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Part III - fourth year

Welcome to Part III Earth Sciences and the start of a new MSc-level course.  Having built up the basics over the past three years, the focus now shifts to the application of those principles, and a more critical, interrogative and creative approach to understanding how the planet works.  Increasingly, the important insights in Earth Sciences turn up in the territory between the conventional disciplines, and the course is designed to encourage a breadth of research-level experience, even as you focus on your own research project.  By the end of the course you will be in a position to take on advanced academic research – or any other occupation requiring analytical ability, dexterity and experience.

There are three principal components to Part III Earth Sciences:

1) The research project.  This is the centrepiece of the course, where you address a particular research question over the course of Michaelmas Term, and submit a report demonstrating your ability to generate new observations, data and ideas.  Importantly, the success (and grading) of these projects is not measured in absolute results, but the approaches you take in pursuing them.  Your project supervisor will be there for general guidance, but it is up to you to drive the work forward, and in the direction you think it should go.  The key is to do lots of reading, attend lots of seminars, ask lots of questions.     

2) Option courses.  The Lent Term option courses are a further step up from Part II lectures, with an increasing focus on current research issues and debates.  As such, the topics and content will vary from year to year, as will the structure of any particular course.  At least 12 (usually more) four-week option courses are offered each year, from which you will officially take six.  Easter Term exams will be individually tailored to a particular option, but they all will be looking for an advanced near-research level of understanding.  The key is to do lots of reading, arrange supervisions, ask lots of questions.   

3) Seminars and the Easter field trip.  The Department hosts a broad range of seminars and seminar series, and you should make it your business to attend as many as possible.  This is the best way of tracking the very latest research in your areas of interest, and seeing how it gets done (and presented).  The Departmental Seminars (Tuesdays at noon) and Bullard Seminars (Wednesdays at 4pm) are particularly recommended.  A short Pt III seminar series at the beginning of Easter Term will address issues and research broadly connected to the Easter field trip.  The trip itself – to SE Spain – is in some sense a revision of the whole Pt III course – and one of its highlights.  As ever, ask lots of questions, take lots of notes, do lots of reading …     

Nick Butterfield, Part III course-coordinator