Prof. Frank Calaprice
Chair, Senior Committee
234 Jadwin Hall/Temp 360 Jadwin Hall
The Senior Thesis is a unique opportunity for physics majors to engage in leading-edge research across a broad range of topics in the physical sciences and beyond. The area of research and the choice of advisor are selected by the student. For projects that are conducted outside of the physics department, one advisor is in the physics faculty and one is from the corresponding department where the research is centered.
Thesis Procedures for Physics Seniors:
Senior theses should be turned in to Karen Kelly, Fine Hall Basement at 4pm on the announced due date.
Extensions cannot be granted by advisors. Extension requests will be considered by the Senior Committee only if they are made well in advance of the due date, barring exceptional circumstances like being too sick to contact the department. Illness, family tragedy, or unexpected absence of your advisor would be good reasons to request an extension. Extensions beyond the University deadline can only be granted by an appropriate Dean.
Please be aware that although all of us on the faculty want to see our students succeed, turning in your thesis late without an extension will have an adverse affect on your academic record.
- Thesis Formatting rules
- Schedule of Oral
- Format of Oral
- Grading and Honors
It is required that you submit your thesis in a pdf file, email to Karen Kelly. Name your PDF files in a standard format: last name_first name; e.g. “smith_jane.pdf”. When emailing your file, please title it senior thesis in the subject line. You are also required to turn in ONE copy of your thesis by the due date. It is advisable to keep an additional copy for yourself.
The Department will NOT make copies of your thesis for your advisor or second reader. If they desire paper copies of your thesis, it is your responsibility to generate those copies.
Thesis formatting rules
- The thesis should be printed on one side of standard-size paper (8 1/2 x 11 inches). Special thesis paper is not required.
- It should be "double-spaced." However, in practice, 1.5 spacing looks much better and is recommended. It should have an approximately-2-inch margin on the left to facilitate binding.
- Pages must be numbered.
- Indicate in a statement on the thesis:
This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations and add your signature. This pledge can go anywhere. On the title page or on a separate page are both OK.
- There must be an abstract, less than one page in length, on a separate page. This page must include the thesis title and your name.
- There are basically no formatting rules other than these, rumor to the contrary notwithstanding. For example, no statement of "right to copy" is required.
Schedule for Oral:
The thesis oral committee will consist of THREE faculty members: your adviser, your second reader, and a member of the Undergraduate Committee. (The Undergraduate Committee is a broader group that includes the Senior Committee.) The schedule of available oral exam dates and times are available in the Department office. Please coordinate with your adviser and your second reader and reserve a time slot with Ms. Kelly in the Department office. The Undergraduate Committee member will be assigned automatically.
Since some faculty members can be difficult to get hold of after classes end, PLEASE BEGIN THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING A SECOND READER AND RESERVING A TIME SLOT FOR YOUR ORAL WELL BEFORE THE END OF THE SEMESTER. Your choice of second reader may be affected by travel plans. Please let the Senior Committee know if you are having any trouble scheduling your oral.
Format of Oral:
The thesis oral serves as the Departmental Examination (required by the University of all seniors), replacing the written "comps." It will last one hour. You should prepare a talk on your thesis work, about 30 minutes in length. It is anticipated that interruptions for questions will expand this to about 45 minutes, with about 15 minutes at the end for further questions. The oral committee will want to reserve time for questioning, so don't plan too long a talk, lest you get cut off. Your adviser and second reader will of course be very familiar with your work, the third member less so. Your talk should thus include introductory material for a non-specialist. The talk should be prepared using standard visual aids -- do not expect people to flip through your thesis to look at figures.
Most such talks are done with slides: transparencies or computer-projected. Hand-drawn transparencies are fine; there are also ways to transfer plots, etc. directly to the film. If you want to use a laptop, beware: YOU are responsible for making sure things work, and a hard-copy backup is a good idea. In either case, preparing such a talk takes time -- take the time to do a good job. A rehearsal (in front of friends or an empty room) would be wise.
Some advice on the content of slides: these should be basically for graphical material -- figures, plots, equations. Some speakers use their slides for this exclusively; some like to include some text as well. If you include text, restrict yourself to terse summaries of major points. Never fill a slide with dense text. Your adviser can advise you on presentation techniques.
Your committee will ask several kinds of questions. Some will simply be clarification for the benefit of the questioner, others will be to check on your understanding of the details of the topic. The third Committee member will have a special charge. As the non-specialist, he or she will focus on questions probing your understanding of the more basic physics underlying your thesis topic. It is essential that you be able to connect your work, however esoteric, to the physics we expect you to have mastered as a physics major. Do you understand the quantum mechanics, stat mech, or E&M behind your project? Do you understand the goal of the experimental or theoretical effort of which your thesis is a part? Advice: this is an area that you should brush up on between the thesis deadline and your oral!
Grading and Honors:
You will receive two grades related to your thesis and your oral:
- Thesis grade: based on your research and written thesis determined by adviser and second reader
- Departmental exam grade: based on your oral: quality and clarity of your presentation, facility in answering technical questions, facility in answering "underlying physics" questions determined by your oral committee
In both cases final grades will be set only after the grading meeting of advisers and the Senior Committee. The Senior Committee will record the grades after this meeting and report them to you. Both grades are reported to the Registrar and appear on your transcript. (The weight of the departmental exam in "credit hours" is zero, and it thus does not contribute to grade averages calculated from the transcript.)
Honors and class rank are determined using an average calculated in the Department. We include these factors with the weight indicated:
Courses - 50%
Sr. Thesis - 25%
Thesis oral - 5%
JP's - 20%
"Courses" is all the courses that we have declared as your Departmentals. Some Department-granted prizes are based on this average. Other prizes have special purposes, such as acknowledgement of excellence in independent work.
If you have any questions on this information, please ask a member of the Senior Committee.