Mastery of a body of theoretical literature is necessary to develop a research question, complete research, and write a publishable report. The specific body of literature that must be mastered varies depending on the student’s specialization. Faculty advisors have their specializations and teach the theory of that specialization in separate courses. There are as many options here as there are faculty members.
Science is a systematic process aimed at gaining reliable and defensible knowledge in as objective a manner as possible. Mastery of the scientific enterprise requires a solid grounding in the philosophy underlying the different aspects of scientific methodology (i.e., induction, hypothesis formulation, deduction and systematic hypothesis testing) and appreciation of their limitations. Students should also learn the steps one takes to develop a rigorous research proposal, including how to formulate an interesting research question and how to develop a research plan that elaborates the systematic steps that will be followed to answer the question. Finally, students should gain understanding of professional ethics and norms of conduct in executing research and reporting scientific data.
There are many ways that scientific research can generate data and insights about the environment. But a rigorous data gathering process is predicated on proper a priori study design. Students are, therefore, expected to study how to elaborate the theoretical principles related to the study they plan to execute as well as apply the design principles in their discipline. Appropriate courses could include statistical sampling methodology, experimental design, the design and execution of questionnaires, polls and surveys, and qualitative research methods.
The form of data analysis is highly variable across disciplines owing to variability in the methods and instruments by which data are gathered and the way data are analyzed to answer research questions. But the skill to elucidate patterns in data, generate hypotheses based on the data, and to use data to adjudicate among competing research hypotheses, is a universal requirement across the sciences. Accordingly, students will be expected to be broadly trained in the use of both qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques.
After gaining such training, students will be free to employ the data analysis methods in their projects as appropriate for their disciplines. Appropriate courses should include a statistics course as well as course coverage of other topics, as appropriate such as analysis of data from textual and archival sources, analysis of survey data, quantitative analysis of experimental data, or mathematical modeling of biophysical processes. All such coursework should provide training beyond the introductory level so that research that requires statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, or statistical modeling can be conducted in a credible manner. Every year, many intermediate or advanced courses are taught within the school and throughout the university, especially in the departments of economics, statistics and biostatistics, anthropology, sociology, and political science. Analytical skills may also be learned in one-on-one project courses with the research advisor.
Coursework may be required to attain technical skills needed to execute a particular research project. Appropriate coursework may range from field courses, training in measurement and sample analysis techniques to foreign language proficiency.
Application of Scientific Knowledge
In keeping with the School’s mission of engagement with the real world, students are expected to do coursework that addresses the application of scientific data to environmental problem solving. Appropriate coursework could provide students understanding of the social, political, economic perspectives of environmental management, and/or the application of data in the policy-making and management process.
Students must complete extensive, independent research under the guidance of the research advisor to fulfill their degree requirements, so each student must enroll in independent research courses to receive credit for this research. Course numbers for independent research are provided near the end of the School Bulletin. These are distinct from independent study courses (course numbers are listed near the end of the Bulletin), which are additional to, and not intended for, fulfillment of the research requirement of the individual’s MFS or MESc degree program. Students may enroll in a sequence of one or more of these courses to complete their research and they may sign up for three or more credits per semester depending on the research effort.
Students are expected to complete, at a minimum, a substantial scholarly piece that culminates from the principles of study design, execution and analysis of data learned in other courses. The scholarly piece should report on the study’s theoretical context, major research questions, design, execution and findings. This may take the form of a single research article or a collection of several chapters (drafts of which may be written in regular courses). Whatever form it takes, the expectation is that the MFS or MESc research will produce by the end of the program a significant piece of scholarship that is publishable in a peer-reviewed journal or other forum.
An important part of conducting research is communicating research findings to the wider scientific community. Therefore, as part of their degree requirement, students must present the findings of their research at the annual Masters Student Research Colloquium. Students will receive a grade of Satisfactory Completion for this effort.