Paleontology, MS

Contact Information

Dr. Laurie Anderson, Department Head
Department of Geology and Geological Engineering
Mineral Industries 303
(605) 394-2461

Geology and Paleontology Faculty

Professors L. Anderson, Duke, Masterlark, M. Price, and Uzunlar; Associate Professor Pagnac; Assistant Professors Keenan, Ustunisik, Waldien, and Ward; Lecturer C. Price; Professors Emeritus J. Fox, Martin, and Paterson.

Geological Engineering Faculty

Professor Stetler; Associate Professors Katzenstein and Li; Assistant Professor Fang; Professors Emeritus Davis, Rahn and Sawyer.

Adjunct Faculty

M. Anderson, Benton, and Valder.


Research Scientists Nielsen and Roggenthen; Coordinator and Instructor Pellowski; Museum of Geology Associate Director and Instructor N. Fox; Museum Preparator and Instructor Johnson.

MS in Paleontology

The Department of Geology and Geological Engineering offers advanced study leading to an MS degree in paleontology. Resources available to graduate students in paleontology include the extensive collections of the Museum of Geology . The MS in paleontology has a strong emphasis on field-based research as well as courses in museum studies.

At the South Dakota Mines, the paleontological research conducted spans diverse subject areas including paleobiology, paleoecology, taphonomy, biostratigraphy, biogeography, and phylogenetics. Faculty and students combine field research in both modern and ancient settings with museum studies and laboratory analyses to reconstruct past paleoenvironmental conditions and reveal their ecological and evolutionary consequences through geologic time.

Collectively, research is focused on four key paleontological questions:

  • How do organisms respond to environmental changes and adapt to different environments?
  • How is biological diversity distributed across space and time?
  • How are paleontologic resources best used and conserved for scientific study?
  • How do modern processes drive fossil formation and preservation in different environments?

Current study systems include:

  • Modern and fossil bone geochemistry and diagenesis;
  • Microbial interactions with vertebrates and bones in modern systems;
  • Modern freshwater and coastal biomes of tropical America;
  • Neogene sequences rich in microfossils and invertebrates from the Western Atlantic Ocean;
  • Cenozoic terrestrial deposits with rich mammalian faunas;
  • Cretaceous marine deposits from the Western Interior Seaway.

The Accelerated MS option is available for this degree.
The thesis option is the only option for the MS in paleontology.

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Graduate Programs Outcomes

Department-wide expectations for Geology and Geological Engineering graduate programs are designed to target the following program outcomes in the context of the GGE Strategic Plan and greater professional community:

GGE Graduate Program Outcomes

  • Students will have technical expertise.
  • Students will be effective communicators.
  • Students will engage in meaningful professional service.
  • Students will impact the profession.

Background Requirements

The GRE exam is waived for all applicants. The TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE exam is required for students whose native language is not English. Many factors contribute to the success of an application, including the goals statement, coursework, grades, test scores, work experience, recommendations, and availability of a faculty member in the student’s anticipated research area. In general, we prefer to see a GPA of 3.0 or above.

Although a particular baccalaureate degree is not required for admission, incoming students are expected to have substantial preparation in general science, math, and geological sciences; successful applicants will ideally have completed the subjects listed below. The student’s graduate committee may require that deficiencies important to the student’s area of research be remedied by taking additional undergraduate courses that will not count towards the graduate degree credit requirements.

  • Calculus I and II
  • Statistics
  • General Chemistry I and II
  • General Physics I and II, or General Biology I and II
  • Stratigraphy/Sedimentation
  • Petrology
  • Structural Geology
  • Field Geology

MS in Paleontology Degree Requirements

The MS requires 30 credits, including twenty-four (24) credits of coursework and six (6) credits of thesis research. No more than 15 credits may come from courses at the 500-level or below. Required courses include: 

  • GEOL 700 Developing and Planning Research is required in the first fall semester of enrollment.
  • GEOL 771/771L Paleobiology/Lab
  • GEOL 471/571 Field Paleontology or GEOL 604 Advanced Field Geology

Candidates will work with their advisers and committee members to develop an approved program of study to fulfill the remaining coursework requirements.

Candidates for the MS degree must fulfill all degree requirements of the graduate office and the program. Departmental requirements include a written thesis proposal with oral proposal defense. Additional information is available in the university catalog, Loading....

Additional Information

Any physical specimens (and associated documentation) collected, prepared, and cited in a thesis or dissertation are to be deposited in the Museum of Geology as part of the student’s work.

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