Plan A: Thesis

Thesis Overview

The core of the Master of Science Program in Environmental Studies is the completion of an original Master's thesis. The focus of the thesis is determined by the interests of the student and may range from qualitative research in the social sciences to quantitative research in the physical and life sciences.

The thesis is based on original research conducted by the student under the guidance of a Thesis Advisor and approved by a three-member committee. Prior to beginning the thesis research, each student must complete a thesis proposal signed by the Thesis Committee, as well as the Graduate Coordinator.

The following guidelines are a supplement, not a substitute, for the Graduate Studies Thesis Guidelines. All students should consult with their Thesis Chair for additional instructions.

Choosing your Thesis Committee

The first step on the road to completing the Master of Science thesis is the recruitment of a faculty Thesis Committee Chair and a Thesis Committee. The Thesis Committee Chair must be a tenured or tenure-track member of the Environmental Studies Department. In addition to the Thesis Committee Chair, the Thesis Committee includes two other members. 

The second member of the committee must be a SJSU faculty member with a Ph.D. The other member can be drawn from outside of the university, but must hold at least a Master of Science (or equivalent) degree in the student’s field of study. Have any outside Thesis Committee members read and sign the Thesis Committee Member Form and Information [pdf].

The collaboration between graduate student and Thesis Committee Chair can be profoundly creative and prolific. While many graduate students enter the program with a good idea of who their chair will be, others are not certain, or may need to change Chairs during the course of their study.

Each incoming graduate student is assigned an interim advisor that will advise them on campus resources during their thesis proposal writing stage. For many students this faculty member may ultimately serve as their Thesis Committee Chair, but that is not made official until a student's thesis proposal is confirmed by the advisor of interest. The following tips can help:

  • Take the time to study the research program of each Environmental Studies Advisor.
  • Schedule appointments with potential Thesis Committee Chairs. Remember, it is equally important that your potential Chair be impressed by you as it is for you to be impressed by them, so come prepared!
  • Talk with other graduate students about their experiences with their Thesis Committee Chairs.
  • Ultimately, it is the student's responsibility to find an appropriate Thesis Committee Chair and convince them to serve on the committee.

Once the Thesis Committee Chair has been confirmed, students are to consult with this faculty member on each part of their academic plan.

Thesis and Thesis Proposal Outline

Prior to beginning work on their thesis project, each student must produce an in-depth proposal including extensive literature review and detailed methods. This proposal must be submitted and approved by the Thesis Committee Chair and the rest of the Thesis Committee and then submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.

Front Pages

Carefully follow instructions, including pagination, from the SJSU 14 Formatting Rules and use this example [docx] for formatting front pages and table of contents.

  • Title Page: Mandatory. No page number.
  • Copyright Page: Mandatory. No page number.
  • Thesis Committee Signature Page: Mandatory. no page number.
  • Abstract: Mandatory. One paragraph, one page only. Double-spaced.
    • No reference citations in abstract.
    • No page number required.
  • Acknowledgement Page(s): Optional. Pagination starts at lower case, roman numeral v.
  • Table of Contents: Mandatory. Lower case, roman numeral pagination.
  • List of Tables: If appropriate. Lower case, roman numeral pagination.
  • List of Figures: If appropriate. Lower case, roman numeral pagination.
  • List of Abbreviations: If appropriate. Lower case, roman numeral pagination.


(page numbering restarts at 1)
  • Motivation/Scope - Importance of the problem, big picture. (1-2 pages)
  • Background - Broad logic leading to specific choice of research questions. (1-2 pages)
  • Literature Review (10-15 pages, with 30-45 references). Organized from the general to specific. Subheadings should reflect internal organization. Often includes:
    • Theoretical framework
    • Related research
    • Similar research methods

Problem Statement

Concise (less than 3 pages) statement of central problem culminating in the:

    • Objectives - 1 to 3 sentence summary of overall goals of research
    • Research Questions  
    • Hypotheses (if appropriate) - 3 to 5 specific testable predictions (active or null/statistical hypotheses)


Generally includes (depends on committee):

  • Study System/Site
  • Study Design - organized by research objective(s) and hypotheses
  • Data Collection - organized by research objective(s) and hypotheses
  • Positionality
  • Data Analysis - organized by research objective(s) and hypotheses

Results (thesis only)

  • Organized by research objective(s) and hypotheses

Discussion (thesis only)

Conclusions (thesis only)

Applications/Recommendations (thesis only)

Literature Cited

Appendices (if appropriate)

  • Budget (proposal only)
  • Timeline (proposal only)
  • Curriculum Vitae (proposal only)
  • Original data? Relevant permits, etc.

Citations and References

Citation style and format must be precise and consistent throughout the document. All references should be peer-reviewed academic journal research papers or other primary sources in your field. Internet-only sources should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Thesis Roadmap and Timeline

Design of Research Project (2-3 months)

  • Meet with your Thesis Advisor to determine the focus of your research and discuss potential Thesis Committee members.
  • Review literature on your thesis topic and on the research methods used in your field of interest.
  • Develop a research design in consultation with your complete, three-member Thesis Committee. 

Note: It is a good idea to schedule a meeting with all of your committee members at this stage.

Proposal Review and Revision (2-3 months)

  • Submit your complete thesis proposal to your Thesis Committee (be certain to follow the format instruction discussed in the previous section).
  • Revised the document as requested by the committee members.
  • Repeat the first two steps until the proposal is signed by all three members of the committee.

Preparing the Thesis (3-12 months)

  • Data collection/field work.
  • Analyze data and interpret results.
  • Write and edit your thesis. 

Note: It is strongly advised that students ask colleagues or hire a professional editor to review their manuscripts before submitting them to their Thesis Advisor.

Submitting, Revising, and Defending the Thesis (3-6 months)

  • Write the first draft of thesis and submit it to your Thesis Advisor.
  • Revise thesis as per Thesis Advisor comments.
  • Submit thesis to your full committee (following Thesis Advisor's approval of revision).
  • Revise and revise again, until full committee approval is reached.
  • Present your findings in your thesis defense.
  • Submit thesis to the Graduate Studies office.
  • Revise if necessary.
  • Submit final draft to the Graduate Studies office.

Bound Thesis Copy

All graduate students are required to submit a bound copy of their thesis to the Environmental Studies Department upon completion.

Master Theses and Graduate Research Archive