Senior Thesis and Independent Study

Honors Thesis in Physics Guidelines

  • Approach faculty members about working with them on a senior thesis early – many expect a commitment before your senior year to be able to truly engage with a complex problem.
  • Sign up for a total of 8 credits of Physics 390/395 over two semesters.Students must have a GPA of 3.0 to be eligible to do a thesis.

Students and faculty involved in the independent/honors process should be familiar with the College’s Guidelines for honors program and honors thesis, which the Dean of Faculty has prepared.

Thesis Timeline

Fall Semester

  • Submit an abstract and literature review to the department before the end of classes.The literature review can be a draft form of the "background" section of the introduction, or a bibliography with a few notes on each reference and a paragraph explaining how your work relates to the set of references.
  • Submit to your advisor a few paragraphs articulating your progress over the semester, your specific goals, and anticipated timeline.Schedule a meeting to explicitly assess your progress and timeline before you leave for winter break.  The department will use this material to review if you are on track.


  • At the end of J-term, submit a detailed outline of your thesis and the introduction chapter to the department.We anticipate that the outline will be 3-5 pages long and contain sufficient detail for us to assess the content of your work.The introduction chapter should be a polished, full length thesis chapter, introducing the importance of your topic and reviewing the related literature.
  • The department will assess if you are on track for an honors thesis or whether your project should be converted to an independent study.

Spring Semester

  • Select your committee by March.It will consist of your advisor, the department chair, and one person outside of the department.
  • Instructions regarding the format and paper requirements for your thesis can be found in Archives and Collections.
  • The official copy of your thesis is due two weeks before reading days. If your committee members have requested an electronic copy of your thesis, you are responsible for e-mailing them a copy directly.  Any hard copies submitted on this date will be given to your committee. The copies submitted electronically or in paper will be used along with your defense to determine the level of honors.
  • Prior to the official submission two weeks before reading days, it is expected that your advisor has seen and provided comments on all portions of the thesis.This means that you should plan to have completed a solid draft of your thesis a month before reading days, so that your advisor has time to comment and you can make revisions before the final submission date.
  • Present your work at Senior Symposium in April.
  • Schedule your defense with your committee a few weeks ahead of time to take place during reading days, or during the beginning of finals.The defense will be an oral presentation, with power point slides, that will take approximately one hour, including questions.
  • Revise the thesis based on committee member comments, and submit a final hard copy to the Physics Department office the Friday before Commencement.You are responsible for submitting your thesis to LITS (

Thesis Defense Presentation Guidelines

  • Timing: Prepare a presentation (with PowerPoint slides) that will last 30-40 minutes. After your presentation, you will answer questions from the audience. Once all questions are answered, the committee will ask everyone (including you) to step outside and will deliberate if your thesis met the criteria for honors in physics, and what level of honor to recommend.  The committee will inform you if you will receive honors in physics a few minutes later. The entire process takes about an hour, sometimes a little more, sometimes less. 
  • Content: The audience will be both students and faculty. While you can assume a general knowledge of physics in the audience, bear in mind that most of the audience will not have read your thesis nor be familiar with the topic. So be sure to include adequate background / introductory information in your talk. You should plan to prepare backup slides for questions you might anticipate, and/or details you decided to exclude from the formal presentation.
  • In general, unless you request otherwise, the defense will be "open invite" to all physics faculty and majors. You may also invite family and other friends and professors to attend your defense.

Deadlines for 2019-2020

Dec 20th:

  • Submit the literature review and abstract to Nicole Amrani in the Physics Department office and an assessment of your progress to your advisor.

  • Schedule a meeting to discuss progress with your advisor.

Jan 19th:

  • Submit introduction and detailed outline to Nicole Amrani in the Physics Department Office.

March 23rd:

  • Consult with your advisor to form your committee and connect with your selected committee members.

April 17th:

  • Submit hard copies of your final thesis to the Physics Department Office to be distributed to committee members or e-mail your committee members directly if an electronic copy has been requested.
  • Schedule your thesis defense and coordinate location with Nicole Amrani (ideally your defense will be scheduled during reading days).

May 11th:

  • E-mail your final thesis to Nicole Amrani.

July 1st: