School of Environmental Studies


Environmental Studies


Environmental Studies

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​ENSC 502

Research Project in Sustainability

Course Description

This is an interdisciplinary research project related to environmental sustainability, with supervision and training in appropriate research methods by faculty members of the School of Environmental Studies. The course includes supervised research including a research proposal, a seminar, a poster presentation and a final thesis and oral defense.

Course Coordinator:

Dr. Diane Orihel
Office: Rm 3127 Biosciences Complex

General notes

This course is intended for a self-motivated student with an established record of undergraduate performance, i.e. cumulative GPA of approximately 3.0.  It is the responsibility of the student to secure a supervisor prior to registering in the course.


Open to students in the final year of an honours program in any discipline, and with permission of the instructor of the course and of the Department of the student's Plan. 

Workload Expectations

Because the course is worth 12.0 units, students are normally expected to devote approximately 40% of their academic time to ENSC 502 over the fall and winter terms.

Course Schedule
Date ENSC 502 Description of Activities


Introduction to the course; Review of requirements and marking scheme; Review of topic selection, sources of information; Selection of examiners.  

November 16

Submission of thesis proposal (to supervisor, examiner, course coordinator).


Proposal presentation
March 1 Submission of thesis draft (to supervisor, examiner, course coordinator).

April 2/20

Poster presentation during ENSC 501/502 Symposium. To be arranged by Karen Depew.

April 13/20

Submission of final thesis (to supervisor, examiner, course coordinator).


Thesis examination. The examination consists of a 5-minute presentation follow by questions from the Examination Committee (order of questions will be examiner, supervisor, course coordinator (optional)). To be arranged by Karen Depew.

May 7

You will then need to submit a PDF of your thesis to QSpace at ( Your name and netid will be forwarded to Qspace by the ENSC office so you can register and upload your file. Name your file according to the following convention: ensc_502_lastname.pdf

Please ensure that you have accepted all changes and comments on your document prior to creating your pdf file.  Otherwise, these may show up in your submission. The course coordinator will be notified via Qspace to approve your submission.

You are to submit to the Environmental Studies Collection for Undergraduate Theses.  Do not submit to the Test Collection.  The course coordinator is not contacted regarding these submissions.

Contact if you encounter a problem.

Final marks will not be released until your file has been submitted and the course coordinator notified.

Marking Scheme

Thesis proposal (10%) – Evaluated by your supervisor

Please provide the name of the professor who will act as a supervisor and the name of an examiner (see below for details). If you elect to have co-supervisors, an examiner is not necessary. Your thesis proposal should follow the format given below:

  • Background information (~1.5 pages) – Use the current literature to set the context for your research question. Show how your research question builds off the current literature. For example: What is your hypothesis? Why is your hypothesis important? How will your research fill gaps in the field? Why is the work significant?
  • Plan of Research (up to 3 pages) – What are the aims of your research? For each aim:(i) State the hypothesis clearly; (ii) Present a rationale for the aim; (iii) Describe the experimental approach and why this is the best approach?; (iv) Identify the potential problems and alternate approaches; (v) State the anticipated results and interpretation.
  • Expected significance (0.5 page) – Why is the research important?
  • The maximum word count for the proposal should be about 1500 words.
  • The proposal should use 12-point Times New Roman font, 8.5x11 paper, black ink, 2.54cm margins, and use consistent referencing (you may check with your supervisors to see if they have a specific referencing style they would like you to use).
  • Submit an electronic copy of your proposal unless the recipients elect to receive your proposal in a different form.

This proposal will be evaluated based on: quality of writing and clarity of the proposed research; logical development and organization of proposal; feasibility of proposed research; originality; significance of the proposed research. 

Proposal Seminar (10%) – Evaluated by peer evaluation, supervisor, examiner and course coordinator

A seminar on your proposed research will be presented to your class and supervisory committee and any other interested parties. In your seminar you should provide the relevant background information, your research plan, and the expected significance. Seminars will up to 5 minutes long with 5 minutes for questions. Your committee members will give you constructive feedback on your presentation. All presentations should be in PowerPoint.

Poster Presentation (20%) – Evaluated by peer evaluation, supervisor, examiner and course coordinator

In mid-to-end of March, each student will present a poster outlining the important features of her/his research. The poster will be part of the ENSC 501/502 Mini-Symposium. Students will have the opportunity to outline the significance of their poster in a 2-minute presentation to the combined ENSC 501/502 class (the intent is to encourage other students to come and visit your poster).

Thesis (50%) - Evaluated by your supervisor and examiner

The final thesis must be no more than 40 pages (and no less than 30 = 10-15,000 words), excluding figures, tables and appendices. Please double spaced your text, with the exception of the references, and use a 12-point font. The thesis is restricted to a maximum of 10 Figures and/or Tables. Please use 2.54 cm margins, and proper SI units for abbreviations for common units. For consistency with other theses, page numbers should be in the top right corner of each page. Captions for tables must be above each table and should be in sufficient detail so the Table is understood without reference to the text. Similarly, figure legends should be on the same page as the figure, and should also be of sufficient detail to explain the figure without reference to the text. Figures must be of a high resolution and to the highest professional standards. Your thesis should follow the format of a scientific paper, except that it should have a more developed introduction and literature review. Your thesis should include the following major headings:

