What is a senior honors thesis?

The university recognizes academic excellence achieved over an undergraduate’s academic history at Rice. Students majoring in Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences (EEPS) or in Environmental Science (ENVS) with a major concentration in Earth Science may participate in the EEPS senior honors thesis. Students who complete the senior honors thesis are eligible for a ‘Distinction in Research and Creative Work‘, which is granted at commencement and noted in a student’s transcript and diploma.

The senior honors thesis is an opportunity for you to formalize your undergraduate research experience.  This is an opportunity for you to explore the unknown with the help of a faculty mentor.  Unlike traditional courses, you get to participate as an independent scientist, working on geologic problems that are not yet solved and learning new skill sets (modeling, geochemical analysis, field work, etc.).

During the senior honors thesis, you will learn to identify key problems or questions, delve deep into the literature, develop a scientific methodology, collect and analyze data, and finally interpret your results.  You will also hone your skills in written and oral communication of your science.  The experience will help you decide what you might want to pursue in graduate school or elsewhere, such as industry and other fields.


Honors Research

Undergraduates are encouraged to embark on an undergraduate honors thesis. The purpose of the honors thesis is for students to develop and demonstrate their creative and independent research potential. Students are recommended to begin in the fall of their junior year to provide ample time for research projects to be developed, executed and written. Students are expected to enroll in at the course ESCI 481 (Undergraduate Research in Earth Science), during Fall and Spring semesters of their senior year. Juniors who have identified a research project and mentor can also enroll in ESCI 481, but are not required to. Students should sign up for ESCI 481 for 3 credits each semester, under the expectation that they will be dedicating a commensurate amount of time to their research project.

Criteria for participating in undergraduate honors thesis research

  • Strong performance in ESCI courses, in particular, ESCI 321, 322, 323, 324, and 334
  • A grade of A- or better in ESCI 481 Undergraduate Research in Earth Science
  • Letter of recommendation of a faculty research mentor
  • Research proposal

Other Considerations

Students who are accepted into the ‘Rice Undergraduate Scholars Program‘ (RUSP) can substitute ESCI 481 courses with HONS 470 and HONS 471. However, the students will have to meet all other requirements of the honors thesis set by the EEPS department.

Timeline for completing an undergraduate honors thesis

Spring Semester of Junior Year

Students interested in an honors thesis are encouraged to talk with EEPS faculty about potential research topics, identify a faculty research adviser and topic, and to initiate independent research toward an honors thesis. This is, however, not a requirement. If students start their honors thesis research during their Junior year, they can register for ESCI 481 (Undergraduate Research in Earth Science, 1-3 credit hours), although this is not a requirement.

Fall Semester of Senior Year

At the beginning of Fall semester of their senior year, honors thesis candidates should choose a research topic, identify a faculty research adviser, and initiate independent research. The student should select a honors thesis committee, consisting of a faculty advisor, one member of the honors thesis committee, and one other faculty member of their choosing. Candidates are expected to turn in a preliminary written proposal (2 pages) as early as possible during the Fall semester of their senior year, accompanied by a formal application, both of which will be evaluated by the honors thesis committee for consideration of acceptance into the honors thesis program.

Spring Semester of Senior Year

Students continue and complete their research. A mid-semester progress report must be submitted to the thesis committee for feedback. At the end of the spring semester, students submit their final theses, and give public oral exit talks. To complete the honors thesis program, student theses must be approved by the honors thesis committee.

Students accepted into the honors thesis program must enroll in ESCI 401, ESCI 403, and ESCI 481. Throughout the semester students continue to pursue their honors thesis research, while developing and refining their proposed research in concert with their research adviser and thesis committee. Through ESCI 401, students participate in meetings with other honors thesis candidates to discuss basic research protocols and philosophies. Throughout the semester students meet independently with their chosen scientific adviser, and generate data, experiments or models. Students will give oral presentations of their research proposals in public by mid/end-semester, in the presence of their examining committee. At the end of the semester, students must submit final versions of their proposals, describing motivation, hypothesis, methodology, and preliminary results. The honors thesis committee will evaluate the proposals, and if approved, students can continue in the honors thesis program.

Required courses:

  • ESCI 401 Seminar: Undergraduate Honors Thesis (1 credit hour)- Fall and Spring
  • ESCI 481 Undergraduate Research in Earth Science (3 credit hours)- Fall and Spring
  • ESCI 403 Seminar: Department Research (1 credit hour)- Fall ONLY

Leila Wahab, EEPS 2018 undergraduate senior honors thesis student, samples soil at the Warren Ranch near Katy Prairie (just outside Houston) as part of her research to investigate land usage and the resultant soil carbon stores.

Application Process

Students must apply and be accepted to participate in the senior honors research program. The application form can be downloaded here and should be submitted along with a thesis proposal of approximately two pages in length by the end of the spring semester of the junior year. Students will usually be informed of their acceptance into the honors thesis program within a few weeks of their application.

Important Documents and Info

Application form [PDF] [Word]

General information [Undergrad thesis 2019]

Tips on how to write proposals and papers [Writing]

Previous Honors Theses


Anthony D’Souza (Advisors: Masiello)
Air Pollution, Relative Burdens, and Separation Distances on the Houston Ship Channel

Meagan Hale (Advisor: Torres)
The Impacts of Concrete on pH and Calcium Concentration in Houston’s Bayous.           (https://doi.org/10.25611/AJFV-J556)

Madison Morris (Advisor: Siebach)
Characterizing Multiple Episodes of Fluid Alteration within Stimson Fracture Halos, Gale Crater, Mars

Jessica Sheldon (Advisor: Siebach)
When is Drone Photogrammetry Useful for Flood Risk Assessment?  (https://doi.org/10.25611/6MGH-HW48)


Jared E. Nirenberg (Advisors: Ash and Masiello)
Glacially-controlled variations in the biological pump of the Ross Sea in the Mid- to Late Pliocene (https://doi.org/10.25611/5098-yx37‬)


Jennifer Kroeger (Advisor: Masiello)
Water Holding Capacity, Alteration, and Potential Water Cost Savings from Soil Biochar Amendment  (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcbb.12765)


Alexandra Holmes (Advisor: Dasgupta)
The effects of silicate melt composition on metal-silicate fractionation of C and N: Implications for the origins of terrestrial volatiles

Leila Wahab (Advisor: Masiello)
The Interactions Between Land Use History and Soil Chemistry at the Katy Prairie Conservancy (https://doi.org/10.25611/t7d4-zj62)


Sarah Gerenday (Advisor: Lee)
Evolution of South African cratonic peridotites based on micro-XRF mapping and reconstruction of bulk rock composition


Sofia Avendano (Advisor: Gonnerman)
Coalescence styles of bubbles in high viscosity liquids

Adeene Denton (Advisors: Gonnerman, Lendardic)
Tectonic history of Enceladus and it’s ties to the formation of the tiger stripe fractures.

Larisa Lamere (Advisors: Masiello, Dugan)
Biochar geothite interaction:  implications for biochar physical structure and field performance

Emily Paine (Advisor: Lee)
Orbicular granites at Eagle Lake: insight into the history of a pluton

Elli Ronay (Advisor: Lee)
Identifying ash in the Cretaceous Eagle Ford formation: implications for ash source identification and ash dissolution properties