Environmental Studies Senior Thesis (ENV S 197)

APPLY to ENV S 197 (for 2024-25 year) - Open now!

VIEW the Senior Info Session

Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Handbook - (.pdf)

Through your Environmental Studies major you will take courses ranging from history to chemistry, math, political science, biology, anthropology, and physics. You will be expected to synthesize the information from many different fields in order to creatively help solve the critical environmental problems facing the world. When you graduate and embark upon an environmental career, you will need the ability to research, analyze and evaluate data, and write and speak effectively and convincingly. 

These abilities can be refined and enhanced through the Environmental Studies Senior Thesis course (ENV S 197), which is an elective to all Environmental Studies and Hydrologic Sciences majors. ENV S 197 is a six-unit course taken during your senior year after all of your lower-division requirements have been completed. In ENV S 197, you will focus the knowledge you have gained from a wide variety of disciplines on a specific problem or issue. To be eligible to enroll in ENV S 197, you must have a 3.0 overall GPA or your Thesis Proposal approved by the Senior Thesis Coordinator. Although the thesis course is offered for only one quarter, this does not mean that you only have one quarter's worth of work to do; students need to spend at least two quarters, if not more, so most students file of an incomplete at the end of the Fall quarter. Writing your thesis can be a long and tedious task; most likely the hardest course you will take while at UCSB. However, it will also be your most rewarding.

Time and time again, Environmental Studies alumni refer to the Senior Thesis course as the best course they could have ever taken. They cannot stress enough the important lessons learned from their experiences' writing their thesis. The most commonly praised skills obtained through this course are:

  • learned how to conduct professional quality research needed in today's high technology job opportunities
  • became proficient on the topic they wrote their thesis on
  • they walk away from UCSB with a professional level writing sample to which they submit to potential employers.

If you are interested in pursuing a Senior Thesis, contact the Environmental Studies Advisors or the Senior Thesis Coordinator, Dr. Jen Martin.


It's obvious that this thesis will require a lot of work from you. In the work you do and in your activities as a responsible member of our society, you will need the abilities developed through the thesis: researching, analyzing and evaluating data, and writing and speaking about your knowledge and conclusions.

In 1991 Environmental Studies distributed a questionnaire to 500 Environmental Studies graduates (year of graduation: 1969 to 1990) and roughly half (251) responded. Nearly three-fourths of the group were presently working in a field that involves environmental issues. When the senior thesis was required for all ES graduates (1972-1993), we recognized that many students were reluctant to undertake the thesis project, so we asked these graduates if the thesis had been optional, would they have done it? Roughly half reported that they would have avoided it, for one or more of the following reasons: fright, laziness, too much work, not enough time to do the thesis, wanting to graduate on time, and wanting to take other classes.

However, the graduates reported overwhelmingly (over 90%) that if they had not done the thesis, they now feel that they would have missed an important educational experience. What would they have missed? Typically, these graduates reported that through doing the thesis, they learned how to follow a major project through to completion. They learned how to use the library, how to talk to professionals and professors about their subject, and how to gather and analyze data. In learning that they could complete a long document, they reported that they gained confidence, improved their writing skills, improved their ability to make oral presentations, and improved their time-management skills. One graduate, now a lawyer, reported, "I learned that research involves persistence, creativity and thoroughness-which I have often had to utilize in legal research." Several reported another benefit, either the skills they developed or (more typically) the knowledge they gained about a specialized area of content led directly to their first job in environmental work.

For most of these graduates, the senior thesis modeled a process of inquiry and communication that they now use professionally. Of those currently working in environmental fields, 95% said that "thesis-like" activities (e.g., gathering and analyzing data, planning, drafting and editing reports) are either "important" or "extremely important" in their work. Perhaps more surprisingly, a strong majority of those not working in environmental fields reported the same. For example, a city planner reported, "...in my profession I'm involved in research, analysis, synthesis and presentation on a weekly basis...." Another graduate said that the thesis modeled professional processes "to a great extent! In a sense my senior thesis prepared me to write my master's thesis. The master thesis prepared me to write a book-length manuscript. They are stepping stones."

Moreover, these "thesis-like" activities of gathering and analyzing data, planning, drafting and revising reports occupy a major amount of the time Environmental Studies graduates spend at work. One quarter of the graduates working in environmental fields spend over 80% of their time in such activities; two thirds of them devote more than 40% of their time to such work. Among graduates working in non-environmental fields, over half spend more than 20% of their time doing "thesis-like" work.