Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

BSc (Hons) Geology (UTGEOLGBSCH)

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: School of GeoSciences
Programme accredited by:

The Geological Society of London

Final award: BSc (HONS)
Programme title: BSc (HONS) Geology
UCAS code: F600
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Environmental Studies
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA:

Prof Simon Tett, Academic

Susan Orr, Administration

Date of production/revision: December 2018

External summary

In the Geology Honours Degree you will study our planet's evolution, understanding how it first formed, how it has changed over billions of years, and predicting what it will be like in the future. You will develop and apply key scientific and transferable skills to answer fundamental questions in Earth Science such as: Why is our planet able to sustain life? How does the Earth's interior work? How do processes affect the surface? How can we sustainably manage Earth resources? Can we predict and mitigate the effects of global climate change? Can natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions be predicted?

You will develop key geological skills and cover core topics in modern geology. A strong emphasis is placed on fieldwork, with residential trips, which have in recent years included the Lake District, various localities in north-west Scotland, Spain and Cyprus; as well as numerous one-day trips throughout. You will also develop a range of transferable skills, including report writing, oral presentations, data analysis and interpretation, critical thinking, group working and, as the programme progresses, the ability to work independently and manage project work.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims to:

  • Provide training of the highest academic quality in Earth Sciences in a challenging and supportive learning environment
  • Be accessible to those qualified at intake in a broad and diverse range of sciences.
  • Maintain flexibility that allows students to choose a more generalist or more specialist curriculum appropriate to their interests.
  • Provide for student interaction with high-level scientific expertise and advanced equipment in an environment committed to scientific advance.
  • Develop a systematic understanding of both core areas and advanced topics in the study of the Earth, its materials and structure, its history over 4600 million years, and the processes that have controlled its evolution as a planet.
  • Develop the ability to evaluate primary evidence critically; and the conceptual understanding to present arguments and solutions based on primary data and theory.
  • Develop skills in gathering and interpreting the geological and geophysical data used to gain this understanding and thereby equip students with the foundations for their professional careers or additional study.
  • Promote an appreciation of the limits to our present understanding of the Earth, its processes and the interactions between them.
  • Stimulate students to see Geology as a vital component of our culture, where science develops as informed curiosity about the Earth and Society???s environment, promoting human development and sustainability through the search for energy sources, raw materials, water supplies, sites for safe waste disposal, and the mitigation of natural hazards.
  • Provide an excellent preparation for a career in professional practice in industrial or environmental Earth Sciences, research in Earth Sciences, and specialist areas of other physical and natural sciences.
  • Provide, through a strong transferable skills strand, graduates for non-Earth-science industries, commerce, public service and education, particularly those needing to be informed by the methodology of a broad range of physical and natural science.
  • View the Earth from new and challenging perspectives of time, space, process and pattern.
  • To develop transferable skills related to problem solving, communication, practical fieldwork, and computing.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

  • A broad knowledge base in geology and related disciplines and an ability to understand, integrate, and extend it so that all fundamental geological concepts are accessible.
  • Ability to recognise and use subject-specific theories, paradigms, concepts and principles.
  • Knowledge of the structure and composition of the Earth, from core to atmosphere. understanding of processes within it, together with those that influence its surface but which originate within the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, or external to the Earth; and an understanding of the cyclic fluxes and interactions between these reservoirs.
  • Knowledge of the nomenclature and classification of rocks, minerals, fossils and geological structures, and understanding of how this knowledge may be applied to resolve geological problems.
  • Knowledge of the fundamentals of chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics needed to provide insight into these Earth processes (with levels of expertise varying according to choices of more generalist or more specialist courses at honours level).
  • Competency in both field and laboratory skills, and in data analysis, interpretation and presentation that permit the successful pursuit of pure or applied problems in geology.
  • Appreciation of the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of the Earth Sciences, and the ability to integrate diverse datasets to problem solve.
  • Ability to process and interpret large, complex, datasets, to hypothesis set and test, and to function as a numerate, literate scientist able to prove insight and guidance related to real-world problems and issues.
  • Ability to apply knowledge and understanding to address familiar, unresolved and more open-ended problems.
  • Ability to collect, analyse, synthesise, summarise and inter-relate diverse processes and facts, to formulate and test hypotheses and reach conclusions.
  • Profound knowledge and understanding making intelligible Earth Science research frontiers in selected areas chosen by the student in honours year(s).
  • Understanding of the limits of present knowledge and limitations of present data on important Earth Science issues and controversies.

