Senior Thesis / Independent Study

The senior project (registered for as Math 395 or Stat 395) is an opportunity for students to work independently and in-depth on a topic in mathematics or statistics during their senior year. It is only through completing a senior project for two semesters and writing and defending a senior thesis based on it that a student graduates with honors, high honors, or summa cum laude. Not every senior project turns into a senior thesis (or honors project), but this description is written assuming that it does.

There are many types of honors projects in mathematics and statistics and there are many ways for you and your advisor to structure the project. However, every honors project will culminate in an oral thesis defense and in a formal written paper which adheres to the College’s standards for style and format.

Several things that you should work out with your thesis advisor when you begin to work together:

  • Normally a student meets with her advisor once a week. Thus, you must arrange a time to meet with your advisor.
  • What type of work will your thesis be composed of? Will it be primarily expository? What important papers will you read and present? Will there be an expository piece followed by a more experimental project? Do you need to gather some more programming skills? Do you need to master any particular software? You should spend some time strategizing with your advisor. What is your best hope for the project? What will you do if some part of the project is unsuccessful? What will your dream thesis look like? What will your fallback thesis look like?
  • You should work out a timeline by which each section of your thesis should be completed. Where will you be for January Term? Where will your advisor be? When will you start writing? Do you have a latex style file that will incorporate the College’s style requirements? When will you give your advisor pieces of your thesis? When will your advisor return them?
  • Make sure you are clear each week about what you should prepare for your next meeting. Think about how your meetings should be conducted to make them more productive.
  • You should plan to give a talk on your project at the senior symposium in the spring semester of your senior year. You might also speak at the Hudson River Undergraduate Conference in April and you could also attend and speak at the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in February.

Things to do junior year:

  • Talk to professors and start to think about a topic.
  • An REU during the summer between your junior and senior year might lead to an honors thesis topic.   There is an REU at Mount Holyoke, but, when possible, we encourage students to go somewhere new.
  • As soon as possible you should settle on an advisor, a topic, and talk over different strategies for the type of honors project you would like to do. You should look over past honors projects from the department and start to get an idea for what is involved in writing a thesis.

Timeline for senior year:

  • By the end of  "ADD PERIOD in September"
    Make sure that you have signed up for 4 credits of independent study (Math/Stat 395). Your thesis advisor must approve your 395 on my.mtholyoke before you will be allowed to register.
  • End of September
    Submit your thesis abstract to the department for approval. You can give it to your thesis advisor.
  • By the end of  "ADD PERIOD" in February
    If you and your thesis advisor agree that you should continue with your thesis, make sure that you have signed up for 4 more credits of independent study (Math/Stat 395). Your thesis advisor must again approve your 395 on my.mtholyoke.
  • March
    You and your thesis advisor must decide on your thesis committee. You need to select one outside member of the committee (from outside the College or from another department at the College) and one other member of the committee, usually another member of our department. You are responsible for asking these other people if they will serve on your committee.
  • Early April
    The first complete draft of your thesis should be submitted to your thesis advisor.
  • April
    In April you will give a talk on your project in the Senior Symposium.
  • May 5th
    A final draft of thesis due. Copies must be given to all members of your thesis committee. The copies need not be bound.
  • During Reading Days or Exam Period
    Honors examination (or "defense") of your thesis takes place. You and your advisor should decide on the time well in advance, clearing the time with the committee and notifying the department. The defense will last for at most one hour. You will give a 20 minute presentation on your work and then your advisor will moderate the questions from the committee and from the department. After the defense, you leave the room for a few minutes but do not go far. Your advisor will come out soon to let you know whether you have been awarded some flavor of honors. You do not find out whether you have received honors, high honors or summa cum laude until graduation.
  • July 1st
    By July 1st at the latest – Submit the final, bound copy of your thesis to the library. Although July 1st is the official deadline, we strongly recommend that you prepare the final copy of your thesis and submit it to the library before you leave campus. This copy should incorporate any additional suggestions made by your thesis committee. You should also give the Department, your thesis advisor, and the other members of the thesis committee a copy of your thesis in final form (these copies don’t have to be bound).