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School of Science

Course XII -- Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

From its headquarters located in the tallest building in the city of Cambridge, the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences trains tomorrow’s geologists, oceanographers, and astronomers -- with a personal touch.

Course XII, informally known as EAPS, is separated into three subdivisions. Sophomores can choose to concentrate in geoscience, the physics of atmospheres and oceans, or planetary science and planetary astronomy.

Course XII is one of the smallest undergraduate majors at MIT, with just 30 students. If there is one defining feature of EAPS, it is the “intimacy and personal nature of the department,” said Scott D. Sewell, academic administrator of EAPS.

With such a small undergraduate population, there is ample opportunity for personal interaction and one-on-one help, said Sewell, adding, “I hire tutors myself.” In any class, there are only five or six students. With the large graduate student population of 170, there is usually someone willing to help with any subject, he said. The faculty outnumber the undergraduate population, being comprised of 30 professors, seven associate professors, and two assistant professors.

Although there are currently no organized EAPS-focused clubs, the major has its own lounge and an informal weekly luncheon, paid for by the department.

The small size of the department also helps students to get hands-on experience. “We offer quite an extensive” UROP program, with between 20 and 30 openings per year, Sewell said. Many of these are filled by non-Course XII majors, and “there’s no reason why a student who wants” a UROP couldn’t get one, Sewell said.

Most UROP projects are for pay, though some students work for credit or as volunteers. The majority of for-pay UROPs are funded through the department.

Each EAPS student spends at least one IAP doing required field work in his or her area of specialization. Students do field research in places as diverse as Kitt Peak and the Bahamas.

Because of the small sample size, there are few statistics available of Course XII students. The majority go on to attend graduate school, mostly at other institutions, although some remain at MIT.

Starting salaries can be as high as $60,000-$80,000 a year for geophysicists at the PhD level, but most graduates earn less. The many EAPS students who go into academia usually earn $30,000-$40,000 yearly for professorial-track positions, though this amount varies between institutions.

Sewell recommends that anyone interested in joining the department take one of the core classes: 12.001 for geology, 12.004 for the planetary sciences area, and 12.002 for physics of atmospheres and oceans. -- Krista L. Niece