GEOL 393 and GEOL 394: The Senior Thesis

This is a two semester linked program (either Fall-Spring or Spring-Fall semesters). The program requires a paper near the end of each semester, two department-wide presentations each semester, and the time (and effort) of actually doing original scientific research.

The Purpose of the Senior Thesis:

  • To have fun
  • To work closely with a faculty member on a project both of you find interesting
  • To participate in the generation of new ideas and information: this is real science, not the book learning you've been doing
  • To develop skills that are invaluable in any career you choose, whether research, industry, business, teaching, or government

Our Geology alumni have consistently told us that they feel that the Senior Thesis was the single most valuable part of their undergraduate coursework.

How does this research apply to life in the non-academic world? Consider a typical scenario in an Environmental Consulting business:

A customer comes to your firm and your boss assigns the project to you. This customer's gas station has been leaking fuel into the aquifer under the station. You have to 1) determine the extent of the problem and a strategy to correct it, 2) determine the costs, 3) present your solution to the customer, 4) implement your plan, 5) evaluate the results, and 6) write up the project outline and results and present them to the customer, justifying the costs your charged. These are exactly the same skills used when finishing the Senior Thesis. For other examples, check out the web sites of some of these firms, such as the excellent site of Schnabel Engineering:

GEOL 393: The Proposal

At the end of the term, the student will have developed a research proposal that includes: an introduction (with a literature review), the design and strategy of the project, a budget, and a demonstration of feasibility. A key part of the proposal is to present a falsifiable hypothesis that can be tested in GEOL 394. The semester includes two ~10 minute oral presentations before the assembled faculty (a progress report and a final proposal).

GEOL 394: The Research

By the end of the term, the planned research will be completed and the results and interpretations written. The student will have either presented information that disproves the hypothesis, or that supports it. Sometimes projects evolve in an unexpected direction--in the course of answering the initial question another more interesting may be discovered. This is part of science, and of exploring the unknown. This may mean that the hypothesis has to be reformed between the proposal (GEOL 393) and the final project (GEOL 394). The semester includes two ~10 minute oral presentations before the assembled faculty (a progress report and the final presentation).