Senior Thesis

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Chase Glatz presenting his research to Dr. Brian Mapes during the 2022 Rosenstiel Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science

Senior Thesis

The Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science gives undergraduates an opportunity to conduct original research in an area of their choice, working closely with a faculty member.

In addition to the requirements for the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree, a student must

  1. Select a three-member faculty thesis committee,
  2. Complete a minimum of 4 credits of independent research (3 credits of ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC 411, and 1 credit of ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC 412),
  3. Present a poster or oral presentation of their research at a public forum such as the Rosenstiel Undergraduate Research Forum,
  4. Submit a research thesis approved by the faculty thesis committee. The credits may be a combination of ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC (411/412), or equivalent research experience approved by the Program Director.

How to Complete a Senior Thesis

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  • Choose your research project

    You and a faculty member of your choice agree on a suitable research project. Before deciding on your research project, consider talking with several faculty members to discuss possible projects. (Note: If a student is planning to complete a thesis, we recommend that they begin their research project no later than their junior year to complete the requirements for a senior thesis).

  • Complete a minimum of 3 credits of 411

    Complete a minimum of 3 credits of research by enrolling in ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC 411. Enrollment in 411 credit(s) requires the approval of the faculty member. Once you have made arrangements with a faculty member to conduct independent research with them, you will be required to write a project description approved by the faculty member and submitted during the first week of classes.

    For at least two semesters, you must have enough time in your schedule to devote to research. You should enroll in one to three credits of 411 (independent research) for each semester of research in consultation with your faculty mentor. Each credit is equivalent to a 1-credit laboratory so you are expected to spend a minimum of 3 hours per week working on your research project, but if you are enthusiastic about your project, you may spend more time than that. Faculty may require that a student commits to a minimum of 5-10 hours per week to conduct research with them. The 411 will be graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis by the faculty member supervising the research project.

    For more information regarding rules for 411 and 412 courses, click here.

  • Enroll in 1 credit of 412

    Enroll in 1 credit of thesis course ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC 412 during the term in which you will write your thesis (typically your last semester).  You will receive a letter grade based on your performance on your senior thesis. 

  • Submit a Senior Thesis and Departmental Honors Registration Form (no later than the last day to apply for fall or spring graduation).

    During your final semester, e-mail your completed typed Senior Thesis and Departmental Honors Registration Form:

    to Ruth Goodin at with a copy to Whitney Nolton at later than the last day to apply for fall or spring graduation.  At least one committee member must be a Rosenstiel School Ph.D. faculty member who the student will be assigned to in CaneLink for ATM, GSC, MBE, or MSC 412.  A hand written form will not be accepted (it must be typed).  Please see academic calendar for dates here.

    Present a poster or give an oral presentation of research at a public forum such as the Rosenstiel Undergraduate Research Forum (see Event Calendar for date).

    The following are due by the last day of classes at noon (see Academic Calendar for date).

    An email sent to with a Cc: to your Thesis Committee Chair stating that you have completed your research presentation requirement.  The email must also include the date, location, and abstract title.  Also attach any flyer or announcement with your name.

    Your completed thesis and approval form with all three committee members' signatures must be emailed as a PDF file to Ruth Goodin at with a copy to Whitney Nolton at  For Approval Form formatting, see "Approval Form" under "Templates" below.

Guidelines for Writing the Senior Thesis

Your Senior Thesis should follow the general format of a scientific paper submitted to a research journal.  It should be organized into the following sections:

Accordion Group

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  • Title Page

    Title Page (First page)

  • Approval Form

    Approval Form (Second page)

    Please list your degree and your major on the Approval Form by choosing one of the drop-down menu options available on the Approval Form.

  • Introduction

    The Introduction should contain a clear and concise statement of the question being asked, a brief review of relevant literature, and the reason for doing the experiment or making the observations.

  • Materials and Methods

    The Materials and Methods section should contain a description of the general methods used, and the kinds and sources of equipment and supplies used to make the observations.

  • Results

    The Results section should contain the observations, along with any summarizing statements, tables, figures, and statistical analysis; this section should stand for all time, even if a century from now the interpretations of the results (in the next section) might be different.

  • Discussion

    The Discussion should contain an interpretation of the observations, a consideration of any limitations imposed by the methods, alternative explanations of the observations, and discussion of their general significance.

  • Abstract or Summary

    The Thesis should also have either an: Abstract (right after the Approval Form), or a Summary (after the Discussion).

    The Abstract or Summary should contain a brief description of the most important observations; it should not contain any information that isn’t already in the Results section of the paper; and material repeated from the Introduction and Discussion sections, if included at all, should be limited to one or two sentences. Also, provide a few keywords (also known as search terms) at the end of your abstract to help search engines find your paper.  

References (or Literature Cited) Acknowledgments

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  • Tips for Writing the Senior Thesis

    If you do not have a clear idea of what belongs in each of the sections mentioned above, you may consult books on scientific writing, such as

    Scientific Papers and Presentations, by Martha Davis

    How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, by Robert A. Day;

    Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences, by Victoria E. McMillan;

    A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, by Jan A. Pechenik;

    Technical Writing and Professional Communication, by Thomas A. Huckin & Leslie A. Olsen.


    Your best guide is to read a few papers published in a journal that specializes in your field of research (for example, Marine Biology, Coral Reefs, Bulletin of Marine Science).  Don’t pay too much attention to the specific data and ideas, but to the general organization and content of each section.  Your faculty research advisor should suggest an appropriate journal to use as a guide. (Note that Science and Nature, two prestigious and widely read scientific journals, use atypical formats and should not be used as guides).

    Journals vary somewhat in the format of their Figures, Tables, and References; you should follow the exact format of an appropriate journal in your field.  Whatever the details, note the following:

    Figures are numbered consecutively, and each has an explanatory legend below it.

    Tables also are numbered consecutively (separately from the Figures), and each has an informative heading over it.

    Each Figure, each Table, and each Reference is specifically referred to somewhere in the text.

    When a manuscript is submitted to the editors of a scientific journal, the Figures (with their legends) and the Tables are usually collected at the end, after the list of References.  You may submit your Senior Thesis this way. (It is usually left up to the technical editors, with guidelines from the author, to decide on the best location of Figures and Tables for the final page lay-out).  Alternatively, you may incorporate the Figures and Tables into the body of the text, as they would be in the final published journal article.

    Even experienced scientists rewrite a manuscript several times before submitting it to a journal, and usually have to rewrite it again in response to the comments of reviewers and editors.  You can anticipate that your thesis will undergo several revisions before it is acceptable.  Therefore, you should submit your Senior Thesis to your faculty advisor(s) at least six weeks before the end of the semester, so that you will have time for at least two revisions and so that your thesis committee members will have time to read, approve, and sign the final draft of your thesis.

  • Checklist

    • Manuscript double-checked for spelling errors?
    • Have you avoided the following common errors?
      • therefor their and vice versa;
      • affectfor effect and vice versa;
      • itsfor it’s and vice versa;
      • ...the data is, was, showsfor ...the data are, were, show (the word data is plural).
    • Pages numbered?
    • Figures numbered consecutively?
    • All figures with legends under the figures?
    • Tables numbered consecutively?
    • All tables with headings over the tables?
    • All figures and tables referred to, in the body of the text?
    • All tables and figures understandable without reference to the text?
    • All sources cited in the text present in the list of References?
    • All sources in the list of References cited in the text?
    • References double-checked for accuracy in volume numbers and page numbers?