Geology Curriculum, Bowdoin College

Information for this profile was provided by Rachel Beane in 2007. Information is also available on the department website.

Jump down to Overview and Context * Goals * Courses and Sequencing

Overview and Context

Illustration of the geology curriculum at Bowdoin, constructed by Carol Ormand with assistance from Rachel Beane. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Bowdoin is a liberal arts college in Maine. During the last decade we have had an intense focus on pedagogy, adopting a field-based and inquiry-driven curriculum. We believe that our focus on problem-solving and inquiry, while introducing our students to state-of-the-art tools, is key to our success.


Our goal is for our curriculum to ensure that each student graduating from our program develops a set of critical skills and learns fundamental geological concepts:

Critical Skills:

  • scientific data collection, interpretation, and analysis
  • drawing conclusions from varied and incomplete data (all courses)
  • library and reference skills; reading and interpreting scientific literature
  • basic statistics; graph interpretation and plotting
  • map and compass skills
  • GIS skills
  • identification of minerals and rocks; microscopy
  • modeling
  • community service
  • writing and presentation skills

Fundamental Geological Concepts:

  • plate tectonics
  • fluid flow and surficial processes
  • rock cycle
  • stress/strain and folds/faults
  • geologic time
  • basic geochemistry
  • systems/equilibrium/feedback
  • integral nature of geologic studies
  • history of the science, including paradigms and shifts in approaches

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

Three entry-level courses with no prerequisites are offered in geology:

  1. Environmental Geology and Hydrology;
  2. Investigating Earth; and
  3. Marine Environmental Geology.

Majors must take Investigating Earth and may count either Environmental Geology and Hydrology or Marine Environmental Geology towards the major.

Core courses

The major consists of nine courses. Four core courses are required of all majors:

  1. Investigating Earth
  2. Mineralogy
  3. Groundwater OR Watershed Hydrology
  4. Advanced Seminar in Geology


In addition, to experience the breadth of the discipline, one course must be taken from courses emphasizing the solid earth (Sedimentary Geology, Structural Geology, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, Geophysics) and one course must be taken from courses emphasizing oceans and surface processes (Marine Geology, Coastal Oceanography, Glacial Processes and Landforms).

The three remaining elective courses for the major may be selected from the geology courses offered in the department, or ones cross-listed with geology and offered in the physics or chemistry department. Up to two of these three remaining electives may be taken off campus (i.e. abroad or field course).


The Advanced Seminar in Geology serves as the capstone course.

Other required courses

Geology majors are advised that most graduate schools in the earth and environmental sciences require courses in chemistry, physics, and calculus.