ENTS Comps Guidelines

Environmental Studies Comps Guidelines

The comprehensive exercise in Environmental Studies involves either a group research project or a written exam.  The group research project is the expected approach.  It culminates in a research paper that will be delivered at the annual ENTS comps symposium during spring term.  Successful completion of comps includes completing both the paper and participating in the conference.  Only in exceptional circumstances may an individual presentation before the ENTS faculty be substituted for participation in the conference.  The exam option is used under two conditions, as detailed below.

The ENTS faculty will choose a theme for comps each year, to be announced no later than spring term of the class’s junior year.  Comps projects are expected to relate to this theme.  Students will take a 3-credit senior seminar (ENTS 395), which is currently offered fall term, and then pursue a 6-credit group-based comprehensive exercise either winter or spring term (ENTS 400).

The Senior Seminar (ENTS 395) and the Research Proposal

This seminar is focused on developing a well crafted and effective research proposal, with secondary consideration given to investigating the comps topic.  During the seminar, students will form groups of 3-4 and develop a research proposal that treats the comps theme in some way.

Good research projects grow out of real-world problems or issues.  We will look to see that your group is aware of and consciously tries to integrate different disciplinary approaches and/or knowledges that are relevant to the problem you are investigating.  We are particularly concerned that ENTS majors demonstrate confidence in making arguments using both quantitative and non-quantitative reasoning.

We expect the research proposal to be 8-10 pages, and to include the following:

1)  A title.  Choose a working title that is concise and allows others to clearly infer the topic and focus of your research project.

2)  A well-formulated and clearly-stated research question that can be answered within the time frame given.

3)  A literature review.  Explain how your research will relate to, build on, and depart from the work of others who have addressed the problem you are investigating.  What contributions do you expect your research to make to a specific scholarly or policy debate?

4)  An explanation of the methodologies the project will employ, including identification of the relevant sources of empirical data.  We expect all comps project to make use of empirical data (either primary data gathered by the group or secondary data sets).  Some ENTS money is available to help defray expenses associated with data collection.  Students interested in receiving ENTS support for data collection should submit a request in writing to the ENTS director.  Awards of up to $200 are available per comps project.

5)  If the project includes philosophical, artistic or literary analysis, the proposal should identify the scholarly literature that will inform such analysis.

6)  A specific timeline and work plan that lays out, in detail, when each task will be completed and which group member is responsible for which tasks. 

Every proposal must be approved by two ENTS faculty members (normally this will be the seminar instructor and your group’s advisor).  If the research proposal is not approved, the group will not be permitted to pursue the research project.  In lieu of the research project, the group will take an exam during winter term.  A passing grade on the exam will be deemed successful completion of comps. 

If the research proposal is approved, your group will register for 6 credits of ENTS 400 with your advisor in winter term (or, in rare cases, in spring term).  Your advisor may require progress reports and/or modification of your proposal during the comps process, to ensure that the project can be carried out successfully.

The Comps Paper

We expect comps papers to be approximately 25-30 pp., the final length dependent upon the nature of the project.  In evaluating your comps paper, we will look for:

1)  A well-formulated, original research question.

2)  An explanation of how this project contributes to a specific scholarly or policy debate.

3)  Effective use of quantitative or qualitative data to answer the question.

4)  Effective use of appropriate quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies. 

5)  Effective analysis of ethical, conceptual, literary or artistic issues, when the project raises such issues.

6)  A clearly-stated conclusion that is supported by the evidence.

7)  A well-structured argument and clear, engaging prose.

8)  Limitations of the study and suggestions for further research on the question.

9)  Acknowledgment of the people who helped with your project, including your advisor.

More generally, we will be evaluating:

  • The level of sophistication and complexity of the project.
  • Your ability to handle complexity.
  • Your ability to qualify your conclusions appropriately.
  • Your awareness of how different disciplinary knowledges, theories and approaches can contribute to defining, analyzing and answering your question
  • Your effectiveness in communicating your argument to others.

Submission Procedure:

All groups must submit one copy of their comps paper to their comps advisor and one electronic copy to Lisa Falconer no later than 5pm on the date they are due. Please use the standard title page. Sign the page, scan it, and attach it to Lisa Falconer's electronic copy if you want to give the Program permission to use your comps for educational purposes.

In winter term of 2016-2017, the due date is Friday, March 10, 2017.  Your comps advisor may request that you submit your paper earlier, but in no case will comps papers be accepted after 5pm on the above due date.  Comps papers that are submitted after the submission deadline will not be considered for distinction.  In certain cases, groups may be asked to revise and resubmit their comps projects.  All decisions on “Pass”, “Fail”, and “Distinction” are made by the ENTS program.

In addition to your paper, each student must submit a report to their advisor on their own individual contribution to the paper.  The reporting form is here.  The report will help us evaluate the comps process.

All groups should also submit a copy of their final comps paper to the digital archive.  (The instructions are here)

The Conference

The conference will be held Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Your group will be allotted 20 minutes; no more than 10 minutes should be devoted to presenting your research.  The rest of the time will consist of a question and answer period.


Distinction is defined at the College level as an individual honor.  We will award distinction based on:

  • The quality of the research paper
  • The quality of the student’s performance at the conference
  • An evaluation of the student’s contribution to the paper and to effective group dynamics.

The Exam

The exam is offered to students to fulfill comps under one of two conditions: 1) the ENTS 395 comps research proposal is not approved by two steering committee members; or 2) the student has special circumstances (usually illness or a family crisis), as determined by the ENTS faculty.  The exam will be based on the annual comps reading list and other materials determined by the ENTS faculty.