janet41
Posts: 76
Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2008 3:45 pm
Occupation: homeschooling parent

Undergraduate planetary science schools?

Postby janet41 » Mon Dec 28, 2015 12:30 pm

My high school sophomore daughter is interested (to put it mildly) in planetary science. She has done Mars for science fair since 6th grade. Her older sister is doing college apps, so she is starting to worry about where she should go to college, too.

Since Planetary Science is not a common undergraduate major, what other possible major(s) should she be looking at? Also, it's pretty obvious which schools put out a lot of papers about Mars since she is doing reading for science fair, but it's less clear which schools have lots of undergraduates involved in their research groups.

She doesn't have test scores yet.

Suggestions?

tdaly
Expert
Posts: 1415
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2003 11:27 pm
Occupation: Planetary Scientist

Re: Undergraduate planetary science schools?

Postby tdaly » Tue Dec 29, 2015 12:15 pm

Hi janet41,

Speaking from personal experience, people come into planetary science from a variety of backgrounds. This reflects, in part, the fact that planetary science is a very broad field. Some planetary scientists study how planets form (a lot of physics, math, and chemistry); others study meteorites (a lot of chemistry and geology). Some study geological processes on planets, like Mars (a lot of geology and geophysics); others study the nature and requirements of life as we know it (a lot of biology, chemistry, and geology). It's not important that your daughter know precisely which area of planetary science she wants to emphasize - the point is that there are many pathways into planetary science. Friends of mine have come into the field with undergraduate degrees in physics, astronomy, geology/geophysics, chemistry, applied math, or engineering. The majority of planetary scientists that I know have undergraduate degrees in physics, astronomy, or geology. So, your daughter would be well-served by a degree in any of these areas. She will probably also want to build her math skills as well (single and multivariable calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, linear algebra). Some undergraduate degrees require this many math classes; other degrees do not. Getting a bit of programming experience would also be helpful.

With regards to specific schools that have strong planetary science programs, the following immediately come to mind: Brown University, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell University, Washington University in St. Louis, Caltech, and MIT. At Brown University, some undergraduates are directly involved in planetary science research. I'm less familiar with the undergraduate programs at the other schools I listed.

However, I don't think it's critical that your daughter go to a school with a strong planetary science program, even if she already knows that's what she is interested in. Many schools have one or two faculty that do planetary science research, and your daughter might have a more significant undergraduate experience by doing research with one of these faculty members than by attending a school that has a large planetary science program. (That's the path that I took - I got an undergrad degree in geology while doing planetary science-related research with a professor in the chemistry department. It was a fantastic experience.) Because there are so many paths to planetary science, I think your daughter should heavily consider other factors, such as location, size, student/faculty ratio, cost, financial aid and so forth, in her decision making process.

No matter what school she attends, you daughter could participate in summer internship programs for planetary science, such as the LPI Summer Intern Program. NASA sponsors other internships, and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has a program. The space grant in your home state or the state that your daughter attends school in might have other opportunities. Such programs are a great way to get additional experience with planetary science.
All the best,
Terik

janet41
Posts: 76
Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2008 3:45 pm
Occupation: homeschooling parent

Re: Undergraduate planetary science schools?

Postby janet41 » Wed Dec 30, 2015 7:08 pm

Thanks!


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