewed, updated and expanded to remain abreast of advancements in the discipline. Field work experiences to provide experiential learning opportunities in locations around the world, including Iceland and Alaska, are presented to students. An annual four day trip to mid-western locations in the United States offers additional scientific opportunities. The laboratories in the department are equipped with the most current technology. The University of Cincinnati has been chosen to host the prestigious North American Paleontological Convention where experts from around the world discuss their research and work.

The graduate programs offered within the Department of geology at the University of Cincinnati encompass the breadth of the discipline. Students study the fundamental and general areas of study in geology to attain a solid foundation in the field and are encouraged to develop an individualized area of specialization to pursue. The curriculum requires students to complete 45 credits in graduate study, a research project and a thesis. The research project must be developed by the student and approved by an advisory committee which will then recommend a series of courses which correspond with the students intended area of study. Students have the option to complete a course intensive master degree program with less emphasis on research known as the 4 plus 1 MS degree. Courses offered at the university include the paleoclimatology seminars on geologic climatic record and forcing mechanism and continental and marine quaternary chronostratigraphy, advanced metamorphic petrology, glacial processes seminar and paleontology seminar.

4. University of Kansas

The University of Kansas is regarded as a premier institution of higher learning due to its high quality academic programs, unparalleled resources and exceptional research efforts. The University of Kansas has earned top rankings as a “best buy” and top public university and is the recipient of the prestigious Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization due to the breadth of their academic programs and research projects. The academic programs emphasize a global approach and the research projects have resulted in revolutionary discoveries. The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas is the premier teaching museum and the institutions Natural History Museum contains more than 7 million specimens. The University of Kansas boasts among its alumni presidential candidate Bob Dole, and Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith. The study abroad programs offered at the University of Kansas provide students the opportunity to study in more than 50 countries.

The Paleontology programs offered at the University of Kansas are within the departments of Geology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Students have two degree options for the Master of Art degree from which to select; a research oriented program with thesis or one with broader graduate training and less emphasis on research. Students can also pursue a degree in Museum studies; preparing them for a career in museums or historical agencies. The curriculum encompasses the breadth of the discipline including specimen based invertebrate paleontology, paleoecology, taphonomy, ichnology, morphometrics, statistics and the study of macro evolutionary patterns. Students study the ecological and evolutionary patterns throughout the history of life and develop skills in the quantitative methods of studying paleontology. The program includes fieldwork, research, seminars and classroom study. Courses offered under the various specialization areas include ecology and evolutionary biology, edology, evolution, botany, biology of insects, plant ecology, plant systematization or morphology, biology of insects, external morphology of insects, plant development or physiology.

3. Pennsylvania State University, University Park

The Department of Geo-sciences at Pennsylvania State University, University Park was established in 1913 and is housed within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Students within the department benefit from the intensely collaborative environment fostered within the college between the various related departments and the shared wealth of resources and knowledge. The commitment of the university to providing superior interdisciplinary academic programs and the active participation of their faculty members in research spanning the breadth of the discipline have earned the college its place among the top ranked schools. Students are offered the opportunity to attend seminars and lecture series and to participate in the Colloquium series. The Geophysical Society provides additional opportunities to participate in a range of activities related to the discipline. State of the art analytical, experimental and field equipment is housed within the department’s research units.

The Department of Geo-sciences offers both master and doctorate degrees in the field of geo–sciences with various areas of specialization. Students are offered certain flexible options in the degree programs. Some students possessing a bachelor degree are able to enter directly into the doctorate program without first obtaining a master degree. Students develop their own curriculum by selecting courses and research projects specific to their own areas of interest. The curriculum for the master degree program requires students to complete thirty credits with eighteen of these credits in graduate research courses. The college does not require specific courses to be completed for the doctorate program. Research is a vital aspect of the curriculum for the graduate degree programs. Students are required to develop an independent research project with the assistance of an adviser and a thesis examination. Courses offered include hydro-pedology, geomicrobiology, stable and radioactive isotopes in geo-sciences, paleobotany, paleontology and fossils, vertebrate paleontology and micro-paleontology.

2. The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University has been consistently ranked among the top public schools in various categories of assessment including return on tuition investment. Students enrolled at the University are able to participate in study abroad programs, internships, honors and scholars programs and community outreach programs. The School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University is an exceptional department within the highly regarded research institution concerned with training future leaders in the field. The university is the recipient of substantial research award monies contributed by the federal government and various other agencies to perform research to discover solutions to the global environmental concerns and Field work for research projects is performed around the globe. The academic curriculum within the department, as occurs with every department at Ohio State University, is reviewed regularly to ensure the programs remain current. Faculty members are highly regarded experts with a substantial number of published works to their credit.

The graduate programs offered within the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University provide specialized and comprehensive training in the earth and environmental sciences. The curriculum encompasses studies in the extensive areas of earth history such as the physical, chemical and biological evolution through varying spatial and temporal scales, the evolution of the earth and its many processes and the various processes responsible for the evolution of the earth’s history. Global change is a vital area of study within the curriculum. Students attend classes, engage in theoretical and laboratory research, conduct field research and participate in seminar and lecture series. The culminations of the graduate research projects completed by students are often published in scholarly journals. Research project opportunities are extended to students as part of their degree program and are performed within the state of the art laboratories and in the field.

1. Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is a renowned research institution offering dedicated to the academic and professional growth of their students through high quality, comprehensive degree programs and participation in pioneering research projects. The Department of Geo-sciences at Virginia Tech traces its beginnings back to 1907. The interdisciplinary degree programs encompass the breadth of the various disciplines and extend into other related disciplines providing students with the academic knowledge and tools necessary to become leaders in their fields. The highly regarded faculty members are experts in the areas in which they instruct and lead research projects in an array of the most prevalent areas of study within the geo-sciences. Students have access to the institution’s rich resources and state of the art research laboratories. The Geo-science student research symposium is an annual event organized by students and faculty where students are able to present their work and interact with peers, faculty members and professional scientists.

The graduate degrees in Geo-sciences offered within the Department of Geo-sciences at Virginia Tech provide students with a thorough educational experience. Students study the various earth processes from the atomic level to the planetary. The Master of Science degree curriculum requires students to complete 30 credits of which 20 must be completed in advanced coursework and six must be research credits. Students must complete a thesis as part of the program. The Doctor of Philosophy program requires the completion of 90 credit hours. Coursework includes the areas of geochemistry, hydrology, geophysics and geology as well as studies in mathematics. Students learn the importance of understanding and managing the environmental and geological hazards and the earth’s resources. Courses include potential field methods in exploration geophysics, plant evolution, environmental geochemistry, geological aspects of nuclear and toxic waste disposal, earth system history and quantitative paleobiology. Field research is heavily emphasized within the program and is considered an integral aspect of the program.

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