Student Research

We encourage students to engage in research! We offer options for independent study, mentored research, senior thesis, and Latin honors

Ways to engage in research with the Environmental Studies Program

We encourage any and all students to pursue some form of research during their time with Environmental Studies! Our students conduct research with disciplinary emphasis in humanities, social science, or natural sciences. Our students are mentored by WashU or Tyson Research Center faculty members, post-docs, professors of practice, or research scientists, or conducted in partnership with or guidance from partner institutions such as the St. Louis Zoo and Missouri Coalition for the Environment. 

Students pursue independent study research during academic semesters or summers, summer research internships, and senior honors thesis research. Experiences range from guided work on a research mentor’s project for one to several semesters, to mentored independent research that results in a substantial scholarly product. Because we are an interdisciplinary program, scholarly products produced by our students take on a wide range of forms, from a thesis to policy brief to narrative to journal-style manuscript for publication. 

Any student with any GPA may conduct independent research that results in a scholarly product; students that meet GPA qualifications may additionally be candidates for Latin Honors. Information below describes different ways to prepare for and engage in research, including senior thesis/Latin honors.

Courses to earn credit for time spent on research

We offer several courses that provide credit for time spent on internships or research. After reading the course descriptions and guidelines below, students interested in registering for 390, 391, or 392 please complete this independent study/research class registration form. Information to sign up for ENST 498 and 499 for senior thesis research can be found below.

The purpose of course credit for student research experiences

  • To gain practical experience in the field of Environmental Studies
  • To establish contacts with Faculty and other researchers/workers in Environmental  Studies
  • To acquire skills in analysis, problem solving, methods, and techniques
  • To read and evaluate scientific, historical, literary texts and other advanced literature and theory
  • To expand skills in analyzing and communicating results
  • To learn how research is designed and conducted

Courses available for independent study, directed research, and senior thesis

ENST 390: Independent Study | This Independent study offers a specialized exploration of a specific topic, with the student intensively investigating it while supervised by a faculty mentor.  Students should, along with the faculty mentor, create an intensive reading list in the area of focus and complete a substantial project during the semester. Occasionally this course can be used to award credit for an independent study completed over the summer supervised by an outside mentor, if the faculty sponsor approves it and sponsors registration during the fall after the summer the research is completed. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. Can be taken for up to 6 units total ( offered every semester)

ENST 391: Directed Research in Environmental Studies | Research activities or project in environmental studies done under the direction of an instructor in the Program. Permission of a faculty sponsor and program Director is required. Can be taken for up to 6 units total (offered every semester)

ENST 392: Directed Field Work in Environmental Studies | A student engages with Directed Field Work when they join an ongoing field work project being carried out by an Environmental Studies instructor. Permission of a faculty sponsor and program Director is required. Can be taken for up to 6 units total (offered every semester)

ENST 498: Senior Thesis Research | For those pursuing a Senior Thesis, this course includes several class meetings spaced across the semester and accounts for time spent on independent research completed in the second to last semester. Prerequisites: fourth year standing, eligibility for Honors, and permission of instructor. To be taken second in the final fall, either third or fourth year (3 units, offered fall semester)

ENST 499: Senior Honors | This course accounts for time spent on independent work for undergraduate Honors, including completion of final text and process of thesis formatting, to be supervised by a faculty member. Prerequisites, fourth-year standing, eligibility for Honors, and permission of instructor. To be taken in the final semester (3 units, offered every semester)

* Research mentors: Please contact us if you need a section of one of these courses in order for a student to enroll to do research with you.

 

Hourly expectations and grades for course credit

  • Students should average about 3-4 hours/credit, or 10-12 hrs per week for 3 units of credit for directed research. A plan for the time commitment and project goals should be arranged between the student and the faculty sponsor.
  • If a student wants to spend 6 hrs/wk for 2 units of credit, the mentor will be asked to verify that it is a worthwhile project. 
  • 3 units of credit or more must be completed if this course is to be used to satisfy the Capstone Experience requirement for the Environmental Studies major.
  • The faculty sponsor should assign a grade of Incomplete (I) if the time commitment agreed upon has not been met. This “I” can be changed to “Pass” by work the student completes after the semester is over.

