Working singly or in groups, students apply skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to tackle real-world environmental challenges through a well-formulated and defensible analysis. The Master's Project (MP) is a culminating experience for all Master of Environmental Management (MEM) and Master of Forestry (MF) students.

Origin of Topics

MP topics may originate from faculty, students, client partners, or a combination thereof. During students’ first semester, MP ideas are collected and developed by a team of faculty and administrators. In some cases, students may also develop their own ideas. During their second semester, students are given a menu of MP topics from which to select from. They are then thoughtfully matched to projects based on interests and skillset.

Types of MPs

All MPs require a workload equivalent to that of 1.5 – 2 classes (i.e., 4-6 credit hours), yet the type of MP can vary significantly. MPs may be done individually or in groups of 2-5 students. Both individual and group MPs may be either client-centered or research-based. MPs can be classified into four categories:

  • Client-centered group project
  • Client-centered individual project
  • Research-based group project
  • Research-based individual project

Client-centered MPs

Client-centered MPs are conducted in collaboration with, or for the benefit of, a real-world client. Clients can be private-sector corporations, government agencies, or non-profit organizations, and can be based in the local community, across the country, or even abroad. Client-centered MPs typically do not follow the usual format for scientific research, and instead may result in the formation of management plans, educational curricula, policy analyses, business plans, or other similar deliverables. These projects are mutually beneficial, with our students achieving additional professional growth by collaborating with a real-world client, and the client receiving tangible research benefits at no cost.

For Clients

Interested in proposing a project for your organization? A faculty advisor will first work with a potential client to define the precise scope of the project. A group of students (4-6) or, on rare occasions, a single student will then be matched with the client and the project. Work on the project will begin in March of the student’s first year and will be completed during April of the second year.

How to Propose a Project

Research-based MPs

Research-based MPs more closely resemble the type of work completed for a Master’s thesis. Such MPs follow the usual format for scientific research (i.e. introduction, methods, results, and discussion), introduce a brand new idea or theory, and may involve original laboratory or field data collection. Students wishing to pursue additional schooling or research-based employment after their MEM or MF degree may benefit from this type of MP by receiving tangible research experience.

All MPs should be of publishable quality, although they need not be comprehensive enough to stand alone as a publication (yet some are later published either as stand-alone papers or as part of a larger piece of work). Regardless of type, all MPs should explicitly follow an accepted method of analysis within the research field in question.


Past Master’s Projects

Database of Past Projects

Exemplary Projects (2017)

Author(s) Concentration Title
Dennis Bartlett
Ted Herman
Andrew S. Klinkman
Business Models for Extracting More Useful Life from Lithium Ion Battery Systems
Eleanor P. S. Johnstone EE San Francisco’s 2030 District: Performance and Implications for Urban Energy Efficiency
Louis M. Winkler EE/MBA First Order Estimates of the Potential Electric Power Generation Capacity and Associated Impacts of Widespread Commercial P.V. Solar Build Out in North Carolina
Tess Petesch EEP Impacts of Disease in Shrimp Aquaculture on U.S. Capture Fishery Prices
Erin L. Litzow EEP The Impacts of Rural Electrification in the Kingdom of Bhutan
Elissa Tikalsky
Reilly Henson
Sofia Tenorio Fenton
Understanding Pathways to Contaminant Exposure in North Carolina’s Community Gardens
Nathan Walker ESC Improved Connectivity Analysis Using Multiple Low-cost Paths to Evaluate Habitat for the Endangered San Martin Titi Monkey (Callicebus oenanthe) in North-central Peru
Emily Mills ESC Forest Elephant Movements and Habitat Use in a Tropical Forest-Savanna Mosaic in Gabon
Catherine Bowler
Jennifer Brennan
Samantha Kuzma
WRM Integrated Water Finance Solutions to Drought in the Yakima Basin: Recommendations for the Yakima Drought Relief Pumping Plant (YDRPP)
Pedro Gochicoa
Lucas Eastman
WRM A Climate and Operational Vulnerability Assessment of the Water Company in Salamanca, Chile
Brianna Elliott CEM Analyzing the Role of Sound in the Endangered Species Act: A Petition for Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) Critical Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico
Melissa Whaling CEM How Tos For Turtle Tourism: A Review of Sea Turtle Tourism, Its Impacts, and Guidelines to Inform Stakeholders in Martinique
Alexandra Aines CEM Feeding Habits of the Tiger Shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Spencer Cote EEH Produced Water Spills Related to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development in North Dakota


For Current Students

MP Process & Timeline

Although the timing of different steps may vary slightly by program areas, the following explains the major steps in formulating, executing, and completing a master's project. 

