Honors Program

If you find that you enjoy research and want the experience of being the author on a thesis manuscript, consider doing a research honors thesis in your senior year. As an honors candidate, you take the lead on a research project, guided by your thesis mentor, and are responsible for communication of the result to the Cornell community. The experience, while demanding, is great preparation for graduate school or a research career.

If you are a CALS student, your research will be guided by the CALS honors program in which you participate. See the list of fields at CALS Research Honors and ask your research mentor which one is the best fit for your work. Most CALS E&S majors do the E&S honors program. For E&S majors in Arts & Sciences, your thesis is done in E&S as a capstone experience in your undergraduate education.

Program Overview

Ideally, candidates start their thesis research in their junior year. Students doing research abroad or off campus rely on winter and summer breaks to collect data at their field sites.

Your work must be completed early in your senior spring for May graduates (November for December graduates). The thesis manuscript is submitted for formal review to the E&S Honors Committee. Candidates give a public presentation of their research in May. Once the thesis is formally accepted, CALS candidates graduate with Distinction in Research on their diploma. Latin Honors in CALS is awarded separately based on GPA. In Arts & Sciences, candidates are awarded Latin Honors on their diploma for successful completion of a thesis.

You can see examples of honors theses on eCommons, a public Cornell database. Only theses for which authors have given a Release to Publish will be found on eCommons.

Honors Timeline

For the 2020-21 academic year, seniors may apply through Wednesday, September 16. If you are unable to meet this deadline, email environment [at] cornell.edu to discuss further. The E&S Honors application has two parts: 1) the application and 2) thesis proposal (1 - 2 pages) consisting of a description of your thesis question, what is known about it (reference a few key papers if possible), and your methodology for studying the topic (e.g. literature analysis, experimental work, case studies, personal interviews, etc.).


Junior Year

  1. Identify a thesis advisor and research topic.
  2. Apply to the E&S Honors Program by the end of junior year (typically by a June 1 deadline). 

Senior Year

  1. Most honors candidates enroll in Special Studies 4990 - Undergraduate Research, in consultation with their thesis advisor, to receive credit for research work done in fall and/or spring. Enroll in research credits using the CALS Special Studies form available online. You may select the home department of your thesis supervisor to enroll in 4990 related to their field (e.g. NTRES 4990) or you may choose ENVS 4990. [Note: On the Special Studies form, choose ENVS as the home department of your supervisor in order to enroll in ENVS credits.]
  2. Attend one fall and one spring honors cohort meeting with the E&S Honors Coordinator. Dates TBD.
  3. Submit a progress report and annotated bibliography in late fall. Due date will be announced at start of fall semester.
  4. The target date for formal thesis submission is April 15.  (Spring 21 due date may be adjusted).
  5. By the end of classes, students will receive thesis feedback and have an opportunity to revise their writing.
  6. By the end of finals, the students submit the final version of the thesis.
  7. Honors candidates participate in and present the findings of their thesis project in an honors symposium scheduled in May.
  8. Students may volunteer to publish their original honors research on eCommons, Cornell’s digital repository, as long as doing so does not interfere with other plans, such as patenting or publishing in a professional journal. A permission form to allow a thesis to be made available online in eCommons can be obtained from the E&S honors program coordinator.
E&S honors graduate Pamela Wildstein sits behind a desk at COP25
E&S honors graduate Pamela Wildstein '20, at the 2019 U.N. Climate Conference in Chile (COP25) where she interacted with leaders in the energy field for her thesis research on distributed energy resources (DERs).