Expectations of students and mentors

Research experiences should be carefully designed to facilitate productive, engaging, and collaborative experiences for students as they are novice, early-stage researchers. Students are learning about the epistemology, methodology, and professional social norms within a discipline. They are learning how to do research, including how to search for, read, and synthesize scholarly literature to learn about a new topic and prepare a written product. They are learning disciplinary methods of data collection, data analysis, and visualization and text descriptions of results and disciplinary writing. We have the following expectations for students and mentors:

  1. Students should work directly with the faculty sponsor or with someone of the sponsor’s choice: research associate, post-doc, senior graduate student, technician. In the case of the latter, we ask four things of the faculty sponsor: (1) be certain that the direct supervisor is enthusiastic about the arrangement, (2) continue to accept responsibility for the student, (3) monitor progress in understanding and achievement, (4) lend encouragement. Student or sponsor is free to terminate the arrangement after one semester.
  2. The research mentor should create a setting that facilitates an engaging, collaborative, mentored experience. Research mentors should are providing regular and timely coaching, mentorship, and feedback and meet regularly with the student, at an interval agreed upon by the student/mentor.
  3. Students should spend a regular amount of time per week (~3-4 hours per credit hour) on research activities. Students should maintain notes on their work and progress, maintain regular communication with their research mentor, and engage in regular meetings with the research mentor, at an interval agreed upon by the student/mentor.
  4. Projects should have defined goals, even though the goals are often not met in one semester. 
  5. Tasks assigned by the mentor should be for learning related to the student’s project.
  6. For students enrolled in ENST 390, 391, and 392, they should turn in at the end of the semester a <1 page written reflection that 1) summarizes the progress of what was completed during the semester and 2) reflects on what they learned in terms of content, skills, methods, or about themselves as learners/researchers/collaborators. Written reflections should be submitted to the research sponsor and environmental@wustl.edu

Things to think about if you are interested in potential senior research

Hone in on your interests with class choice and guidance from your major advisor: In your first year, you likely took many introductory classes to explore and hone your interests. In your second year, you likely declared your major(s) and/or minor(s) and began to take more major requirements and began taking topical electives in your area of interest. In your third and fourth year, you will be taking many elective courses in your area of interest that offer you more depth and experience with higher-order cognitive tasks such as critical thinking, essay writing, reading primary literature, and skills in analysis and problem solving. 

Build relationships with your professors: To complete Latin Honors research, you will need to choose a thesis advisor and two supporting committee members. Your thesis advisor will be your primary research mentor and will most directly guide your research. You should choose additional supporting committee members who can offer strengths on particular aspects of your thesis, such as being a topical expert in something related to your thesis, or an expert in a research methodology that you will use. Your thesis advisor can be any person on the Environmental Studies thesis advisors list; at least one of your three committee members must be a member of the Environmental Studies core faculty group (see list of potential committee members here). Start building relationships with your professors by visiting their office hours, emailing them to ask questions, and getting involved in research internships. Tell your professors about your interests and ask them for ideas on books and articles you can read to learn more or what classes they recommend you take.