These outcomes are ensured through a combination of field, lecture, laboratory and tutorial classes and a diverse range of assessment throughout all years of the Geology programme. Years 1 and 2 provide a foundation to the broad area of Earth Science, during which students can also take a range of optional courses from across the University. Year 3 provides professional training in key aspects of modern Geology, with the additional choice of applied geology optional courses. Year 4 allows students to take a range of optional courses from across the GeoSciences, whilst they also conduct a large, independent field-based research project.

Professional/subject-specific/practical skills

  • Ability to identify and differentiate rocks, minerals, fossils, other Earth materials and Earth structures in the field, as hand specimens and using laboratory techniques including microscopy and spectroscopic analysis.
  • Skill to observe and record original field and laboratory data and then apply these to evaluate and resolve geological and geotechnical problems.
  • Ability to assemble and analyse incomplete and varied observational data and develop testable hypotheses, predictions or explanations from them.
  • Skills to recognise associations between geological observations and then integrate them into their 3D and 4D (space-time) frameworks.
  • Ability to devise and carry out an independent field-based project, including the formulation and testing of hypotheses whilst in the process of carrying out the project.
  • The integration of field-based, experimental and theoretical principles needed for the Earth Sciences.
  • Ability to carry out accurate measurements using a range of techniques and data acquisition systems.
  • Basic computer programming and numerical methods and qualitative approaches and their application to problem solving applied in the Earth Sciences.
  • Communicate research findings with clarity and logic both in written and oral format.

DPS Transferable skills

  • Presentation and Communication: Skills to communicate in written, numerical, graphical and verbal forms, in ways that are appropriate to different audiences and in different situations, ranging from scientific and industry reports, to group and individual oral presentations, and from blogs and outreach articles, to news articles and essays.
  • Numeracy and IT: Skills to carry out quantitative analysis of data, and determine the reliability of the data. The curriculum is designed to ensure that all students develop appropriate standards of numeracy, but also includes options allowing some to acquire much higher-level skills. In 3rd year, students are given specific training in Python programme and analysis of large, complex data sets. Those wishing to develop their mathematical and/or computing skills to a higher level can choose from a range of additional optional courses across all years of the programme. General skills in the use computer packages for document preparation, graphics and design, data analysis and research are provided throughout the Geology programme. Additional training during 3rd and 4th year involves the use of industry software, including GIS packages, graphics packages used for processing and displaying Earth Science/Geographical data sets, and software used in exploration, geophysical, hydrogeology and site management/exploration sectors.
  • Teamwork: Ability to contribute effectively to team objectives and interact productively with others both in project-related settings and in meetings. This is addressed through group exercises in all years of the Geology programme, including in-class presentations, group lab-sessions where students use research equipment, mock-industry presentations to panels of outside industry experts, and group fieldwork mini-projects.
  • Self-management and Personal Development: Time management skills, ability to develop self-managed learning and self-evaluation. Time management skills are developed through interaction with the assessment process in all years: students must learn how to meet deadlines for submission of continuous assessment material and how to set aside appropriate time to prepare for end of year examinations. Explicit and implicit penalties and rewards provide feedback. Time management is integral to the student???s independent mapping project. There is a progressive transfer over the four years of the Geology programme of responsibility for learning away from formal instruction to individual study, culminating in a student-led mapping dissertation in 4th year.
  • Problem Solving: Skills to recognise and articulate a problem and then apply appropriate conceptual frameworks and methods to solve it. These skills are developed during practical sessions throughout the Geology programme. In 3rd year, emphasis is placed on larger, integrated problem-solving exercises, during which students are taught how to process complex data sets using a diverse range of skills and knowledge. This provides the foundation for student-led independent, but academically directed, project work in year 4.
  • Innovation and Creativity: Ability to take dispersed and often disparate information and from these construct or compose a coherent and self-consistent position on a given proposition.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

