The comprehensive exercise in Environmental Studies typically involves a group research project. Students will take a 3-credit senior seminar (ENTS 395), which is currently offered fall term, and then pursue a 6-credit group-based research exercise during winter term (ENTS 400). Students and faculty advisors work to write 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 symposium. 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 three conditions, as detailed below.

The Senior Seminar (ENTS 395) and the Research Proposal

This seminar is focused on developing a well-crafted and effective research proposal. During the seminar, students will form groups of 2-4 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 forms of knowledge 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 roughly 15 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 problem and 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. 

Proposals must be approved by the seminar instructor and your group’s advisors.  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 advisors in winter term (or, in rare cases, in spring term). Your advisors 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 pages, 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 problem and 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:

  1. The level of sophistication and complexity of the project.
  2. Your ability to handle complexity.
  3. Your ability to qualify your conclusions appropriately.
  4. Your awareness of how different disciplinary forms of knowledge, theories and approaches can contribute to defining, analyzing and answering your question
  5. Your effectiveness in communicating your argument to others.

Submission Procedure

All groups must submit one copy of their comps paper to their comps advisors and one electronic copy to the ENTS Administrative Assistant, Lisa Falconer, no later than 5:00pm on the last day of classes during winter term. 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.

Your comps advisors may request that you submit your paper earlier, but in no case will comps papers be accepted after 5:00pm on the last day of classes for winter term.  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 “Satisfactory”, “Unsatisfactory”, and “Distinction” are made by the ENTS program.

In addition to your paper, each student must submit a report to their advisors on their own individual contribution to the paper. 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 Comps Symposium

The annual Environmental Studies Comps Symposium is an opportunity to share your comps research with the Carleton community.  It is customarily held in the third week of spring term and involves a roughly 20-minute presentation of your research and time for questions and discussion.  This is one of the highlights of spring term, a moment when the whole program comes together to learn about the seniors’ comps research projects.  The event often includes the annual senior dinner with the faculty as well.


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

  1. The quality of the research paper
  2. The quality of the student’s performance at the symposium
  3. 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 three conditions:

  • The ENTS 395 comps research proposal is not approved by the seminar instructor and your advisors.
  • The comps research paper prepared for ENTS 400 is deemed unsatisfactory.
  • The student has special circumstances (usually illness or a family crisis), as determined by the ENTS faculty. 

The exam will be determined by the ENTS faculty.