Guidelines for Research
Guidelines for EnvS 599 Non-Thesis Research
The non-thesis M.S. in Environmental Science requires four credits of EnvS 599 Non-thesis Research. This is equivalent to 180 hours of coursework taken over 1-2 semesters. The Non-thesis Research project is intended to be a capstone experience where information and skills built during the student’s time at the University of Idaho are brought together in a synthesizing experience.
The Non-thesis experience can take two different forms. The first is a basic research paper where the student selects a topic to research, conducts a search of the literature, and obtains research materials to read and analyze. The student may, but is not required to, carry out laboratory, field work, or interviews to develop new data and information. The final deliverable is a research paper with all information properly cited. This type of capstone experience is appropriate when the student has a topic they would like to pursue in greater detail than their coursework allowed, where the student plans to continue on to graduate school or to a Ph.D., or when building research and writing skills is a priority. The second type of capstone experience is carrying out a hands-on project in the community. This type of thesis involves selecting a project, obtaining the required permissions, developing a budget and a funding source if needed, carrying out the project, documenting the steps in the project, and putting together a portfolio that shows the steps and the progress that was made.
Sometimes the entire paper/project can be carried out in a semester, and sometimes the project is a part of a larger, more long-term plan. In most cases, it is recommended that you complete your non-thesis capstone in the final two semesters of the program. During the first semester, you will work with your advisor to identify an appropriate major professor based on your paper/project topic. The two of you will work together to develop goals and objectives for your project, along with a timeline for completion. Write up your project plan in a brief proposal that includes context – why there is a need for the paper/project – and desired outcomes, and submit it to the Environmental Science Program. The second semester will be spent carrying out the steps of your project plan – e.g., research, data collection and review - and developing your final report.
Topic and Scope
The topic you choose should help you build skills related to your career goals. If you are a working professional in a related field, one option is to align your project with activities at work. Another option is to choose a topic you learned about in a class or through personal experience and would like to explore further.
EnvS projects vary widely, incorporating quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods approaches. For example, one student may conduct a feasibility study for the implementation and management of a recycling program, while another may be out in the field collecting soil samples for testing in a lab. The time and techniques required will depend on the individual nature of each project. You will need to work closely with your major professor to determine the scope of your particular project.
In both cases, the student is responsible for the following deliverables, each of which is shared with the major professor:
- Developing a topic for approval by the major professor
- Creating a timeline for progress and deliverables
- A paper/project proposal developed in consultation with the major professor
- An early deliverable should be an outline including research materials consulted to date
- (if a research paper is selected) or a progress report (if a project is selected)
- At least one draft of the final deliverable whether paper or portfolio (feedback will be given by the supervising faculty member on drafts)
- A final version of the final deliverable
It is the student’s responsibility to both develop the timeline and to share information and gather feedback from the major professor. Part of the experience involves managing the project; time management, including getting deliverables in on time, is the responsibility of the student.
For research papers, the evaluation includes the quantity and quality of the research materials consulted, the depth of the analysis carried out, and the style demonstrated by the quality of the written paper. Good graduate papers are generally around 30-40 pages with at least 15-25 references cited, including more than webpages. Good reference materials include books and articles from the scholarly literature along with materials found on the web and in magazines. For projects, evaluation includes the appropriateness of the project to a degree in environmental science, the scope of the project, time spent carrying out the project, the success of the project and impact on the community, and the quality of the portfolio.