Take relevant elective courses and one or more "methods" course: If you are thinking about doing research in your senior year through independent study or Latin Honors research, you should enroll in courses that will enhance your growth as an early stage scholar and help you successfully complete a thesis:

  • Take 3000 and 4000 level courses that offer depth in the topical areas related to your thesis. Consider a course that is highly topically related, even if it doesn’t count toward your major.
  • Take at least one or maybe several “methods” courses that prepare you for the methods used within the discipline and topic of your thesis. Many of these are open to non-majors with instructor permission. You should take courses in the methods you think you will use in your thesis. Some courses that may be of interest, depending on your discipline and subject area of focus and the methods required:
    • ANTH 428W: Original Research in Environmental Anthropology
    • ANTH 4501: Decolonizing Anthropology
    • BIOL 3100: R Workshop in Biology
    • ENST 364: Field Methods for Environmental Science 
    • IPH 431: Statistics for Humanities Scholars 
    • MATH 2200 or MATH 3200: Statistics
    • POLSCI 363: Quantitative Political Methodology 
    • POLSCI 4043: Policy Analysis, Assessment and Practical Wisdom 
    • POLSCI 495: Research Design and Methods 
    • SOC 3030: Introduction to Research Methods

Consider an internship or conference attendance: Participating in an internship or summer fellowship and attending a conference are excellent ways to learn more about work in your areas of interest. They often help you clarify your interests, network with faculty, professionals, and peers, and encourage excitement about potential research. They can be great gateway experiences to pursuing research, including senior honors research. You can ask your professors or major advisor or email environmental@wustl.edu to learn more about how to find an internship or fellowship.

Connect with your major or minor advisor: Let your advisor know early on that you are interested in potential thesis research. They can help guide you to select courses and experiences, prepare, and apply to do senior thesis research.

Find a research mentor: Start by building relationships with your professors who teach classes you are interested. Search faculty profiles on departmental websites and then consider emailing faculty members whose research interests look appealing and ask if they have any research or lab work you can help with. Peruse these lists of faculty and researchers who are willing to mentor student research and contact them to see if they have mentoring capacity and if your interests align

Grants and fellowships for student research

There are several opportunities to apply for funding to support your research. We also highlight below some the options for paid research fellowships to conduct research within and outside WashU.

Fellowships for summer and academic year environmental research

Below are several fellowship and internship programs available to students who wish to conduct environmental research:

Departmental honors, awards, and Latin honors (with senior thesis)

Environmental Studies Program offers Departmental Honors, Departmental Awards, and Latin Honors.

Qualifications for departmental honors

In Environmental Studies, recognize student accomplishment within our majors by awarding Departmental Honors with highest distinction, high distinction, or distinction. All graduating majors and minors are eligible for Departmental Honors in our program. See bulletin for more info: https://bulletin.wustl.edu/undergrad/artsci/honors/

Departmental awards

In Environmental Studies, we offer the following awards (recognition and modest monetary prize) to graduating majors and minors with outstanding accomplishment. Students are nominated and chosen by program faculty members. All majors and minors are eligible for the following departmental awards: 

  • Environmental Studies Award for Academic Achievement
  • Environmental Studies Award for Scholarship and Research
  • Environmental Studies Award for Environmental Leadership

Qualifications for Latin honors

To be eligible for Latin Honors, students must produce a senior research thesis and have maintained a 3.65 grade point average through the sixth semester and must be accepted for candidacy by Environmental Studies. To earn honors, students must also maintain the minimum 3.65 GPA through the final semester. Per university guidelines, students may be awarded the A.B. cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude according to the following proportions: top 15% in overall GPA of the full cohort of Latin Honors candidates who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments will graduate summa cum laude; the next 35% magna cum laude; and the next 50% cum laude. To learn more about completing senior thesis research, continue reading below.

Senior thesis and Latin honors research

In the Environmental Studies Program, any student may conduct senior thesis research regardless of GPA, and Departmental Honors and awards do not require completion of a senior thesis. Latin Honors for majors requires completion of a senior thesis in addition to meeting GPA requirements set by the university. 