Semester 1

A. Development of MP topics by NSOE faculty and staff
Every fall semester, MP topics are developed collaboratively with clients and faculty, based on research needs and student interest. Descriptions are finalized and prepared for publishing by NSOE administration.

B. Completion of online MP tutorials
During their first semester at the Nicholas School, students are required to complete an online series of tutorials in Sakai. The tutorials are designed to introduce the MP process and explain various types of MPs as well as types of research, methods and approaches that may be used in MPs. The tutorials help prepare students to select an MP topic and appropriate supporting courses in subsequent semesters. The students will be automatically enrolled and will be informed by professional studies staff when the tutorials are available for use.

C. Submission of student-driven MP topics to program chairs
Students wishing to do a solo MP will submit their idea for approval by their program chair(s). (Please note that this deadline is waived for certain program areas, as solo MPs are handled differently across programs.) Students may also submit their own ideas for group MPs at this time.

Semester 2

D. Publishing of Group MP topics
A menu of client-centered Group MP topics will be available online to students at the start of the Spring semester of their first year. Students will have two weeks to rank their preferences via an online form. Programs offering solo MP ideas will also make this menu available at this time.

E. Group MP assignments
Students will be assigned to group MPs by a committee of program chairs and NSOE administration, who will carefully consider student interests and skillset. Students are not guaranteed their first choice of project, but very often are matched with one of their top priorities. Students are then required to set up an initial meeting with their advisor(s) within three weeks of placement.

MP Advisors

Proposed MPs will have pre-assigned faculty advisors (and in some cases, clients) attached to them. Once assigned, students may or may not have the same coursework advisor as MP advisor. MP advisors will have a Duke faculty appointment (Lecturers, Assistant, Associate or Full Professors, Professors of the Practice, Adjunct Professors, or Visiting Professors), and can also be Duke faculty outside of the Nicholas School. Others that are associated with the Nicholas School or have ample knowledge in the necessary subject area can act as de facto MP advisors, but need to serve with a Nicholas School faculty member as the primary advisor (who will sign and approve the final MP as well as with whom the student will register for MP credits). Students wishing to change MP advisors can do so here.

F. Submission of MP Proposal (Draft)
Once assigned, students begin preliminary work scoping and developing a plan for their MP. Draft MP Proposals are due to advisors approximately one month after MP assignments are made. The format of the MP Proposal is described online here. Groups will submit one single report together.

G. Submission of MP Proposal (Final)
A final project proposal (approved and signed by the student’s MP advisor) is due to Academic and Enrollment Services one month after Draft Proposals are submitted. Students who fail to meet this deadline will be unable to preregister for their next semester without written approval from their advisor, and may find that their graduation is delayed.

Changes to a Master’s Project

Any major change in the subject matter of an MP, between submission of the MP Proposal and Final Report, requires submission of a new proposal, which must be approved by the advisor. Furthermore, at least one semester of study is normally required after submission of a new proposal before the student is eligible for graduation.

Reaching Faculty during the Summer

All students must maintain close contact with their MP advisor during the period when the project is being developed and written. Communication during the summer and regular meetings during the academic year are necessary to ensure progress toward completion. However, research or other commitments may cause faculty members to be away from campus during the summer. Students who will need to consult with their advisors during the summer should make arrangements for this beforehand.

Semester 3

H. Presentation of status report
Upon returning from the summer, students will begin work on their MP (unless there is an internship component). After work has begun, students will give brief presentations on their progress to other faculty and students in their program.

Semester 4

I. Submission of Final Report (Draft)
A complete draft of the final report must be submitted to the advisor by the beginning of the 7th week of their final semester. Students should keep in mind that advisors typically need 10-14 days to edit each draft and revisions may take longer than expected. Thus, students must observe submission deadlines to ensure on-time graduation. Guidelines for preparation of the Final Report are described online here.

J. Submission of Final Report (Revised Draft)
A revised draft incorporating the advisor’s comments is due to the student’s advisor by the beginning of the 10th week of the semester. Within 10 days, students will receive approval from their advisor to present their project in the upcoming MP symposium and graduate on time. Note: the standard for such approval is (a) no need for additional collection of raw data, (b) no need for major re-analysis, and (c) the advisor is confident the student can accomplish any additional analysis and re-writing successfully before the final deadline at the end of the semester. The purpose of this standard is to avoid last-minute discovery that the MP is not adequate for graduation.

