Geology Undergraduate Research
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The faculty in the Geology Department are active in a wide variety of ongoing research projects that frequently involve undergraduate and graduate students in special projects and thesis projects or provide employment.
Some of this research is funded or partially supported from grants to individual faculty members from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, National Parks Commission, Office of Ecology and geological-related companies.
Many of these projects are in the Western Washington region, others include investigations in other parts of the United States, Canada, overseas, or at sea as part of larger oceanographic projects.
Geology faculty availability to advise undergraduate students on research projects will vary; projects must be discussed and approved by faculty before registering for research credit, Geology 300/400 or Geology 490.
Some faculty may have existing research positions to fill; others may need students to identify a specific research subject and develop the outline of the research project together. Because of the variation of research availability, it is imperative for students to think about their research interest beforehand and then contact faculty advisors directly to check their availability, or to ask if there’s space in their research group (see instructions at the end of page).
What's the difference between doing research and taking a class?
Research takes time and hard work. While there are no exams or homework assignments, you will be expected to read a lot of literature, learn new skills (e.g., sample preparation, sample analysis, analytical techniques, new software, modelling, etc.), and write scientifically. Scientific writing is very different from creative writing, and if you're interested in pursuing a thesis of any kind, you are encouraged to check out WWU geology student theses (undergraduate and graduate level) to see what may be expected of you.
Receiving Geology Course Credit for Research
Students may earn geology course credits for research work completed under the advisement of a geology faculty advisor.
There are two ways to receive geology course credit for research work: Geology 300 or 400 (Independent Study), or Geology 490 (Geology Senior Thesis).
A common way for students to progress to the senior thesis is by completing an independent study project first and then further developing the project into a senior thesis. For this reason, it’s beneficial to start thinking about contacting a potential faculty advisor early on (late sophomore/junior stage) so these steps can be discussed in advance.
Option 1: Register for Geology 300 or Geology 400
You may complete a Directed Independent Study with a faculty advisor who is available to oversee your project.
Directed Independent Study, Geology 300 or 400, is an individualized course of study not available through or replacing existing curriculum, to be arranged between one matriculating student and sponsoring faculty member.
- The level will depend on the complexity of your research project, which you will determine with your faculty advisor.
- All academic policies and registration deadlines apply.
- Directed Independent Study courses cannot substitute for General University Requirements and are not eligible for tuition waiver.
Option 2: Register for Geology 490
You may complete a Senior Thesis project. Geology 490 is a research project under direction of faculty.
- The Senior Thesis requires two products:
1) A written summary of the work
2) A public presentation of your results, such as presenting at a department Geology Lunch Talk (GLT), WWU research symposium, AEG conference, etc.
Details should be discussed and finalized with your thesis advisor. The paper will ultimately need to be uploaded into Western’s research work database, CEDAR.
- You may complete a maximum of 9 thesis credits total, and you are allowed to register for 1-5 thesis credits per quarter.
- All academic policies and registration deadlines apply.
Research Credit Details
When to complete research work
In other words, students may not retroactively register for Geology 300/400 or 490 for work they completed in a past quarter.
The same academic policies and registration deadlines apply to Geology 300/400 and Geology 490.
Avoid late registration fees by giving yourself enough time to meet with a faculty advisor, discuss a potential research project, and complete the mandatory Eform before online registration closes for that quarter.
Graduating with Departmental Honors and Distinction
BA or BS students and students in the University Honors College who have completed at least 4 credits of GEOL 490 and have a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher meet the requirements for departmental honors. Those students who have completed at least 4 credits of GEOL 490 and have a cumulative GPA higher than 3.20 meet the requirements for departmental distinction.
Applying Geology 400 or 490 towards your geology major
For Geophysics and BS Geology majors, 3-5 credits of Geology 400 or 490 may count as 1 geology elective course for the major.
For example, if a BS Geology student takes 6 total credits of Geology 490, this will only count as one 400-level geology elective course. This means that the student must still complete two additional 400-level geology elective credits for their major.
Please contact the Geology Office with any questions about how Geology 400 or 490 can apply towards your major.
