The Professional ProjectBehind Weir at gaging station, Parajito Canyon, Los Alamos, Summer 2000



The Professional Project is the culmination of the student's experience. It is representative of the caliber of professional report work done in a government agency, consulting firm, non-profit organization, etc. The student designs, conducts, analyzes and reports on a particular water-related problem or issue. The choice of the problem is up to the student and his/her committee; if the student is employed, it can be related to job-related responsibilities or internship duties. The end product of the Professional Project is the Professional Project report. The student defends her/his Professional Project in a public forum: the Master's exam/Professional Project defense.

We wish to thank the Community and Regional Planning Program for providing a copy of its Guidelines for Professional Projects: Plan II . We have freely borrowed from that fine document and made modifications where necessary.

In their professional projects and all academic work, students must be conscientious in citing the work of others, being careful to give proper credit. To do otherwise is academic dishonesty – plagiarism, a very serious offense. For definitions and examples of plagiarism, visit

Identifying a Professional Project

 Some students enter the program with a good idea of what they would like to do for a Professional Project; these are invariably students who have had academic or professional experience in water resources. However, many students entering the program have little or no academic or professional experience in water resources and are understandably concerned about the Professional Project. “How will I find a suitable project?” is a common question. But these same students often know where their strengths and interests lie. They may have an aptitude and liking for a particular discipline -- economics, engineering, management, biology, etc. That should help them identify a potential professional project area. But what's next? Here are some suggestions:

Do not become discouraged if you do not identify a topic right away. Keep your eyes and ears open; sometimes serendipity is a strong factor. However, you should have a professional project topic by the time you have completed 24 graduate credits.

Selecting a Committee and Writing a Proposal

Once a student has identified a topic (or at least narrowed down the list), he/she should contact a faculty member who has expertise in that area and inquire whether he/she would like to chair the student's Professional Project committee. This person may or may not be your faculty advisor (but does become your advisor after agreeing to be chair). At least three members must be on the committee; two of these three, including the chair, must be tenure-stream UNM faculty members. No more than two members can be from the same department. On the WRP faculty list all those listed with the exception of those designated “adjunct” or “emeritus” are tenure-stream faculty.

The third member does not have to be a tenure-stream faculty member; it can even be someone from outside UNM who has been approved by the Office of Graduate Studies to serve on graduate committees. This person must have at least a Master's degree. To secure approval, the student should submit the individual's curriculum vitae and Social Security number to the WRP Office. Note that adjunct and emeritus faculty can serve as a committee co-chair as long as a tenure-stream faculty member is co-chair as well. If you wish to choose committee members who are UNM tenure-stream faculty members but are not on the WRP faculty list, consult the Director. Some faculty may wish to see a brief summary (1-2 pages) of the proposed work before deciding to be on the committee.

After discussing ideas with the prospective chair and committee members, the student should write a proposal, setting forth the problem to be solved or hypothesis to be tested, its significance, previous work, methodology, anticipated results, resources required (budget, etc.), an outline of the PP report, and a timeline for completion. The committee, especially the chair, can provide guidance. It is not necessary that your proposal be a lengthy tome, but its length will depend upon the nature of the problem and the committee's requirements; the norm is around 5-6 pages. The student and the committee should meet to discuss the proposal and once a final draft is agreed upon, a copy should be submitted to the WRP Office for the student's file. This copy must have a signature page similar to the Professional Project cover page, signed by each committee member.

Examples of Professional Project proposals are included here.

A student will not be included on the graduation list submitted to OGS nor will the Announcement of Examination form will be signed until an approved Professional Project proposal is on file.

Conducting the Work

After the student and committee agree on the project proposal, the student's task becomes one of completing the project and reporting the results. During this phase, the student should use the committee as a resource -- its members are there to help, and the student should remember that it is the committee who will pass on the quality of the work.

The student should adhere to the original proposal as closely as possible, but changes will invariably need to be made.

The student should keep the committee apprised of the project's progress and obtain approval for any changes. Periodic progress reports and committee meetings are beneficial and encouraged. At a minimum, the student should have two committee meetings before the defense: one at the very beginning, and one when the student is about two-thirds done. This latter one will ensure that the student is on the right track with no “red flags” looming.

Funding for travel and research related to Professional Projects is available from the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) through the Student Research Allocations Committee (SRAC) grants, which are competitive. Visit for more information. The OGS offers Research, Project and Travel (RPT) grants (visit the OGS WWW site for complete information); deadlines for proposals are in September and January. The WRP also has some field equipment available for student use. Items include: digital camera, altimeter, GPS units, rangefinder, clinometer, tape measure, etc.

