In 1866, Thomas graduated from Beloit College with Bachelor of Arts degree. Since 1868 to 1869, Thomas attended University of Michigan, taking graduate courses, including geology.
He also received honorary degrees from the Universities of Michigan, Wisconsin, Toronto, Illinois, Columbia and from Beloit College.
In 1866, Thomas started his career as a High school principal in Delavan, a post he held till 1868. During the period from 1869 to 1873, he held the post of a professor of natural sciences at Whitewater Normal School (present-day University of Wisconsin–Whitewater). He joined the Beloit faculty in 1873, where he was a professor of geology, zoology and botany, a position he held till 1876.
Also, since 1873 to 1876, Thomas worked as an assistant geologist at Wisconsin Geological Survey. In 1876, he was appointed a chief geologist of the Survey.
In 1881, Chamberlin served as a director of the glacial division at United States Geological Survey, where he stayed till 1904.
During a short period from 1887 till 1892, Thomas served as a president of University of Wisconsin. In 1892, Chamberlin accepted the offer to organize a department of geology at the new University of Chicago, where he remained as a professor until 1918. During the same years, he headed the Walker Museum.
In 1893, he founded Journal of Geology. Beginning from 1893 till 1922, Thomas worked as an editor in chief. In 1922, he was appointed a senior editor, a post he held till 1928.
In 1905, Chamberlin and Forest Ray Moulton developed a theory of the formation of the solar system, that challenged the Laplacian nebular hypothesis. Their theory, the Chamberlin-Moulton planetesimal hypothesis, received favorable support for almost a third of a century, but passed out of favor by the late 1930s. It ultimately was discarded in the 1940s by the realization it was incompatible with the angular momentum of Jupiter. A portion of the theory, stating that smaller objects — planetesimals — gradually collided to build the planets by accretion is still well-regarded.
American Association for the Advancement of Science , United States
1908 - 1909
Geological Society of America , United States
Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters , United States
1885 - 1896
Illinois Academy of Science , United States
Chicago Academy of Sciences , United States
1897 - 1914
On December 24, 1869, Thomas married Alma Isabel Wilson. The couple gave birth to their son — Rollin Thomas Chamberlin.