Getting involved in research while you are an undergraduate is a great way to see how what you learn in regular classes can be applied to whatever field of geoscience interests you. Research experience will give you a taste of what graduate school may be like, and if you apply to graduate school this is likely to give you a distinct advantage. In addition, if you plan to use your degree for industry, consulting, or regulatory work, showing that you have been involved in research is likely to make you more competitive when applying for jobs. Working closely with a faculty member also lets that person get to know you and your abilities, so they will be able to write you a detailed letter of recommendation when you apply to graduate school or for jobs. Professional ties that you establish now can last a lifetime, and your faculty mentor can become a valuable resource for you now and in the future.
Undergraduate Research Opportunities in the Department
In addition to research opportunities as part of a semester abroad and field camp in New Zealand (see above) one of the advantages of being at a university like SU is the cutting-edge research undertaken by faculty, post-docs and graduate students. Undergraduates have opportunities to engage in research, participate in collection/interpretation and synthesis of data, and to present research at national meetings. Even if undecided as to your specific interests, or you haven't taken many classes yet, valuable experience is gained by participating in research. The experience may involve many different aspects of undertaking research, including preparing samples and gathering data, modeling data, field work, and/or training on one of the pieces of analytical equipment housed here in the department. These sorts of opportunities may lead to independent research projects and possibly class credit or an independent study in association with this work. There are also off-campus summer programs in which students can participate.
Participate in an Ongoing Research Project
If you are interested in doing an independent research project, speak directly with a professor whose classes or work inspires you and see if there might be an opportunity to get involved. It is never too early to inquire about this - some students get involved as early as their freshman or sophomore years. If faculty have assigned research funds, you may get paid. Students who are eligible for work student should be sure to mention this during the conversation, as this often makes working for pay more feasible.
Senior Thesis Project
Independent research projects generally lead to a written report of your work, detailing your methods, results and conclusions. Such reports can become a Senior Thesis and may fulfill the requirements of a capstone project for students in the Honors Program or for Graduation with Distinction in the Earth and Environmental Sciences. Students undertaking research often present their results at regional or national meetings (e.g., Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, Central NY Association of Professional Geologists), and there is support available from the department for students attending a conference to present their work. Some projects even get published in peer-reviewed literature with undergraduate students as co-authors or even as the lead author.
Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) Program
Students can also gain experience doing research by applying to the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. NSF REU programs provide for a small group of undergraduates (usually around 10) to work closely with faculty members and other researchers on a particular project. Work might be done on a university campus, at a field station, or at remote locations in the field, and usually operate over the summer. SU Earth Sciences students have participated in REU projects in places as far away as Svalbard (glacial environments), east Africa (rift basin tectonics and evolution), and Costa Rica (watershed hydrology). Students are granted stipends and may also receive support for travel and housing. Applications are competitive and students apply directly to the host institution, not through the NSF. See the projects you can apply for at the National Science Foundation site. Deadlines are early in the spring semester for the following summer, if not before. Depending on the project in which you are involved, you might be able to use participation in an NSF-REU to fulfill the requirement of an approved field experience for the Bachelor of Science degrees. Discuss this possibility with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Funding for Undergraduate Research
Funding is available from a variety of sources for students doing faculty-supervised research. An application for funding involves a brief description of the research project and why it is interesting and important, plus a proposed budget for the work to be done. Applications are competitive. Several processional societies offer funding for student research (see link below). Students should discuss these and other possible outlets for funding with their faculty supervisor, as they usually require a letter of support from the advisor. Deadlines are typically early in the spring semester. Students can also apply for funding from the Department through the John James Prucha Field Research Fund, or from the College when suitable outlets are available.
Course Credit and Degree Options
Students may register to receive course credit for independent research work. In each case, a faculty sponsor must sign the petition agreeing to supervise the work and specify the criteria upon which you will be graded.
- EAR 490 Independent Study 1-3 credits: Independent study credits can apply to a range of focused topical work with a faculty member, including work on a research project. These credits can be applied to a short-term project completed in one semester, or they can be applied toward various stages of a project that stretches over several semesters and that may or may not culminate in a senior thesis. This is a graded course, and you and your faculty supervisor need to specify the types of work to be done and how you will be assessed for a grade.
- EAR 409 Senior Thesis 3-6 credits: A senior thesis is independent, hypothesis-driven research involving investigative tools and techniques in the Earth Sciences. Students must submit a written thesis to the department and give a public seminar at the conclusion of their work. Students interested in doing a Senior Thesis in the Earth Sciences should discuss this with their faculty research supervisor as early as possible. It is important to develop a clear plan for completion of the work, with deadlines by which to have specific tasks completed and draft versions submitted to the faculty sponsor. Students should register for EAR 409 in the semester in which they plan to submit the thesis; credit in prior semesters should be for Independent Study (EAR 490). Written approval by a faculty supervisor and permission of the department are required in order to register for thesis credits. EAR 409 is open only to seniors in the B.A. and B.S. programs in Earth Sciences. Students striving to graduate with Distinction in the Earth Sciences are required to complete a senior thesis.
- EAR 499 Honors Capstone Project 3-6 credits: Students in the Honors Program are required to complete a senior thesis (capstone project) in their major. Honors students should register for EAR 499 rather than EAR 409, but all of the statements above for EAR 409 apply equally to EAR 499. This is the equivalent course number for those students enrolled in Honors.