By engaging with and completing the Geology programme, graduates will be able to:

  • Collect and synthesise evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources applicable to the study of geology and geosciences;
  • Evaluate and critique both published work of geoscientists and industry reports;
  • Formulate scientific arguments and hypotheses emerging from the study of geology (and related subjects) and how to test them;
  • Create a new understanding by submission of independent research, work and scientific and industry reports.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

By engaging with and completing the Geology programme, graduates will be able to:

  • Organise and understand complex and interdisciplinary data;
  • Summarise, interpret and critique the work of others in order to reach conclusions,
  • Analyse and explain key geological and Earth processes;
  • Knowledge and ability of how to apply techniques to understand geological phenomena;
  • Formulate, investigate and discuss critical current issues.
  • Work independently in field and laboratory-based environmental investigations
  • Display creativity, flexibility and adaptability in solving problems

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging with and completing the Geology programme, graduates will be able to:

  • Formulate a coherent written, electronic or oral presentation on the basis of material gathered (e.g. textual, numerical, verbal, graphical) and organised independently on a given topic;
  • Express clearly ideas and arguments, both orally and in writing and in electronic media;
  • Use group discussions and joint seminar presentations to research and present work collaboratively; and
  • Develop oral presentation and participation skills during seminars and group-work, and in written form through online e- learning tools, dissertations and essays.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

By engaging with and completing the Geology programme, graduates will be able to:

  • Collaborate efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presenting conclusions ??? this includes those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge bases such as fellow-students, tutors and supervisors;
  • Organise their own learning, manage workload and work to a timetable;
  • Effectively plan, and possess the confidence to undertake and to present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and theoretical considerations relevant to Earth Sciences and
  • Work independently on the creation of essays and research-based dissertations using the standards current in the academic field of Earth Sciences.
  • Argue and communicate research findings with clarity, logic and coherence
  • Communicate visually, orally and in writing
  • Explain complex issues in both scientist and lay person

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

By engaging with and completing the Geology programme, graduates will have the ability to:

  • Identify a range of rocks, fossils and minerals;
  • Interpret geological and geomorphological information;
  • Use surface information to infer structures at depth;
  • Use geographical information systems and digital elevation models;
  • Use appropriate resources (library, internet) for information/data retrieval;
  • Communicate their science via reports and oral presentations.
  • Process complex geo-datasets and use modern computer and numerical techniques to process and model data.
  • Combine, integrate and process complex and diverse sets of data.

Fieldwork skills

By engaging with and completing the degree in Geology and Physical Geography, graduates will be able to:

  • Identify rocks, minerals, fossils and geological structures in the field and understand their significance;
  • Observe and record original field data;
  • Undertake field mapping and produce field notes to reinforce observations and support interpretations;
  • Use surface geological and geomorphological information to infer structures at depth.

Programme structure and features

The BSc Geology is a 4-year degree programme leading to the awarding of a BSc (HONS) Geology degree. Direct entry into 2nd year is possible and encouraged for suitably qualified applicants. Assessment is by a combination of project work, coursework and examination. The degree programme is interchangeable with the Environmental Geoscience or Geology and Physical Geography programmes up to the end of second year, and with the Geophysics programme in certain circumstances. The Honours years (years 3 and 4) consist of core geology courses together with a choice of optional courses. Appropriately qualified students can leave at the end of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd years with an Undergraduate Certificate of Higher Education, an Undergraduate Diploma of Higher Education or an Ordinary degree respectively. The curriculum is shown below.

