GEL 406 Senior Thesis Requirements

A senior thesis in geology at Central Michigan University is not for everyone, nor is it to be taken lightly. You must commit a significant amount of time to developing the project, doing the necessary research (in the field, in the laboratory, and in the library), analyzing and interpreting the data, writing a comprehensive thesis, and presenting and defending your results. It is a lot of work, and it is not easy, but it can be the best experience you have as an undergraduate scientist.

Are all students entitled to enroll for a senior thesis and are faculty obliged to accept thesis students?

No. A senior thesis involves a substantial commitment by both the department in terms of resources and by the faculty advisor in terms of time. Thus, the department views the senior thesis as a privilege, not a right. Consequently, only students who have demonstrated the ability and promise to complete a thesis will be accepted into the senior thesis program.


Selection is based on review by the department of thesis candidates during a two-step process which involves the department:

  • Evaluating the candidate based on his/her overall qualifications (class performance, recommendations, etc.) with respect to his/her "letter of intent"
  • Evaluation of the quality of the "thesis proposal"

Candidates may not be recommended for acceptance into the program during either of these stages.


If you are accepted into the senior thesis program, you are expected to commit a significant amount of time to your project, and to complete the project in a professional and timely manner. You must realize that acceptance into the program does not imply that a passing grade is automatically awarded. As in any course, you must work to earn your grades; in the past, grades ranging from A to E have been awarded to thesis students. With this in mind, you are encouraged to carefully read and follow the requirements below. It is your responsibility to meet these requirements.


These are the latest times or deadlines for completing each component of your thesis; earlier is better.

  • End of third week of semester BEFORE enrolling in GEL 406. Select an advisor and a project, and submit a "letter of intent" to the faculty.
  • Semester BEFORE you enroll in GEL 406. Enrollment in GEL 597 (Independent Study) is usually recommended; discuss this with your advisor. During this time, you will develop the thesis proposal (and do preliminary research).
  • End of ninth week of semester BEFORE enrolling in GEL 406. Submit your thesis proposal to the faculty. Your proposal must be approved before you can enroll for GEL 406.
  • 6 weeks before end of semester enrolled in GEL 406. Submit a first draft of your thesis to your advisor.
  • 3 weeks before end of semester. Submit a revised draft of your thesis to your advisor and schedule your thesis defense.
  • 1 week before defense. Submit your thesis to the faculty.

Approval to undertake a senior thesis

Typically, a year or more before your final semester, you should meet with potential faculty advisors and discuss potential thesis projects. Be aware that faculty are under no obligation to take you on as a thesis student. If a faculty member does agree to take you on as a thesis student, you must then submit to the department a "letter of intent" to pursue senior thesis studies. This letter provides the title and a very brief summary of your proposed project, and a summary of your academic record. Any other supporting information that you wish to include is acceptable.

The department will review your request and evaluate your qualifications in consultation with your proposed advisor during its next official meeting. Two possible outcomes will result: 1) you will be asked to submit a thesis proposal for further review and evaluation, or 2) you will be denied admittance to the senior thesis program. If denied admittance, you should meet with your advisor or the department chairperson to determine what courses you need to take to complete your major requirements.

Thesis proposal

If, following departmental review of your letter of intent, you are asked to submit a thesis proposal, you should meet with your advisor and develop a plan of attack for constructing a proposal (note: A file of previous thesis proposals are kept in the departmental office and are available for review).

Your proposal should contain:

  • ​A brief introduction containing a short summary of the background problem, what you intend to study, and the potential significance of your study.
  • A summary of previous work in the area or on the subject that has been completed AND documentation of such previous work through references to pertinent publications (These should be catalogued in a bibliography).
  • A methods section including a discussion of the (field/lab/analytical) methods that you plan to employ to generate data. Additionally, a discussion of how you plan to interpret this data would be helpful.
  • A discussion of potential results and their implications, demonstrating that you understand the importance of your project and proper application of the scientific method.
  • A timetable for completion of thesis tasks that you and your advisor have agreed to (in most cases, your advisor may wish to use this timetable as a "contract" whereby your performance is evaluated by meeting the "benchmarks" in your timetable).
  • A realistic budget that covers the expense of your project. This should be completed in collaboration with your advisor. You should realize that you will most likely have to bear some of the costs related to the completion of your project.
  • A complete bibliography prepared in an acceptable journal style.
  • Any figures, figure captions, or tables that are relevant to your proposal.

The completed proposal must be approved by your advisor AND eight (8) copies must be submitted for departmental review by NO LATER THAN the end of the ninth (9th) week of the semester before you enroll for GEL 406.

Thesis research

Thesis research should be carried out in consultation with your advisor. You will need to meet regularly with your advisor to review progress and to address any questions and/or problems that you may have encountered. Failure to meet regularly with your advisor may result in a lower or failing grade.

Preparation of the thesis

The actual thesis should be prepared in consultation with your advisor. A file of previously completed theses are kept in the departmental office for review. Six (6) weeks before the end of the semester, your first draft should be presented to your advisor. Three (3) weeks prior to the end of the semester, a revised copy should be presented to your advisor, and shortly thereafter, if the copy is acceptable, you should schedule a date for your thesis defense. One week before your defense, eight (8) copies of your thesis should be submitted to the department for distribution to faculty. It is your responsibility to meet these deadlines.

Thesis defense

The thesis defense consists of a fifteen-minute presentation to faculty and students followed by a fifteen-minute question-and-answer period. Questions regarding any aspect of your thesis or your general knowledge of geology are possible. Following your presentation and questions, the faculty will meet to evaluate your overall performance and will make recommendations to your advisor. Consequently, your advisor may award a grade ranging from A to E.​