Susan Kieffer is an Emeritus Professor of Geology and Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she holds a Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Chair. She received her B.S. in physics/mathematics from Allegheny College in 1964 and is an alumna of the California Institute of Technology receiving both an M.S. (1967) in geological sciences and Ph.D. (1971) in planetary sciences.
Kieffer began her teaching career as a Professor of Geology at the University of California, Los Angeles (1973) before working with the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona (1979–1990) during which she retained an affiliation with both Arizona State University (1989–1993) and the California Institute of Technology (1982). She went on to Head the Geological Sciences Department at the University of British Columbia (1993–1995).
She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a 1995 MacArthur Fellow. She was awarded the Penrose Medal by the Geological Society of America in 2014.