The specific format for the written report is up to the student and the committee and should be established by mutual consent before the project is started; however, copies of PowerPoint presentations, etc., are unacceptable. To see what the written report should look like, see previous Professional Project reports, which can be checked out from the WRP Office or the UNM Library for guidance. Some Professional Projects are published in the WRP Publications series; visit to see the links. The Office of Graduate Studies publishes Guidelines for Preparing Thesis and Dissertation Manuscripts which may provide some assistance even though the Professional Project report is neither a thesis nor a dissertation.

The Professional Project report should be double-spaced, with 1” (1.50” left-hand) margins, and generally contain the following ( but check with your committee members – they may have different requirements ):

The student must take 3 credits of WR 598 while working on the Professional Project. These credits do not have to be taken all in the same semester. If the student needs to remain enrolled while continuing to work on the Professional Project but has taken all 3 credits, he/she can enroll for more credits of WR 598, but only 3 credits will count towards the degree. It may be necessary to remain enrolled so that access to University facilities, e-mail, etc., can be maintained while the student completes the work. The student must be enrolled for at least one credit of WR 598 during the semester in which he/she graduates. Be sure to take the section of WR 598 corresponding to your chair.

The Oral Exam/Professional Project Defense

Once the student has finished the report, he/she submits a first draft to the committee for their comments. It is often customary to submit it to the chair before the rest of the committee but this is not a hard rule. The committee may want to see corrections to the first draft prior to scheduling the oral exam. In any case, the student should provide each committee member at least two full weeks prior to the oral exam to read the report. At the same time the student must provide a copy to the WRP Office so that others can read the report prior to the exam.

To graduate in a certain semester, the student must be on the OGS Graduation List. This list is submitted by the end of the semester prior to the one in which graduation will occur. Inform the WRP office by December 1 (for graduation the following Spring semester), May 1 (for graduation the following Summer semester), July 15 (for graduation the following Fall semester). No form is required.

The oral exam is open to the public and must be officially announced two weeks before it occurs. The student and the committee should decide on an acceptable time and date for the examination. Once this is done, the student then requests that the WRP Office secure a room and officially schedule the exam; this request must be made about three weeks before the exam is to be held, as the WRP Office must submit an official Announcement of Examination form to the OGS two weeks before the examination takes place. At this time the student should also inform the WRP Office as to his/her audio-visual requirements (usually an LCD projector and a laptop computer) so that these can be secured.

During the exam, the student makes a professional-quality presentation, generally lasting no more than 30 minutes, promulgating the results of the project and answering questions from both the committee and the general public.

After the presentation and public questioning, the committee will close the meeting to the public and continue the examination. At the conclusion of the examination the committee will meet privately to discuss the student's performance. After deliberating, the committee will meet with the student meet to discuss his/her results. In most cases changes may be required in the written report (word to the wise: don't assume that the copy used at the defense/exam will be the final copy).

On the final exam, the student can receive a grade of “Pass”, “Fail”, “Pass with Distinction”, or “Conditional Pass”. The latter is assigned when the committee determines that the written report requires significant changes; it will be removed when the chair of the committee deems the written report to be acceptable and four approved, bound copies are received by the WRP. The “ Conditional Pass ” will be indicated simply as a “Pass” on the student's transcript.

Final Copies of the Professional Project Report

Four soft-bound copies of the final, committee-approved report will be submitted to WRP Office for filing; two of these will be deposited in the UNM Library. Binding must be permanent (strip, taped, wire, or coil binding); looseleaf or plastic comb binding is unacceptable. The front and back covers of the final report must be on heavy paper stock, not the same paper used for the body of the report. You do not need to include a clear plastic page in front of the cover.

The title page (see downloadable copy on the WRP WWW site) is the first page of the report and the signed signature page follows that page. The student may use the title page as the cover or can design his/her own cover, perhaps with a picture or drawing. At a minimum, the cover should display the title, degree name and option, and student's name, with the following at the bottom:

A Professional Project Report Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of
Master of Water Resources
Hydroscience or Policy/Management Concentration
Water Resources Program
The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Month Year


The month and year will be that month (May, August, or December) and year in which the student will graduate, not the month in which the student defended.

It is customary for the student to provide each committee member with a copy of the final report. Note that graduation will not occur until the WRP Office receives the final copies, signed by all committee members.

Some Common Pitfalls

Below are some of the common problems associated with professional projects.

Be aware of the above and ask for help when it is needed. Don't forget to use the Professional Project committee.

Publishing Your Professional Project

More and more students are publishing all or part of their PP work in journals. The WRP encourages this, as it will enhance your professional stature. Your committee can advise you on publishing options.

If you do publish your Professional Project, please remember to acknowledge your committee members by name if they are not listed as co-authors. In addition, please include a statement similar to the following:

“This work is based upon the Professional Project of (your name), submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Water Resources at the University of New Mexico.”

This will help publicize and enhance the stature of the MWR degree, which ultimately benefits its graduates.

Next page: Previous Professional Projects

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