Thinking about Writing a Senior Honors Thesis?

An honors thesis provides a highly motivated student with the opportunity to participate in the research process from start to finish.  Students participate in formulating the question to be researched and the experimental design.  Students collect data, analyze that data and complete a final written report.  Many students are given the opportunity to present their results at a national or international scientific meeting.  In some instances, the thesis is worked up into a publishable manuscript.  You DO NOT have to write an honors thesis to complete an E&ES major.

If you are considering doing research and writing a thesis, you should speak with the various E&ES faculty during your Junior year. Do not limit yourself to one faculty member - find out what research everyone is doing and whether they are interested in taking on a thesis student. Ask what kinds of research projects you could work on if you wanted to do research with her/him. Look carefully for a well-defined project that can reasonably be completed in two or three semesters. Of course, also look for a project that interests YOU! Be sure to discuss and outline with your faculty advisor your respective expectations for the project. It is helpful to develop a timeline so that you can gain a sense of progress towards your goal.

The Senior Thesis Process

Requirements.  To be considered for graduation with departmental honors in Earth and Environmental Sciences, a student must have achieved a grade average of 85 or better as calculated at the start of the final semester of the senior year from all courses that constitute the major program (excluding ancilliary science requirements). For honors to be conferred, this GPA must be maintained and the Stage I and Stage II general education expectations must be completed upon graduation.  Award of honors is based upon the execution of independent research and the completion of a thesis of high quality (unusual distinction in the case of high honors), as judged by three faculty members, at least two of whom shall be from this department.  Completion of a thesis is not by itself sufficient for award of departmental honors.  High honors are awarded based on academic achievement as measured by grade average and on the scope and quality of the independent research and its written thesis.

Thesis Prospectus and your Committee. Most students who do theses will work on data collection over the summer between their junior and senior year (sometimes for a paid stipend). In cooperation with your advisor, you should compose a 1-2 page thesis prospectus that must be submitted to your thesis committee for their approval by October 15 of your senior year. The prospectus will include the goals of the research, an outline of the proposed methods, and the expected results. The prospectus could include an outline of the thesis chapters.

A senior thesis committee commonly includes three members, two of whom must be Wesleyan E&ES faculty members. One of the reviewers may be external to the University. Based on these reviews AND your performance in major-level departmental courses, the E&ES faculty will decide whether to grant you honors or high honors with your E&ES major degree. In cases where neither honors nor high honors is granted, the thesis work will still count for credit.

Coursework. During the fall and spring semester of your senior year, you need to register for thesis credits, E&ES 409/410, respectively. E&ES 409/410 are 1 credit courses that carry with them the expectations of any 1 credit course and a time commitment of about 9 hours per week. You should expect to spend a minimum of 9 hours per week on your thesis work. During the fall, most students complete data collection and may begin data analyses. During the spring, data analyses are completed and the final document written. The E&ES 409 grade (A-F) represents the "overall quality of research" and is determined solely by the thesis advisor. The E&ES 410 grade (A-F) represents the "thesis as a written document" and is determined by the thesis committee.

Deadlines. Honors theses are due at the Honors College in early April. Check carefully what the date is for your year as this deadline is firm. A student may submit the thesis in two ways: Option #1) turn in the final version of the thesis by the University due date. Option #2) turn in the thesis 3 weeks earlier than the due date. This allows the thesis advisor to review the thesis for one week, after which a copy will be submitted to the other committee members who also have 1 week to review the thesis. All comments will be returned to the student 1 week prior to the university deadline so that the student can make the suggested revisions.

Thesis Format Guidelines. A thesis is commonly composed of three sections: 1) The thesis must include one chapter that succinctly covers the new data and research. This chapter should be written as a manuscript "ready for peer-review submission" (i.e. a publishable paper). 2) The thesis may include a chapter that covers topics in more depth than the "publishable paper" chapter described above. Examples would be additional background information, a literature review, or a detailed methods section. 3) The thesis should include appendices that contain all of the data the student has collected. Examples would be data tables, photos, specimen descriptions, maps, etc. The student should discuss format with their committee.

Questions should be directed to the department Chair.

Recent Senior Honors Theses in the E&ES Department:
Downer, Rebecca: Sediment Phosphorus Fractions and the Nutrient History of Lough Carra, Ireland
Ganey, Terra: Volume of Impact-Derived Ejecta and Constraints on Aeolian Processes and Yardang Formation on Venus
Monterroso, Sulma: Characterization of Roughness on Synthetic Fractal Surfaces and Associated Slip Orientations”
Reistrup, Cole: Tin Contamination in the Mattabesset River: An Aftermath of Berlin, Connecticut’s Tinware Industry and the Yankee Peddler Era”
Yang, Donglai: Numerical Modeling of Frictional Melting Dynamics Constrained by Surface Micro-Roughness
Hughes, Emmy: “Experimental Evaporation and Spectral Analysis of Martian Analogue Brines”