  • Title Page - The title page should include the title of your thesis, your name, a statement about the thesis being submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a BSc (Honours), and the month and year.
  • Abstract - This should be a single page in which you describe the results obtained and the conclusions reached. It should not contain methods unless your objective was to develop methods. Nor should it contain arguments or references.
  • Acknowledgments - Be concise but remember to thank everyone who contributed to your work. It is usual to separately thank those who assisted with the data collection, those who read and commented on the manuscript and those who helped in the final preparation of the thesis. Also you should thank any granting agencies that supplied funds (usually to your supervisor) for the project.
  • Table of Contents - the main sections and subsections and give their page numbers.
  • List of Figures - Provide a short title for each of your figures with associated page numbers
  • List of Tables – Provide a short title for each of your tables with associated page numbers.
  • List of Common Abbreviations - Any non-standard abbreviations you use should be defined when first used in the text. Do not use unnecessary abbreviations especially if you are only going to use the term 2-3 times.
  • Introduction and Literature Review - This section should carefully and critically review all of the subjects that are pertinent to your thesis. The Literature Review should demonstrate that you have read and understood the background material for the question being asked, and for the methods and analysis used if these are in any way complex. You should describe the work that let up to the question or hypothesis that you have posed. It is essential not to just describe a list of references but to develop some theme so that this section is interesting and cohesive to the reader. Constantly be aware that you are trying to enlighten the reader as to the framework in which you have performed the research for your thesis. Once the background has been explained, the reader can appreciate the questions you posed or the hypothesis you tested.
  • Materials and Methods (or Methods) - You must state where you obtained the materials used in your thesis and in sufficient detail to enable someone else to obtain identical materials. Similarly you must describe the methods you used so that other people could repeat them exactly. If you are using a procedure developed by someone else, you should reference it. Specific details can always be appended as an appendix.
  • Results - Describe the data you obtained. Well-organized figures really help. This section may be quite short (often less than 5 pages).
  • Discussion - In many ways this is the most important part of your thesis. The discussion should follow logically from the previous sections and you should be constantly aware of the previous sections when you write it. It should also suggest further research that could be performed in this area. It may also include a critique of the project indicating how it could have been planned better.
  • References - Please be sure to follow a commonly used format in the discipline for which you are writing.
  • Summary - Summarize your results and conclusions in 1-2 pages by using short numbered paragraphs or sentences.
  • Appendices - Appendices are a good place to put raw data or complex analyses that are important for references but not critical to the development of the thesis itself. For example, if you have taken dozens of photos to document a particular point, put them in an appendix. Similarly, if you (or your supervisor) feel that a summary of raw data could be useful to future researchers, this is a good place to put such a summary. Since you are limited to 10 figures and tables in the body of your thesis and you may wish to place additional material here. NOTE, however, that your examining committee is not required to look at the Appendices in assigning a mark for your thesis. Make sure, therefore, that everything needed to develop the ideas in your thesis is included in the main text.

Each member of your examining committee will receive the final copy of the thesis along with an evaluation form. The thesis will be evaluated with respect to the writing style, analysis, interpretation of results and overall organization. Each committee member will assign a grade and make comments on the aspects of the thesis. A final grade will be determined by the coordinator based on performance and input from your examination committee.

Thesis Defense (10%) – Evaluated by your supervisor and examiner

The thesis defense will take place after the complete thesis has been read in April. You will be expected to present a brief seminar (4 min. maximum) on your research followed by 20 minutes of questions on the thesis from your examination committee. Each exam will last a total of 30 minutes. You will have to demonstrate that you know and understand the relevant literature, that you can defend the conclusions you have reached and that you understand and appreciate the methods you have used and the limitations of those methods.

Role of the Course Coordinator:
To meet with students in mid-September and introduce the course, review requirements, marking scheme and timelines. Plus review student topic selection and sources of information. Encourage students to select examiners with assistance from supervisors.

To offer guidance through course requirements and timelines.

To attend all presentations and examinations, and to review all written submissions as per the marking scheme requirements.

Choosing a Supervisor

The choice of a supervisor should be based on the topic of the project that you wish to pursue. Supervisors or co-supervisors are normally chosen based on their expertise in an area from faculty within the School of Environmental Studies (joint, seconded, or cross-appointed faculty), or from willing supervisors from other relevant departments. We have cross-appointed faculty with many departments and schools here at Queen’s.

Supervisory Responsibilities

Your supervisor(s) will be responsible for:advising and directing the student in the formulation of your initial thesis proposal; providing feedback and grading the student’s initial research proposal; giving advice and grading the student’s proposal presentation; reading, commenting, and grading the student’s rough draft; and grading the student’s poster presentation, thesis, and thesis defense.

It is the student’s responsibility to set up meetings with their supervisors. These meetings will vary in length depending on their overall involvement and expertise. It is strongly suggested that a meeting(s) take place prior to handing in your thesis proposal, as well as after your proposal has been graded. These meetings allow for informal feedback on the quality of your work and the direction that your project is taking. It is also suggested that you meet with your supervisor(s) on a relatively regular basis.

Choosing an Examiner

The examiner should be chosen for their expertise and should be a faculty member in the School of Environmental Studies, or another appropriate department. This person should be selected based on discussions with your supervisor or the course coordinator. If you are being co-supervised, there is no need for an additional examiner.

Examiner Responsibilities

The role of the examiner is to: attend and grade the student’s proposal seminar if possible (late November); comment on the student’s poster presentation (if possible) (mid March); grade and comment on the student’s thesis and thesis defense (mid- to late-April).