University of South Carolina

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Geophysics Sciences: What to Expect

The Geophysics major at the University of South Carolina is a comprehensive education of all elements of earth sciences. As a Geophysics major, you will benefit from quality classroom education, laboratory experience, and field based activities. You will also learn from dynamic and productive faculty members who are committed to providing excellence in teaching and research along with a vibrant and friendly academic environment. As a Geophysics major, you will focus on the physics of the earth and its atmosphere, including seismology, oceanography, and volcanology. You will also have the unique opportunity to complete a six-week field course in Colorado to get valuable hands-on experience. This opportunity synergizes your education in geology to understanding the earth’s formation in an observational setting.
The following courses fulfill some of the course requirements for a Bachelor of Science with a major in Geophysics:

  • Internal Earth
  • Mountain Building: Structure and Tectonics
  • Plate Tectonics
  • Applied Seismology
  • Elementary Seismology
  • Seismic Reflection Interpretation
  • Introduction to Groundwater Modeling
  • Marine Hydrodynamics
  • Environmental Geophysics


A detailed list of degree requirements can be found in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Enhancing your Experience

Study Abroad allows you to earn academic credits toward your USC degree while seeing the world! Overseas study can complement any academic program or major. Geophysics majors have the opportunity to study throughout the world. You will learn key skills while abroad including how to interact with diverse cultures and conduct science under a range of conditions. You will also have the opportunity to learn from internationally renowned scientists from across the world. You are encouraged to visit the Study Abroad Web site for more information on opportunities to broaden and extend your knowledge and perspectives.
Student Organizations can be instrumental in helping you adjust to life on campus and network within your field. The University of South Carolina has a family of nearly 300 student organizations. As a Geophysics major, you are encouraged to get involved in the Geology Club which is run entirely by undergraduate students. You will have the opportunity to go on occasional field trips and get involved in the Young Minds Rock program that brings geology and Geophysics to middle school students. You may also be interested in joining the USC Geophysical Society, which serves as a venue for the undergraduate and graduate students to interact. This association has been involved in the last few years in geophysical research at the Holly Hill limestone quarry, the Santee State Park, the Ashley River Fault, and more! You may also participate in competitions. In 2009, the USC Geophysical Society students participated in the international petroleum imperial Barrell Award competition and won the regional first place, qualifying in the finals. You can also seek out volunteer opportunities that relate to your major. Find a student organization on campus that interests you!
Graduate School is one of many possibilities following graduation. Graduates often attend graduate programs in Geology and in Geophysics spanning from Seismology to Volcanology, Geochemistry, Sedimentology, Petroleum Geology, and Hydrogeology.  
Distinguished Faculty can help enhance your overall academic experience while at the University. The Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences has countless distinguished faculty. Dr. Michael Bizimis is known for his excellent interaction with students. He works on the hard rock geology and origin of volcanoes and has published several works and presented at countless meetings and conferences. Dr. Camelia Knapp uses near surface Geophysics to study a whole host of earth science questions. She interacts with students on a daily basis and has received several awards, fellowships, and grants in addition to having numerous pieces published. Dr. David Barbeau studies the Antarctic geological processes. Dr. Barbeau is passionate about his research, creating “Team Barbeau” which is made up of students, collaborators, consiglieri, and others!
Departmental Scholarships may be awarded to outstanding entering freshmen or current students. Each year, the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences offers scholarships. These are awarded to current or incoming Geological Sciences or Geophysics majors.

Internship and Research Opportunities

Internships can be an important asset to your overall educational experience. Internship experiences often help you confirm your career interests, give you hands-on experience in a professional setting, help build your resume, reinforce what you’ve learned in class and can often lead to full-time employment. Likewise, pursuing professional research opportunities as an undergraduate student can also help enrich your academic experience while at the University. As an undergraduate student, you can work closely with faculty research mentors and explore a discipline that interests you. Both internship and research opportunities help you build a competitive edge in the job market.

As a USC student you will have numerous resources at your disposal to assist you with locating internship and research opportunities. The USC Career Center is the central location at USC for assisting students with internship preparation and finding an internship. In addition, be sure to visit your academic department as many programs offer supplemental internship guidance specific to your major. The Office of Undergraduate Research assists all USC undergraduates by providing research and scholarly experiences in their chosen fields.

Geophysics majors have had a variety of internship and research opportunities in the past. Due to the broad exposure of Geological Sciences students, our students have internet with a number of state, federal, and private agencies including the SC Department of Natural Resources, the SC Office of the US Geological, Santee Cooper Electrical Plant, Savannah River National Laboratory, and Amerada Hess Petroleum Company.

