James L. Dyson graduated from Lafayette College in 1933 and received his doctorate from Cornell University in 1938. He served as an Instructor in Geology at Cornell from 1935 to 1938 and at Colgate from 1938 to 1941. In 1947 he became Head of the Department of Geology and Geography at Lafayette College, a position he held until his death in 1967. During World War II, he served in various positions in the U.S. Army, eventually as Commanding Officer of the First Training Center in New Guinea and later on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. After the war, he remained active in the Army Reserve. He was best known for his scientific work as a geomorphologist and glaciologist, publishing a number of works on Glacier National Park and a major work,
The World of Ice. He served as a Cooperating Geologist of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, doing detailed studies of the New Bloomfield Quadrangle. He was an ardent conservationist and was also deeply concerned with the improvement of geologic education.