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Graduate Studies in Earth Sciences

Director of Graduate Studies:
Zunli Lu, Associate Professor

Graduate study in the Department of Earth Sciences offers students opportunities for field, laboratory, and computational geological and geophysical research spanning the Earth’s deep interior, lithosphere and surface on a host of timescales. Several of our faculty lead collaborative domestic and international research programs that afford our graduate students opportunities to work in diverse parts of the world with teams of internationally recognized scholars. State-of-the-art analytical and computational facilities provide opportunities for cutting-edge research in the fields of Earth Sciences. Diverse, interdisciplinary research opportunities leading to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees include:

Tectonics Geomorphology Hydrogeology & Hydrology
Sedimentology Thermochronology Environmental Geology
Biogeochemistry Isotope Geochemistry Computational Geophysics
Paleobiology Paleolimnology Global Environmental Change

PhD and MS students are supported by full-tuition scholarships and stipends through teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and/or fellowships. Typically, MS students receive a minimum of four semesters of support, and Ph.D. students receive a minimum of eight.

The overall goal of the Graduate Program is to provide a pathway to advanced degrees in the Earth Sciences through research, education and other relevant experiences. All students receiving advanced degrees from the Department acquire experience with the following:

• Skill in the collection and analysis of data

• Preparing research results with the ultimate goal of publications and reports

• Experience writing proposals to fund research or teaching objectives

• Building a broad network of relevant professional contacts outside the Department

• Teaching experience in labs, lectures and seminars

In order to help students meet these objectives, each student has a faculty advisor and an advisory committee that meets periodically to evaluate student progress and provide feedback.

The MS degree is ideal for students interested in careers in industry, consulting, government, or other sectors where an advanced degree is desirable, but a PhD is not required. The MS degree is a research-based degree and all MS students write and defend a research thesis.

See the Earth Sciences MS page in the SU Course Catalogue for details.

The PhD degree is ideal for students interested in careers in academia, research, and other sectors where the terminal degree is required. The PhD requires significant independent research, and all doctoral students write and defend a dissertation.

Most students can satisfy the requirements within four years, particularly if they have already completed the MS degree.

See the Earth Sciences PhD page in the SU Course Catalogue for details.

Applications for fall admission are strongly encouraged by January 15th; later applications may be considered but with diminished chances of financial support. 

Admission Requirements: Applicants must have earned a B.S. or a B.A. degree. Applicants must have already taken (or take during their first two years of graduate study) at least three Earth Science courses, such as: Paleobiology, Sedimentology, Mineralogy, Structural Geology, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Climatology, Geomorphology and/or Hydrogeology. In addition, all incoming graduate students are expected to have successfully completed a full year (2 semesters) of Calculus, Chemistry, and either Physics or Biology. It is recommended that they have participated in a field course or approved field experience.

Minimum GRE scores for consideration are: Quantitative ≥600 or ≥148; Verbal ≥450 or ≥150; and W ≥3. Most competitive applicants score well above this range.  International/non-native English speakers must take the TOEFL exam. We generally require a minimum composite TOEFL score of 85 and no subscore below 20. 

Financial Support: Students are typically supported financially for four semesters for students in the MS program and eight semesters for students in the PhD program. This support typically comes in the form of a teaching or research assistantship with a tuition scholarship during the academic year, with the student free to conduct their research full-time during the summer. All students that will be candidates for teaching assistantships must have the background to provide instructional support for introductory Earth Sciences courses. Students may also be supported by their faculty research advisor's external grants or by Syracuse University Fellowships. Applying to local and national programs for graduate fellowships is strongly encouraged. 

Syracuse has a low cost of living, which means our assistantship stipend provides a comfortable income. In addition, tuition is paid in full, and Syracuse University provides excellent health insurance options. University funded students are eligible to participate in the University's Group Health Care Plan. Coverage details and premium rates can be found at the Office of Human Resources, Employee Benefits.

Application Procedure: Applications are submitted through an online system - Online application. The Enrollment Management Center (EMC) directs the processing of admissions and applications for all programs of graduate study. For inquires, please go to: Graduate Admissions.  

Required Application Materials: (1) a complete Graduate Application Form (submitted online); (2) a personal statement that describes research and/or teaching experience, research interests, career goals, and identifies faculty members in our program you are interested in working with as an advisee; (3) three letters of recommendation; (4) official transcripts; (5) official Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores (CODE: 2823). The TOEFL or IELTS exam is required of all international applicants whose native language is not English. Officials scores must be reported.

Applications are reviewed by the Department's Graduate Admissions Committee. Decisions regarding suitability for admission and nominations for fellowships are made as soon as possible.

Congratulations on joining the Earth Sciences program at Syracuse University. As you make the move to Syracuse, a good reference for you to use is the future graduate student checklist. In addition, please read the material below and contact us with any questions.

Before Arrival

(1) Activate your SU NetID and password to start using your SU email address and to register for classes.

(2) Register for classes by August 1st. Have a discussion with your faculty advisor regarding what courses you should register for in Fall. Early registration helps us determine which labs or recitations you will be teaching, if you are on a teaching assistantship. You can revise your class choices during department orientation.

(3) Register for the Teaching Assistant Orientation Program (registration information is emailed to you by the University TA program). All incoming students complete TA orientation, regardless of your assistantship or fellowship appointment.

(4) Email Dr. Zunli Lu (Director of Graduate Studies) to tell us your arrival date in Syracuse. 

(5) If you have not yet found or arranged permanent housing before your arrival, email Dr. Zunli Lu (Director of Graduate Studies) if you are interested in rooming with a current graduate student. He can forward your contact information to other graduate students. Also, check out these resources: Orange Housing:, Sutton Management, Campus Hill Apartments, UV Colvin.

(6) Review the materials sent to you with your appointment letter, including the Earth Science Graduate Program Guidelines and referenced attachments. 

On Arrival

International Student Check In: International students must check in with the Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services (LESCIS) as soon as possible after entering the United States. The Slutzker Center is located at 310 Walnut Place. Be sure to bring your documentation so they can prepare the I-9 form for payroll. They can be reached by e-mail at or by telephone at 315-443-2457.

All New Grad Department Check In: Shortly after arrival, new graduate students should come to the Earth Sciences Main Office, located in 204 Heroy Geology Laboratory. You will be assigned a mailbox, asked for your local address, and have your photo taken for our department directory.

For US citizens and permanent residents, I-9 forms are to be completed at the Human Resources Office located at 210 Steele Hall. We cannot put you on payroll until you complete this task. Don’t forget your passport for identification purposes.