Master's Projects


The Master's Project (MP) is the capstone experience required of all Master of Environmental Management (MEM) and Master of Forestry (MF) students. The MP is an integral, culminating part of the professional and educational experience at NSOE, for which students are given the opportunity to apply the skills they've acquired in the classroom to tackle real-world environmental issues. During completion of the MP, students design and carry out a well-formulated and defensible analysis of a management-related problem. The MP should expand students’ awareness and skillsets relating to their field of study, and may be used to showcase their abilities to future employers after graduation. All MPs culminate in a public presentation at an end-of-semester symposium, and a written report that becomes part of the Duke Library electronic archives. Click here to browse past MPs by author, date, subject, and more.

Note: Dual MEM/MBA degree students are subject to slightly different requirements. For more details, click here.

Types of Master's Projects

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. As the below diagram suggests, MPs can be classified into four categories. 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. Some types of MPs are more common than others, depending on program area.

MP Definition Matrix.JPG

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.

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.

Origin of Master’s Project 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. If you are a client interested in submitting an MP topic, please email

Master’s Projects and 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.