1st year: Earth Dynamics (20 credits); Introduction to the Geological Record (20 credits); Introduction to Geophysics (20 credits); further courses (60 points). Students may be required to take additional Maths-based training courses: Earth Modelling and Prediction (20 credits) and Earth modelling and Prediction 2 (20 credits) dependent on entry qualifications and other option courses.

2nd year: Geomaterials (20 credits), Introduction to Geophysics (20 credits), Global tectonics and the Rock Cycle (20 credits); further courses (60 points).

3rd year: Field Skills for Geology (20 credits); Palaeontology and Sedimentology (20 credits); Structural Analysis of Rocks and Regions (20 credits); Igneous, Metamorphic and Ore Processes (20 credits); Practical Geochemistry and Data Analysis (20 credits); and either Petroleum Systems (20 credits) or Applied Hydrogeology and Near Surface geophysics (20 credits).

4th year: Geology Dissertation (40 credits), Evolution of the Modern Earth and Cyprus Excursion (20 credits); Formation and Evolution of Continents (10 credits); Frontiers in Research (10 credits); and 40 credits of optional courses.

This programme is one of a family of related Programmes organised by the School of GeoSciences.  Courses are shared with other Schools to widen choice and capitalise on expertise throughout the University. Each student is allocated a Personal Tutor who can provide individual guidance and support throughout their time at University.  Students have the opportunity to apply to spend their 3rd year at one of the many overseas Universities that are part of the University???s International Exchange Scheme. Students are assisted to gain professional experience during vacation time.

Exit points: Year 4 ??? BSc (Hons); Year 3 ??? BSc; Year 2 ??? Diploma of Higher Education; Year 1 ??? Certificate of Higher Education.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching and Learning strategies employed at the University of Edinburgh are tailored to meet the aims of the programme. The taught component in the School of Geosciences is provided by leading national and international geoscientists across a diverse range of research fields. It is delivered through lectures, practicals, tutorials, interactive workshops, laboratory sessions and field trips, and it is complemented by student-focussed learning activities for independent learning, critical thinking, data handling and synthesis as well as team building. All these components are developed from year 1 on, but varied year-on-year in line with the progressive structure of the degree programme. Excellent laboratory facilities are available with continued investment in teaching equipment including student microscopes and computer labs. Access to unique research equipment is available during project work (3rd and 4th year) for which students have at least one nominated advisor.

Specific activities vary depending on course content and the student is supported throughout with opportunities for discussion and feedback on performance.

Assessment methods and strategies

Course assessment is variable depending on the nature of the course, but generally includes an end of semester exam taking during the University exam diet. Courses are assessed by a diverse range of methods throughout the degree, including:

  • Abstract and essay writing
  • Written examinations
  • Practical class work
  • Field notebooks
  • Laboratory records
  • Interactive computer assignments
  • Seminar presentations
  • Poster and oral presentations
  • Field based projects
  • Short reports
  • Group work
  • Dissertation (Honours years)

In year 5, assessments are focussed on research-driven work: independent research project, seminar presentations, poster presentations and field-based projects.

Instructions on how to complete assessments are provided in the course handbooks, online teaching pages, or verbally. Formative and summative feedback is provided on all material produced and handed in by the students. Staff are always available for discussion after release of marks and feedback, for both exam and coursework.

Career opportunities

Graduates of the Geology programme are employed across sectors, from academic and teaching careers to direct employment in industry, consultancies and local authorities. Career subjects are diverse, including education and the energy / natural resources sector (mining, oil and gas industry, land and water management), but also information technology and finance. A significant proportion of BSc (HONS) Geology graduates choose to pursue further research and academic careers with PhD programmes around the world.

Other items

All students receive advice and support during their time in Edinburgh through their personal tutor and student support co-ordinator. Opportunities for a third year of study abroad exist and are encouraged.