Master's Thesis Handbook

Introduction to the Master’s Opus

The Thesis

  • What is a Master’s Thesis? 
  • Objectives of a Thesis 
  • Who May Write a Thesis?

Master’s Thesis Structure and Planning

  • Student Responsibilities 
  • Developing a Topic 
  • Developing a Thesis Committee and Workplan 
  • Funding Sources 
  • Oral Defense 
  • Format

Opus Completion Requirements

Appendices
Checklist for Completion of a Thesis
Format Guidelines
Sample Title Page
Opus Verification Form
Petition to Change Master’s Opus
Deep Blue License Agreement
Appendix G – Master’s Thesis Funding Information (Guidelines, Sample Application and Budget Template)

 List of Recently Completed Opus Titles

Introduction to the Master’s Opus

As part of their degree requirements, all SNRE master’s students must complete a project, thesis or practicum. All master’s students are admitted as a project student. The project option gives students a team experience that approximates future work environment. Students can petition for the thesis option when they plan to conduct original research and produce a scholarly work. Although students are not admitted under the practicum option, a student may petition into this option under circumstances described below.

Projects, theses, and practica share common academic expectations and provide different educational experiences. Regardless of the opus type, all include the following academic expectations:

• the mastery of an appropriate set of academic material;
• an understanding of the major steps of the scientific approach (research design) or decision analysis (evaluation of management alternatives) and the successful application of these steps to an environmental problem;
• the ability to demonstrate critical thinking about an environmental problem and the application of appropriate analytical techniques in solving that problem;
• experience in both writing a scientific paper or technical report and giving an oral seminar to peers on the process and results of the study; and
• faculty evaluation of the final product.

Occasionally, students wish to substitute another opus option for the one they were admitted to complete. SNRE’s policy is that changes in the form of the opus must be supported by a faculty advisor and approved by the Associate Dean. Students should submit a written statement that explains why this change is needed. Project students who wish to substitute a thesis must show that they have had or will acquire the integrative team problem-solving experience missed by not participating in a project. Likewise, thesis students who wish to substitute a project must show how they have had or will acquire the training in research methodology. In addition, a student may petition the Associate Dean to undertake a practicum as his/her opus work. The practicum is an individual experience, often developed around an internship experience or the design of a project (see the Practicum Handbook.)

To request a substitution, use the “Petition to Change Master’s Opus” form. SNRE established these substitution requirements to protect the focus and intention of the different Masters options. Petitions will be evaluated on the basis of the rationale for substitution and the availability of faculty resources to support the proposed opus. Such changes must be approved by the Associate Dean.

Master’s students who wish to change their opus option should do so by the drop/add deadline of their second semester (fourth semester for three-year or dual degree programs.) Students who are enrolled in NRE 701.888 (the Master’s Project Planning Course) and wish to change their opus option need to make their decision in advance of the drop/add date or expect to continue with the course and project team through completion.

 

The Thesis

What is a Master’s Thesis?

A thesis is an individual work that is creative, scholarly, and from independent research. The research usually includes a review of literature to delineate a problem or gap in knowledge, statement of objectives, formulation of hypotheses, explanation of methods, collection and analysis of data, report of results, and discussion of conclusions. An abstract, or summary that restates the problem, objectives, methods, results, and conclusions (on a separate page following the title page), is also required. The thesis is reviewed by the student's thesis committee and must meet that committee's standards of quality and quantity. Results of a thesis should be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal.

Objectives of a Thesis

A thesis gives students the opportunity to develop their creative abilities in one or more of the following activities:
• the definition and understanding of environmental issues;
• the development of new knowledge, design and management strategies to address such issues;
• the understanding of the structure and function of biophysical and socio-behavioral systems, and their relationship to environmental issues.

Who May Write a Thesis?

Students admitted as project students may not substitute a thesis without approval from the Associate Dean.  In accordance with SNRE’s policy, a change in opus type must be supported by a faculty advisor and approved by the Associate Dean. Students should submit a written statement that explains why this change is needed. 

To request a substitution, use the “Petition to Change Master’s Opus” form. SNRE established these substitution requirements to protect the focus and intention of the different Masters options. Petitions will be evaluated on the basis of the rationale for substitution and the availability of faculty resources to support the proposed opus. The deadline for submitting the petition is the drop/add deadline of the first year winter term. 

 

Master’s Thesis Structure and Planning

Student Responsibilities

The student is responsible for knowing and meeting deadlines, submitting forms, establishing a thesis committee, and making sure that the thesis is prepared in an acceptable way. The student's thesis committee and SNRE's Office of Academic Programs will provide assistance, but the student ultimately is responsible for timely completion of the thesis.

Developing a Topic

Students should consult with their faculty advisor during their first term of enrollment to begin discussing the appropriate master’s opus for them and defining the topic and scope of their work. Once the thesis committee has been formed and the thesis description approved by the thesis committee, work should begin as promptly as possible. The workplan should allow enough time to obtain and analyze information and write the thesis.

Developing a Thesis Committee and Workplan

The thesis committee consists of at least two faculty members, one of whom must be an SNRE faculty member serving as advisor or co-advisor. SNRE adjuncts, as well as research scientist-track appointees, may also serve as co-advisor. When an advisor who does not hold an appointment in SNRE guides a student's thesis research, that person is listed as co-advisor with an SNRE faculty member serving as the other co-advisor of the committee. The committee is expected to help the student focus on a topic that both meets the student's academic goals and is practicable in the “real” world. It is important that the student and his/her thesis committee clearly understand their mutual expectations with respect to the amount of work to be done—particularly the work being done in the field (e.g., how many summers of field work will be required?).

Funding Sources

Funding may be allocated by the School, received from a sponsoring organization, accumulated by additional fundraising, or a combination of the above. OAP oversees various funding opportunities. Potential funding sources include:

• SNRE Thesis Research Grant: Thesis students may apply for the SNRE Thesis Research Grant. Application and budget template forms are available on the SNRE website. See Appendix G for sample forms. Each student is eligible for up to $1,000.

It also may be appropriate to solicit funding from outside the School: the Horace H. Rackham Graduate School awards (limited) Travel  and Graduate Student Research Grant funding (Http://www.rackham.umich.edu/faculty-staff/awards/student-funding) the International Center awards (limited) funding for work overseas.

All of these opportunities require that a student submit a completed application form and proposal (including a budget) and receive approval before incurring expenses. Contact the appropriate office for additional information.

Oral Defense

Responsibility for approving the thesis is delegated to the thesis committee. An oral presentation and defense is mandatory, although, with approval of the thesis committee, students may substitute presentation at a professional meeting for a public defense at SNRE.

Format

For format guidelines, see Appendix 'Format Guidelines'. Bound examples of theses are available in the Shapiro Science Library.

Opus Completion Requirements

The student must have enrolled in at most 6 credit hours of NRE 700. Each thesis must culminate in a written document.

The School moved to electronic media as the ‘copy of record’ for the master’s project. “Deep Blue” is the University of Michigan’s permanent, safe, and accessible service for representing our rich intellectual environment online. The final version is to be delivered to OAP as a PDF, along with the signed “Opus Verification Form”, a copy of the title page, an abstract of the thesis, and the “Deep Blue License Agreement” . The electronic copy will be stored on “Deep Blue”, maintained by the Shapiro Science Library.

The finished copy of the final thesis must be submitted to OAP by 5:00 p.m. on the last day of scheduled classes for the term in which the degree is expected. Failure to submit this copy will delay your graduation.