Student Spotlight

Geophysics major Amanda Fabian gained hands-on experience through an internship with the Southern California Earthquake Center. During her internship, she gathered seismograms from distant earthquakes recorded by instruments in California, wrote computer codes to filter them, and analyzed the seismograms looking for a specific signal pattern. Amanda learned the importance of hands-on experience during her internship. “Something that stood out to me was the necessity of learning through experience,” she said. “It is one thing to be able to read a textbook and do well on an exam, but actually applying the knowledge you have gained through studies to a real problem is completely different.” Amanda was able to improve her coding skills and gain a solid sense of reasoning. “I learned that both field work and data processing are just as important as each other in Geophysics,” she said. “Field work is the part many see as being fun and exciting, but understanding the ‘black box’ processes that go into making raw data useable are just as important and can also be exciting. Without understanding what goes into making your data look like it does, you cannot fully understand what you are looking at.” Her coursework and professors at the University helped prepare Amanda for her internship experience by giving her a solid background in Geophysics. “USC also prepared me well for creating and presenting both oral and written reports I needed to share,” she said. Amanda recommends that all students seek out internship opportunities. Amanda discovered her internship opportunity through the Office of Undergraduate Research Web site. “Talking to professors who have projects you are interested in can also yield opportunities or at least good suggestions of where to find some that match your interests.”

Career Opportunities

Geophysics graduates are employed in a wide range of careers from environment to energy industries. Graduates wishing to remain in the state have pursued careers at the Department of Natural Resources, the SC Geological Survey, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Many have also secured employment in Environmental consulting and the Petroleum Industry.

You can find more information about career options in the US Department of Laborís Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The USC Career Center offers numerous resources which provide more information about career opportunities for students in this major. Once admitted, a Career Development Coach is available to help you assess your interest areas, make decisions about your career path, and identify the experiences and skills that will help you accomplish your goals. Spur Connections will help you locate mentors from among USC alumni, employers and community members who can provide insights based on their careers and experiences. Early planning and preparation are keys to success.

Alumni Spotlight

A degree in Geophysics from the University of South Carolina afforded Emily Graham a number of opportunities following graduation. The 2009 graduate is currently in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin and is about to embark into full-time work at Marathon Oil in Houston, Texas. While at the University of South Carolina, Emily traveled to Kyrgyztan with Dr. Jim Knapp’s research lab as an undergraduate research assistant to acquire a deep 2D seismic reflection profile across the Tien Shan mountains. “It was the first time I was really immersed into the field of Geophysics and I knew after working with Jim and his research lab that I wanted to pursue it as a career. These experiences, along with other research projects over the next two years, helped prepare Emily for experiences after graduation. As a graduate researcher at the University of Texas, Emily spends most of her time focusing on her Masters thesis research on fluid migration through a gas hydrate rich environment. After receiving her Masters, Emily will work as an exploration geophysicist at Marathon Oil in the International Exploration group. Her tasks will include interpreting 2D and 3D seismic data sets to actively search for potential new oil and gas reservoirs. She will also re-evaluate previously found reservoirs when new data is acquired and quantify the risks involved with drilling exploration wells. Emily has enjoyed her time pursuing graduate work and is excited about her new position at Marathon Oil. “I’ve really enjoyed working on gas hydrate environments because of their potential importance in environmental issues as well as their possible energy applications,” she said. “It has been fun working on new research that will play an important role in future gas hydrate research development.” Emily believes it is an exciting time to enter the industry. “It is also a very exciting time to enter the industry because most of the “easy oil” has been found and it will now take new ideas and creative thinking to continue making discoveries. I think that the true exploration spirit still thrives in international oil and gas and I’m very excited to be a part of that after completing my Masters degree.” In her new position, Emily will have the opportunity to travel and potentially live in countries where active exploration is occurring. “I will also be a part of an ever changing industry, at a time when new ideas and new technologies are necessary for success,” she said.

Emily attributes a lot of her success to the education she received while at Carolina. “South Caroline gave me the best preparation I could have imagined for my career as a graduate researcher and as an exploration geophysicist,” she said. “At USC I was able to participate in multiple research opportunities as an undergraduate that many schools only allow graduate students to work on. My curriculum from USC more than prepared me for my Masters degree. I had already taken many of the classes as an undergraduate that my classmates at UT were just now taking as graduate students because USC recommended taking graduate courses in my senior year.” Emily said that she would encourage current students to get involved with undergraduate research. “If possible, I advise you to apply for the Magellan program early in your undergraduate time so that you can continue working with your professor throughout your time at USC. There are numerous opportunities to get involved with in research, so don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers about what they are working on and if there are any openings for undergraduate work.”

About the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department

The Earth and Ocean Sciences Department is one of only two institutions in the southeast that offers a Geophysics undergraduate major degree. The department boasts a large and diverse faculty with broad scientific expertise. The department offers a broad range of specialties within geosciences such as sedimentology, stratigraphy, and basin evolution; tectonics and structural geology; environmental geology and hydrogeology; igneous and metamorphic petrology; Geophysics and seismology; oceanography, coastal, and estuarine processes; paleoecology and paleontology; and paleoceanography and paleoclimatology. The departments offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Geological Sciences or Geophysics, a Masters of Science degree program in Geological Sciences, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree program in Geological Sciences. The Earth and Ocean Sciences Department is in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Points of Pride

  • Students in the department have been nominated for and winners of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. One student recently won a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship.
  • Students, through the Magellan Scholars Program, have participated in field programs in Russia, Romania, China, Kyrgyzstan, Puerto Rico, and Antarctica.
  • Students have gone on to graduate programs at prestigious institutions including Stanford, Cornell, Yale, the University of Arizona, Colorado School of Mines, University of Texas, and UCLA.
Additional Resources.
Earth and Ocean Sciences Department Website
College of Arts and Sciences Website
University Career Center
Undergraduate Bulletin