David Elliot graduated from Cambridge University in 1959 with a BA degree in Natural Sciences, and from Birmingham University in 1965 with a PhD in geology. He worked for the British Antarctic Survey from 1960-66, for part of which time he conducted fieldwork from Hope Bay at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1966 he came to the Institute of Polar Studies at The Ohio State University on a University Post-doctoral Fellowship. In 1968 he joined the faculty of the Department of Geology (now the School of Earth Sciences) and retired in 2006. From 1973-1989 he was Director of the Institute of Polar Studies and it was during that time the name change took place to the Byrd Polar Research Center.
Between 1966 and 2011 geological field research has been undertaken in Antarctica, primarily under the auspices of the US Antarctic Program (USAP). Fieldwork has been conducted in the Beardmore and Shackleton glacier regions of the central Transantarctic Mountains, and both south and north Victoria Land (with USAP, and one season with the Italian Antarctic Program). Fieldwork on the Antarctic Peninsula has been based at Hope Bay (USAP), on Seymour Island (with USAP and the Argentine Antarctic Institute), and the South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands (with USAP). Research was also conducted as a shipboard scientist on a cruise of the scientific drilling vessel, the Glomar Challenger, to the Falkland Plateau and Scotia Sea.
During the course of his career, he has been a member of the Polar Research Board and US Representative to the SCAR Working Group on Geology. In addition he has participated in various committees and meetings dealing with issues related to mineral resources.