K. Presentation of Final Project
Each student will present his/her MP individually or with his/her group in an oral presentation during the winter or spring MP symposium. These presentations are of professional and defensible quality, and are live-streamed and open to the public. Programs may hold formal or informal practice sessions to help students prepare their presentations. During the symposium, presentations are evaluated by advisors and other faculty. Satisfactory evaluation is necessary to receive a passing grade for the MP seminar (ENVIRON 898.xx). 10-line abstracts should be submitted at least 2 weeks in advance of the first day of the MP Symposium.

L. Submission of Final Report
Students will submit their final report in four steps, all by the Friday of reading week:

  1. By scanning the Final Report through iThenticate, to check for plagiarism (directions found here);
  2. By submitting a copy of the executive summary signed by the advisor, to Student Services via Duke Box here; 
  3. By uploading the final product to DukeSpace (directions found here); and
  4. By sending the Final Report to the advisor.

If the research is to be submitted to a journal for publication, students are expected to follow the guidelines of the particular journal concerning style and format of the manuscript, which may differ from NSOE’s requirements.

Master’s Projects & Summer Internships

It is not required that MPs be related to internships, but in some cases, internships are a good opportunity for students to begin working on their masters projects. Internships may allow students time and resources to collect their own data, if necessary, and provide students additional time for data analysis. Students wishing to pursue this route, however, will need to pin down their internship plans earlier than otherwise, since MP plans are declared early during the second semester.

Revised Schedules for Concurrent and Non-Traditional Degree Students

Concurrent degree students, or other students who are not following the usual 4-semester sequence, are on slightly modified schedules. December graduates who want to participate in group MPs with other students graduating in May will need to follow the deadlines for a May graduation. MEM/MBA students have different MP requirements entirely, which can be found here. All concurrent students should pay close attention to their specific timeline, since sometimes they will be required to submit deliverables during a semester when they are taking all or part of their courses in another school. These students should verify with their advisor and/or program chair their specific deadlines.

Delayed Master's Project Completion

All work, including MPs, must be completed within 5 years of matriculation. This includes successfully presenting their master's projects in the April or December MP symposium and submitting approved copies of all the above deliverables in order to graduate. During each academic semester until all of these requirements are satisfied, students must be registered either for course credits or for continuation/completion. They must pay either flat-rate tuition (if minimum semesters of tuition have not yet been paid), per-credit tuition (if minimum semesters of flat-rate tuition have been met), or the continuation/completion fee for every academic semester (fall or spring) until all requirements for graduation are satisfied.



For December 2019 Graduates (Doing Individual MPs)


Dec 2019 grads

Submission of individual MP topic ideas


Assignment to individual MP advisers


Project proposal - draft and submit to Student Services via DukeBox Upload (link to be added)


Project proposal approved by adviser (and client, if applicable) to Student Services

*Submitted via DukeBox Upload Window


Meet with MP adviser (and client if applicable) to review progress on MP and agree on timetable of intermediate deadlines


Proposal presentation & revisions to proposal if needed


Complete written draft


Revised draft


10-line abstract due to Student Services (sample here)


Submit final MP to iThenicate for scanning


Presentation of MP


Final MP due (Non-negotiatable deadline)

*2-Part Submission process: Via DukeSpace and Executive Summary to Student Services via DukeBox Upload Window



For May 2020 Graduates


May 2020 Grads

Submit solo MP Proposal to Program Chairs


Approved solo MPs confirmed with students and advisors 


Group MP topics menu available


Submission of group MP choices


Assignment to groups and assignments of group & individual MP advisors


Meet with MP advisor


Project proposal-draft submitted to advisor and uploaded via Duke Box (upload link to be provided).  Students should meet with the client and advisor prior to this submission.

*3-Part Submission process:


Project proposal approved by advisor (and client, if applicable) and uploaded via Duke Box


"Project Status" presentation 


Complete written draft due to advisor


Revised draft due to advisor


10-Line Abstract due to Student Services


Present MP (Symposium)


Submit final MP to iThenicate for scanning


Final MP due 
*2-Part Submission process: Via DukeSpace and Executive Summary to Student Services via the DukeBox upload window




MP Advising Information