Senior thesis timeline

In the Environmental Studies Program, any student may conduct senior thesis research regardless of GPA, and Departmental Honors and awards do not require completion of a senior thesis. Latin Honors for majors requires completion of a senior thesis in addition to meeting GPA requirements set by the university. Some of our senior thesis students have been conducting research with the same research mentor for several summers or academic years; others begin their thesis research with a new research mentor about a year before graduation. The timelines for some of these activities may vary slightly depending on the history of the collaborative relationship between the student and mentor. The timeline for turning in key forms and paperwork and general timelines for preparing a scholarly product should be roughly similar. The following outlines the process and general timelines for completion of a senior thesis assuming a spring graduation. If you plan to graduate in December, you can modify the timeline by moving all deadlines one semester earlier.

Third year

  • Make sure to sign up for any topical electivesor methods courses that could be useful for your thesis. Keep an eye out for courses that are only offered every other year and make sure to get them early.
  • Sign up for Introduction to Research Methods (ENST 4xx), the product of which is a literature review on a topic of your choice and a tractable research question.

Spring of third year

  • Identify one person to be your thesis advisor. This person will serve as your primary research mentor. Meet with them to discuss your thesis topic, question, and potential methods in depth, and ask them if they will serve as your thesis advisor. Ask their advice on who else they recommend for your committee. Your thesis advisor can be any person on the Environmental Studies thesis advisors list; at least one of your three committee members must be a member of the Environmental Studies core faculty group (see list of potential committee members here). 
  • Then, identify two supporting committee members. Using your own experience and your mentor’s advice, seek out and meet with two additional people to serve as your supporting committee members. These committee members will offer strengths on particular aspects of your thesis, such as being a topical expert in something related to your thesis, or an expert in a research methodology that you will use.
  • Once you have identified a committee of a primary research mentor and two committee members, turn in your Latin honors thesis intent & committee form to environmental@wustl.edu
  • Register for ENST 498 in the fall and sign up for any methods or topical elective courses that will help you prepare your thesis. Ask your thesis advisor and committee members for recommendations on what courses to take.
  • Set up any summer data collection or research experiences that will be required for your thesis.
  • At the end of spring semester, you will receive a letter welcoming you to the senior thesis program that contains instructions to get going on your thesis research and what to work on over the summer. 

Summer befor your fourth-year 

  • You will read extensively, take notes, and begin building a bibliography and literature review. You will narrow your research question, prepare a short summary of your preliminary argument, plan your methods, and depending on the discipline, collect data. You will confer with your thesis advisor at regular intervals to make sure your work is on track.
  • Conduct any data collection that needs to happen prior to fall semester (timing depends on your discipline, reserach question, and need for field data collection).

Fall of fourth year

  • Take ENST 498. As part of ENST 498, you will
    • Hold a committee meeting and report back to your thesis cohort. Your committee may decide to hold regular committee meetings or ask that you meet regularly with your primary research advisor.
    • Turn in a 2- to several- page prospectus to your committee and ENST 498 instructors. The prospectus length and form may vary by discipline, but in general the prospectus should include background information (from the scholarly literature) that motivates the project and outline the question/problem, methodology, and proposed analyses.
    • Turn in a 1-page academic year plan outlining your proposed timeline and tasks for fall, winter, and spring. This will help start you with planning, goal setting, and time & task management to keep you on track for finishing and producing a rigorous scholarly product.
    • Turn in 1-page winter/spring plan. This is your chance to revise your goals and timelines to make sure you are on track for progress over winter and spring. We’ll review them together and offer community feedback, support, and encouragement to leave you in a positive and confident place for moving forward as the semester ends.  
    • Regularly workshop your written materials such as your reserach question, literature review, prospectus, or sections of your thesis draft.

Spring of fourth year

  • Analysis, results, and writing: You will continue to work on data analysis, preparing results, and drafting sections of the thesis over winter break and early spring semester. Depending on your discipline and agreements with your committee you may be planning to generate a semi-final version of your thesis somewhere between January and the end of spring break. Plan your tasks and timelines to keep you on track for your goals.
  • Deadlines for semi-final and final versions: The semi-final draft of your thesis is due to your committee by the Monday after spring break. Your committee should return comments to you on your semi-final draft within three weeks of receipt. You will turn in a final, revised version of your thesis to your committee and environmental@wustl.edu by the end of the last day of reading period. If your thesis is conducted to receive senior honors, we will not certify honors until receipt of your final thesis.
  • Presenting your thesis research: We encourage all senior thesis students to present their research at the WUSTL Undergraduate Research Symposium or an Environmental Studies faculty breakfast at the end of their last semester. 

