Senior Capstone

This guide outlines the different options for majors in Earth Sciences (standard major, concentrations in planetary science, ocean science, and environmental geology) as well as ENVS/EART and ANTH/EART combined majors in order to fulfill their UCSC capstone requirement.

The primary options for students are:

*may not count toward fulfilling an upper-division elective if used as a capstone.

E&PS has an annual Capstone Workshop that takes place in the middle of Fall quarter. It will be announced via email and with posters. It is highly recommended that you attend this workshop to learn more about your options. Attendance at this meeting is mandatory for those interested in taking EART 189A/B that school year.

For up-to-date undergraduate opportunities of all varieties (including internships and other field camps for capstone), take a look at flyers posted on the undergraduate bulletin board outside the E&PS main office (A234 in EMS).

    Summer Field EART 189A/B

  • Dr. Hilde Schwartz introduces EPS 188A summer field students to their capstone mapping project in the Poleta Fold Belt of eastern California.

    Our summer field program EART 189A/B (with EART 109, 110A/L, 110B/M as a pre-requisites) is the most straightforward and popular route. It is well-structured and particularly suited for those with an interest in geology. The summer field portion takes place over 5 weeks in late-June (after spring quarter ends) through late-July. Virtually all students really enjoy their time in the field. For more information, please contact Jeremy Hourigan or Noah Finnegan.

    To Do:

    -  Contact Jeremy or Noah and find out how to apply to summer field.

    -  Complete the senior comprehensive approval form.

  • Other Field Camps/Research Programs

  • This is a good choice for many as well, especially those who need structure to their capstone but would prefer the subject matter to be something other than traditional geology offered in our own field camp. Here are a few examples out of a large number of possibilities:

    Alaska Wildlands Program

    SEA Semester

    Los Alamos National Lab Summer of Applied Geophysical Experience

    In general, an acceptable program is comparable to our own summer field program in length and rigor, and is accredited through a reputable university or college, which allows us to transfer the course credit over.

    Usually the hang-up is that some field experiences are very short (say one to two weeks) in length, and these are generally too short to count. Three weeks should be considered the minimum, with four weeks or more preferable. Check with the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor whether or not a program you are interested in will work.

    Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs can be attractive. These typically revolve around doing research in a lab (typically at a university or government facility). Duration is normally much longer than field camp, about 10 weeks, during the summer. Some actually pay a stipend, like a summer job, to help with living expenses.

    To Do:
    -  Find a program that you are interested in and discuss it with the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor to ensure it is suitable as a capstone option.

    -  Complete the senior comprehensive approval form.

  • Senior Thesis

  • Another common choice, especially for students following the planetary or ocean sciences concentrations. This capstone typically involves performing original research under the guidance of an advisor and then writing up the results in the form of a scientific paper. Many faculty consider this to be viable for better students only since it requires more self-motivation and self-discipline.

    You will need one faculty member or researcher to read and sign your thesis. Faculty members from other departments (e.g. Ocean Sciences) are acceptable. Often this person will be your primary advisor, but not always. The project must be related to the Earth and planetary sciences because it is a comprehensive requirement. This is fairly broadly interpreted but it can't be, say, on the historical significance of Orson Welles films.

    This option must set up early. A typical timeline is as follows:

    Spring quarter, junior year: Talk to faculty and find out who has interesting projects to work on for the next year. By the end of the quarter, have a project and advisor identified.

    Summer: do some reading to get ready to do the work for the project. Some students get paid to do research during the summer that will become part of their thesis.

    Fall and winter, senior year: Start or continue the research work. Meet regularly (once per week or more) with the advisor.

    Spring quarter, senior year: Enroll in EART 195. Write up the thesis. This will require multiple iterations. If you are off-cycle, enroll in EART 195 during the quarter you will complete the thesis, typically your last quarter.

    To Do:
    -  Find an advisor and develop a project with this advisor.