Paid Research Opportunities
Paid research positions are not always available nor are they guaranteed.
It will vary by faculty and funds available. However, there are a few ways to check if funding is available.
Please note that students getting paid for research may not receive geology course credit for that work, and students receiving geology course credit for their research may not be paid for that same work.
Check with your research advisor
Some faculty may have paid research positions available in their lab group made possible by research grants.
While paid positions are not guaranteed, accepted research students may ask their research advisors if they have any paid opportunities in their lab group.
Work Study Program
If you qualify for Western’s work study program, your research work could be funded by work study dollars.
When you email or meet with your potential research advisor, you can inform them that you are eligible for work study.
If your research request is accepted, then the advisor and student should contact the Geology Office for next steps on arranging a paid research position via work study.
Some faculty advertise paid research positions through the Geology Department listserv. Please check your Western email on a regular basis to make sure you are receiving these notifications.
If you are a declared Geology major or minor and you haven't been receiving notices from the Geology listserv, please contact the Geology Office.
How to Arrange Independent Study, Geology 300 or 400
Step 1: Find an independent study faculty advisor
Your first step will be to find a Geology faculty who is available and willing to sponsor your independent study.
Consider the following questions to help narrow down who to ask: What topics are you interested in? Are there any Geology faculty who specialize in that topic, or currently doing research about that topic?
Each faculty's subspecialties are listed in their profile page on the Geology Website. Some also have personal research websites that detail their work, projects, current research groups, and further details about how to get involved in research. Please review their profiles, and think about the geological fields that you are most interested in exploring.
Step 2: Contact your potential independent study advisor
Once you find a possible independent study advisor, your next step is to email them to ask if they are available to oversee your independent study. In your message, please include a brief introduction of yourself (your year, major, research interest) and a brief description of the topic you'd like to explore.
Step 3: Complete the Independent Study Eform
Once you and your independent study advisor have agreed on a topic and created a plan of study, you will then need to complete the Directed Independent Study and Registration eform to get registered for Geology 300/400.
Your independent study advisor and Geology Department Chair will need to approve this form.
The form must be initiated by you, the student, then forwarded to your faculty advisor who will then submit it to the Department Chair for final approval.
Registration: The Registrar's Office will create the CRN for your Geology 300 or 400 and enroll you once the eform has been approved by all necessary parties.
How to Arrange Geology Senior Thesis, Geology 490
Step 1: Find a thesis advisor
Your first step is to find a Geology faculty who is available and willing to oversee your senior thesis.
Consider the following questions to help narrow down who to ask: What research topics are you interested in? Are there any Geology faculty who specialize in that topic, or currently doing research about that topic? Are there any geology labs that you're interested in joining?
Each faculty or research associate's subspecialties are listed in their profile page on the Geology Website. Some also have personal research websites that detail their work, projects, current research groups, and further details about how to get involved in research. Please review their profiles, and think about the geological fields that you are most interested in exploring.
Step 2: Contact your potential thesis advisor
Once you find a geology faculty you'd like to work with, email them to ask if they are available to oversee your thesis project.
In your message, please include a brief introduction of yourself (your year, major, research interest), a short description of the topic you'd like to explore in your thesis, and a sentence about why you'd like to work with that faculty.
Step 3: Complete the Senior Thesis Eform
Once you and your geology thesis advisor have agreed on a topic and created a plan of study, please complete the Senior Thesis Application Eform with your advisor to register for Geology 490.
You, your advisor and the Geology Department Chair will need to approve this form.
The form must be initiated by you, the student, then forwarded to your faculty advisor who will then submit it to the Department Chair for approval.
Step 4: Register for Geology 490
Lastly, the form will sent to the Geology Department Office. The Geology Program Coordinator will enter an override for you, and send you further instructions on how to register.
Note: Each geology faculty has a different Geology 490 course reference number (CRN) every quarter. If you plan to register for Geology 490 over multiple quarters (this should be indicated on your completed Senior Thesis Eform), you will need an override each quarter to register. Please contact the Geology Undergraduate Program Coordinate for the override.
Please contact the Geology Department Office with any questions about Geology 300, 400 or 490.