Senior thesis roles and guidelines for students, thesis advisors, and committee members in senior honors research

Committees for senior honors research consist of a thesis advisor (primary research mentor) and two supporting committee members. At least one of these three committee members must be a core Environmental Studies faculty member. Refer to the list of potential committee members and core Environmental Studies faculty here.

Because our students often conduct research that is interdisciplinary and have committees that consist of housed in different departments and familiar with different disciplinary products and timelines, it is important that our students receive collective guidance early on. This helps to make sure the thesis is on track to meet Environmental Studies guidelines and prevents hiccups when reviewers from different disciplines read the final product through different lenses at the last minute. Thus, students and committee members should plan to participate in:

  • One initial committee meeting in late spring, summer, or early fall of the fourth year
  • At least one follow-up committee meeting at a time point agreed-upon by the committee. 

Student: Stay in regular communication with your research advisor and committee; utilize scholarly sources; complete a rigorous search and synthesis of your field and topic that motivates your project and serves as the background for your prospectus and thesis introduction; turn in items on time; if in doubt, ask mentor and committee questions for guidance sooner than later

Thesis advisor: Serve as the primary research mentor; have capacity to supervise within disciplinary field and topic; devote time to student mentoring, communication, and regular meetings; engage in regular meetings with student to guide research, work through issues, guide data collection, analysis and interpretation of results; work with student to shape scope of the final product (e.g. thesis or policy brief or publishable manuscript); attend at least one initial and one follow-up committee meeting; read and provide constructive feedback on drafts within three weeks of receipt.

Committee members: Serve as supporting research mentors; provide additional expertise in some aspect of the topic topic or methodology of research; attend at least one initial and one follow-up committee meeting; read and provide constructive feedback on drafts within three weeks of receipt.

Senior thesis format guidelines

Stay tuned for a document outlining the expectations and formatting guidelines for the final senior thesis document.

Previous student research projects

  • Hanusia Higgins - Advisor: Dr. Mangan (Biology) "The Enemy of an Enemy, is a Friend"
  • Emily Dewald-Wang - Advisor: Dr. Myers (Biology) "Plant chemical defenses, density dependence, and biodiversity in temperate forests"
  • Addison Green - Advisor: Dr. Lowry (Political Science) “Exploring bicycle culture as it relates to European cities
  • Joseph Stromberg - Advisor: Dr. Evans (Philosophy) “A Study of Land Tenure and Livelihoods on the Lakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota”
  • Ted Erker – Advisor: Dr. Knight (Biology) “Is the relationship between phylogenetic novelty and invasiveness dependent on spatial scal
  • Katherine Seidler – Advisor: Dr. Knight (Biology) “Understanding Invasiveness: How does habitat heterogeneity influence dispersal kernels of wind-dispersed species”
  • Kristyna Solawetz – Advisor: Dr. Giammar (Environmental Engineering) “Arsenic Mitigation and the Role of Traditional Knowledge in Bangladesh”
  • Arthur J. Singletary and Kelley E. Greenman – Advisor: Dr. Stone (Anthropology) “Pesticides in Indian Groundwater”
  • Brittany Teller – Advisor: Dr. Knight (Biology) “Do Invasive Species Change the Biomass of Dependent Trophic Levels in Communities?”
  • Aaron David – Advisor: Dr. Knight (Biology) “Environmental Conditions and Inbreeding Depression in Mimulus ringens”
  • Anna Truszczynski – Advisor: Dr. Knight (Biology) “Which mechanisms promote success in phylogenetically novel invasive species?”