Majors, especially seniors, should be thinking about Capstones and Honors Theses.  Here is an explanation of the differences between them:


All geology majors must complete a capstone project under the guidance of one or more geology faculty. The geology capstone provides an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate their skills in relation to a question of geological significance. In order to fulfill the capstone requirement, students must 1) consult with their capstone advisor to identify a research topic; (2) fulfill any writing requirement that their specific advisor may have (each advisor has their own approach; there is no formal written component of the capstone requirement in geology); and (3) present their research to their professors and peers at the annual Geology Capstone/Honors Thesis Symposium event, which is scheduled in April of the spring semester. All geology seniors are required to attend this event.

A capstone can be based on summer research (completed under the supervision of a Macalester professor or an off-campus advisor), academic year research (ideally undertaken in your senior fall), Study Away or January research (work undertaken during Study Away or as part of a departmental January trip or project), or a literature-based research paper examining a geology-related topic of interest to you.

You should identify a capstone advisor and a capstone project by the fall semester of your senior year. If you need help with this process or have questions, check in with the department chair or your academic advisor.


1. NOT required

2. Must meet the campus requirements for completion of an honors thesis. (See

3. Honors projects are almost always based on research projects begun during the summer PRIOR to your senior year at the latest (many honors students have conducted research over multiple years).

4. Honors projects typically require more analytic, modeling, and/or field work than a capstone project.  Collection and analysis of your own data is usually expected, and often continues into January of senior year.  Critical analysis of the data, including extensive work in creating figures, background research, and writing drafts is expected. In addition, there is an expectation that you will be able to put your own research into the context of previous work, and understand how your research contributes to the field of study.  Occasionally students will have made sufficient contributions to co-publish research with their research advisor.

5. Honors students must have not just a Macalester Geology Department honors advisor, they will have a thesis committee comprised of at least three individuals.  Occasionally a committee member external to the College is invited to be a committee member.  The thesis committee is typically responsible for reading and commenting on a near-final draft of the honors thesis, and participates in a final oral examination with the student, among other things.  Once the oral presentation (same as the capstone presentation) and oral exams are successfully completed, the committee will sign the honors paperwork prior to the deadline.

6. Majority of students conducting honors research will take independent study credits with their advisor during their senior year, sometimes both semesters.

7. Completion of an honors project will appear on a student’s final college transcript, and students will be acknowledged in the commencement program and at an end-of-year luncheon.