    -  Complete a senior comprehensive approval form.

    -  Make sure to sign up for EART 195 during your final quarter.

  • Earth Sciences 191, Climate Change and Policy

  • EART 191 Current and Recent Climate Change: Science, Policy and Politics (cross-listed as ENVS 196).

    This course examines climate and climate change by combining science and policy. It is officially approved as fulfilling the senior capstone requirement for EPS undergraduates. The instructors as well as guests who specialize in different aspects of climate issues lecture on a variety of topics. Students are evaluated based on written assignments and oral presentations. Contact the course instructor, Lisa Sloan (, for more information about this option. It is offered once per year.

  • Internship

  • Some internships have been very successful. Typically this is a one- or two-quarter internship, after which the student will write a report describing their activities. These must be pre-approved in order to count as a capstone. Internships can take place at a very wide range of institutions:

    -  research organizations within UCSC or UC (e.g., Lick Observatory)

    -  city, county, state or federal government agencies (for land, ocean or environmental management, for example)

    -  local or national parks services

    -  research institutes: too many to name, but examples are MBARI, NASA, USGS, NOAA, LLNL, other national labs

    -  companies: from environmental consulting to oil companies

    Many corporate internships are word-of-mouth, so if you're interested in something that our internship program isn't offering, make some calls, send some emails or (best) go in person to drop off a resume. Free labor is always useful, but especially when it's competent labor!

    To Do:
    -  You will need to complete a Learning Contract form to do any internship (for capstone or not). Send an email to for information on the Learning Contract.

    -  Complete the senior comprehensive approval form.

    -  Sign up for one quarter of EART 198.

  • Graduate Course

  • Undergraduates may satisfy their capstone requirement by taking a graduate level course if given instructor permission. A minimum grade of "B" must be attained in order for the capstone to be fulfilled.

    The course chosen must have problem sets and exams OR must require writing a significant paper. If such a paper is not a normal part of the course (e.g., some EART 290 courses), then a separate paper must be written in addition to completing the course. In this case, two options are available for the paper:

    A ~15-page report containing original scholarship, i.e. doing research on something that no one else has done before. For example, applying existing analyses to original data sets.

    A ~25-page synthetic report on a topic that contains no original scholarship, but instead draws on a body of existing studies and examines them in a thoughtful, insightful and coherent manner. Like a term paper but deeper and leading to some new thoughts and conclusions (not just repeating the conclusions of others).

    If a separate report is required, it is expected that the student discusses his/her progress regularly with the faculty advisor before the final draft is produced. This ensures that the report will have the appropriate scholarship, focus, breadth and quality of writing when it is finished. Further, the final draft must go through at least one (and likely more) round of edits and revisions with the faculty advisor before it will be accepted. Note that this course does NOT also count towards your upper-division elective requirements.

    To Do:

    -  Contact the instructor of the course you are interested in taking for capstone credit.

    -  Complete the senior comprehensive approval form

    Course Options

    Not all graduate (200 and up) level courses are suitable for capstone purposes. In general, courses that are lecture-based are more suitable, while those that are seminar- and discussion-based are not suitable. By far the most common course for this option is EART 207: Tectonics. Courses offered this year that may be suitable include EART 290C: Advanced Geophysics, EART 270: Introduction to Seismology, and EART 290K: Topics in Paleontology (requires EART 101). Other examples of potentially suitable courses include: EART 208, 209, 210, 220, 231, 262, 270, 272, 275.

    In all cases, the student must check with the instructor and the department undergraduate advisor ahead of time in order to gain permission to utilize that course as a capstone. Note that, historically, there is a moderately-high failure rate for this option, usually because the student fails to receive a grade of "B" in this course. It is strongly suggested that you choose a different option unless you are at least a B+ student within the major.

  • Education Capstone EART 194F

  • EARTH 194F is the only capstone option for students pursuing the science education concentration. For more information, please e-mail CalTeach.

See Also