Studying in the Department
The Earth Sciences course is taught through lectures, practical classes, tutorials and field trips.
Tutorials are the most distinctive feature about studying in Oxford: weekly classes of just 2 or 3 students. You will have work to complete before the tutorial – typically a practical exercise or a problem set – and in the tutorial you take the answers apart, or explore the context of the problems. Many tutorials are led by lecturers: leading experts in their field; others may be led by graduate students or post-doctoral researchers. Either way, the close contact this gives you with people who are actively engaged in research will be a stimulating and challenging experience.
The staff profile is young, and international: half of the faculty have either studied or taught overseas, and one third have taken up their posts in Oxford within the past three years. They include graduates in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology, in addition to Earth Sciences/Geology. Our research spans an equally broad range – from the depths of the Earth and the Oceans, through the origins of life, the tectonics of continents, the chemistry of the atmosphere and the circulation of the oceans to the history of the solar system and the formation of the planets.
Our course structure reflects the breadth and depth of the department. The course is continually evolving, reflecting our evolving understanding of the Earth. The first two years of the course give you a broad foundation across the subject. From the third year, after completing an independent field mapping project in a carefully researched location of your choice, students to start to specialise with a choice of courses. You can also follow a topic of particular interest to much greater depth, in the independent essay paper (again, researching a topic of your choice). In the fourth year, taught classes mostly take the form of directed seminar classes, led with student presentations based on the current work in the field. The main aspect of the fourth year is the research project: a piece of original work, spread over two terms. For many students, this is the highlight of the course – and many of these projects will eventually be written up and published as research papers.
Life as an Oxford Earth Scientist
The Earth Sciences department in Oxford is small and sociable, with an intake of around 30 undergraduates per year, so you easily get to know students both in your year and others, as well as the academic staff. Field trips are always stimulating – whatever the weather. The research community, students, postdocs and others, is large and active and there are numerous seminars and research talks, so you will be in touch with the latest developments in the science.
As a small department, even our lectures are informal. You’ll quickly get to know your lecturers and demonstrators by name – and vice versa.
Oxford University Geological Society (OUGS)
Oxford University Geological Society (OUGS) is a student-run society, that predominantly involves members from the Earth Sciences Department. OUGS put on a range of events throughout the year, including field trips, academic talks/conferences, ‘Inaccurate Geology Film Nights’ and careers events. They are perhaps most famous for their social events which include geology cocktails (the originally-named ‘Rocktails’), as well as termly celebratory dinners, barbecues and the yearly grudge match against their Cambridge counterparts, or ‘GeoVarsity’. The Department is an incredibly close knit community, and OUGS helps to maintain this and acts as a conduit for getting to know both your year and years above.
Living in Oxford
The most important difference between Oxford and nearly all other Universities is the colleges. They may seem an added complication in the application procedure but, in a University with many thousands of students, they provide valuable support, especially when you first arrive. Colleges give you opportunities to meet people outside your subject, and provide a wide range of facilities from libraries and computers, sport and social events, to accommodation, dining and welfare. With undergraduate intakes of around one hundred a year you quickly get to know people. All the colleges are within walking distance of the town centre, and most are right in it, so you are never cut off.
There is also plenty to do outside college: an immense range of University clubs and societies cater for all tastes, and of course there are the pubs, parks, clubs and other venues unconnected with the University. Although renowned for its dreaming spires, Oxford is a colourful city, with a face distinct from the University and academia. Oxford has a lot to offer: large enough to cater for most types of entertainment, but everything is within walking distance and you are only ever a stone’s throw away from the countryside.