Environmental Studies Honors Thesis

Engaging in the completion of an honors thesis in ES enables a student to examine a set of questions that they co-discover working closely with an ES faculty advisor during the course of an entire academic year. It provides the opportunity to develop a specialized set of analytical skills to in order to make a significant research contribution in their field of study. The products of this inquiry often include presentations at Ruhlman conferences, national professional society meetings, and in some disciplines may result in submission of a peer-reviewed manuscript.

The only route to honors in the major is writing a thesis and passing an oral examination. A student whose GPA in courses in her environmental studies major is 3.5 or higher may apply to write an honors thesis.

The following schedule must be observed. Updated guidelines can be found on the Registrar's website.

Spring Semester, Sophomore Year: Students planning to study abroad should discuss their interest in honors with potential advisors during their sophomore year, and submit their application in April of their junior year abroad as explained below.

Spring Semester, Junior Year: Early in the spring semester of their junior year the potential honors thesis student will meet with a potential advisor to explore topics, determine scope, and to begin to think about forming a three to four person honors thesis committee that would support the area of study. Students and their advisor should also discuss the possibility of summer funding options (described below) as these applications typically have February deadlines. 

Guidelines for Thesis Proposal

The guidelines below frame elements of a successful thesis proposal regardless of the methods or areas of focus. Theses should be interdisciplinary, building on a student's coursework and other experiences in the major. Preliminary proposals should be approximately 4-6 pages in length, and developed in consultation with the student's primary advisory prior to submission. 

  • Proposals should include a clear topic/question/hypothesis and indicate the tools/approaches/research techniques that will be used to approach the topic or answer the question.  Students should also touch on the boundaries and limitations of their proposed analysis, and include relevant background information.
  • The relevance and novelty of the proposal should be clear and accessible to all ES faculty. Students should highlight how their proposed thesis will add to/expand upon the existing literature, making a clear distinction between previous work and new contributions. 
  • Students should include a preliminary literature review, and include a bibliography/list of references in their proposal.  The research question(s) and motivation should be situated within and supported by cited literature. 
  • The proposal should include a rough outline for what the structure of the thesis might look like, (including what the relevant subsections are likely to be), with the understanding that these may change as the thesis process ensues. 
  • Students should also include a rough timeline of when they expect major components of the thesis to be completed.
  • Students should indicate who the primary advisor is and list additional potential committee members who would be helpful for the thesis process.  The composition of the thesis committee will be determined by the ES advisory faculty in consultations with the thesis student.
  • This proposal is due in April of the student’s junior year. For 2018, thesis proposals are due Monday, April 23rd and will be reviewed by ES Faculty with revisions due for reconsideration on May 8th.

The honors committee must include the following:

  • at least three and no more than four people
  • at least two people from the ES Advisory Faculty (including a primary advisor who is a member of the ES Advisory Faculty)

By the end of the semester, the entire ES Advisory Faculty determines if the proposed plan of study is feasible and gives preliminary approval to start the honors thesis process.

Summer Before Senior Year: Students will begin research for their proposed project. This research should directly contribute to the development of the expanded proposal as explained below.

Students are encouraged to apply for on or off campus fellowships to support their summer research. On campus applications for the summer research programs in Social Science and the Science center can be found at:


Note: These applications often have February deadlines.

Fall Semester, Senior Year: Students will submit an expanded proposal to their committee before the first day of classes. This 7-10-page, double-spaced proposal should reflect the student’s summer research and include a detailed timeline.

Click here to view a range of successful thesis proposals.

During the first two weeks of the student's senior year (during add/drop period) the student will meet with the thesis committee to discuss the revised proposal and evaluate the status of the project. The ES Program Coordinator will help to schedule the meeting time and location with the student’s committee. If the committee decides that progress is satisfactory, students may enroll in ES 360 by filling out the special Honors form at the Dean’s office.

Normally at the conclusion of the ES360 a grade of TBG (to be graded) will be assigned. The final grade for the combined 360/370 process is assigned at the completion of the thesis.

Spring Semester, Senior Year: During the first week of the second semester, students will meet with their thesis committee and give a formal presentation and update on the progress of their project. At this point, the committee will decide if the student may advance to ES 370. A list of approved ES 370 students will be sent to the registrar and the office will register them. This is considered the halfway point of the thesis. If students are not able to continue with the thesis, the fall ES 360 is transformed into an ES 350 Independent Study course. Students choosing not to continue with the thesis can decide (in conjunction with their advisors) whether they want to continue on with Independent Study.

Students will submit a complete draft of their thesis to their committee by April 1st. After this draft is submitted, students will consult with their committee to schedule the one-hour thesis oral exam during reading period. For 2018, honors exams will likely be scheduled on May 14th and 15th. Students and their committee should also arrange for a Committee on Curriculum and Instruction (CCI) visitor to attend the defense. Students should contact several faculty to determine if they are willing to be the CCI representative at the defense.

Note: If the student would like to have a local off campus additional thesis committee member present at the defense funds are available from the Deans office to provide an honorarium for this external committee member. This member is expected to participate in the questioning of the student but does not have a formal vote for the conformation of honors. Many students find this process helpful in making research connections beyond the college and expending their list of faculty that might serve as future letter of recommendation writers.

During the spring semester, students are expected to give a public presentation of their thesis research to the Wellesley Community. This 15-20 minute presentation and question & answer period will be for a general audience of ES students and faculty, and will take place over lunch.

On April 9th, students must submit thesis reviewers through the thesis reviewer form with a clear indication of which role each faculty member will serve (honors advisor, honors visitor, department chair or Chair's designee, additional member of the department). Follow the link to more information about the Procedure for Selecting Honors Visitors.

Students will submit a final draft of their thesis in late April of their senior year. For 2018, the Wellesley College Honors Thesis Deadline is Friday, April 27th. By noon on that day, students must submit the thesis document electronically to the College's Repository. The electronic repository will distribute copies of the thesis to the honors examining committee, including the honors visitor. If honors is conferred, the Registrar's copy of the thesis becomes the property of the College Archives. There are no extensions permitted for handing in theses.

During reading period, students will complete the pre-arranged oral exam/defense of thesis. In Environmental Studies, this will be a hybrid of the public presentation, and a more formal discussion (the defense component). The examination should be approximately one hour in length. The oral examination committee is composed of the honors advisor, the department chair/program director (or a designated representative), a third faculty member from the department/program, and a non-voting representative of the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction.

After the defense the committee and the student will determine the date when the final thesis with essential revisions is to be handed in. Submission of the revised thesis usually occurs within 10 days of the defense, and no later than commencement. If revisions to the thesis are suggested or required at the conclusion of the oral examination, the student is responsible for submitting the corrected copy of the thesis to the Office of the Registrar prior to graduation.

Honors Thesis Structure and Format

We expect that the thesis will follow one of two broad strategies. 1) Students may choose to complete a thesis that is broadly interdisciplinary, or 2) students may decide to have a focused thesis that includes an interdisciplinary component, which is broadly related to the thesis topic, but is not a separate entity supplementary to the thesis.

The thesis must include an executive summary that is accessible to the entire Environmental Studies community. The length of the executive summary should be approximately 2-4 pages, single-spaced. In general, this piece should be a concise presentation of the project and its relevance to environmental studies. The ES Advisory Faculty will provide examples of acceptable executive summaries.

There is no single, preferred stylistic format for the honors thesis. All archived copies of the thesis should, however, include a standard title page. See Sample Title Page. The candidate should consult her honors advisor about the acceptable forms for footnotes, bibliography, and other issues of form appropriate to the field. One often-consulted reference is Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations.

Electronic Copies

The Registrar's Office now requires all theses to be submitted electronically. Visit the registrar's office site for guidelines on the submission process. 

Financial Assistance

Limited funds are available to support student research with Wellesley College faculty members. Students seeking a research grant should submit an application form. These forms are available in the Office of the Dean of the College or on the Web.

Library Policy for Thesis Students

Study carrels are available at the Clapp, Art, Music and Science Libraries for thesis students. Request a thesis carrel.