Thesis advisors from other departments: Each year a number of seniors have faculty members from other departments as their thesis advisors. Most of these theses are well within the realm of physics - it just happens that the best advisor for this topic is in, say, the Geology Department. In these cases, only one special procedure is required. The second reader for the thesis is chosen at the beginning of the year, by the deadline for reporting the thesis topic. This person, who must be in the Physics Department, is consulted as the topic is being finalized. He or she can then make sure that the topic will meet Physics Department requirements and that it is likely to turn into a good thesis.
Interdisciplinary thesis topics: The Department encourages students to follow interests beyond the traditional fields of physics by pursuing interdisciplinary thesis research. Many theses advised by faculty outside the Physics Department (e.g., biophysics, geophysics, various engineering topics) use standard physics methodology and thus require no special considerations. On the other hand, several years ago the Department expanded its thesis guidelines to allow students to choose topics well outside traditional areas. Examples would be: a history of physics thesis where the student's research was primarily on the history itself, rather than physics analysis of a historical topic; an analysis of disposal options for materials from nuclear weapons that focused on policy issues, including but not necessarily emphasizing technical ones. As with the choice of Departmental Courses, choice of such a topic should represent a serious interest, perhaps an area to which you intend to apply your physics training after graduation.
The following guidelines, while applicable to any thesis, are particularly meant to provide guidance to faculty and students who are considering theses in interdisciplinary areas.
- Is there evidence of original research or scholarship? Good examples are actual scientific measurements carried out by the student to verify, say, the claim by Benjamin Franklin that he once roasted a turkey using electrostatics. Similarly, scholarly research including, for instance, the critical examination of source material can also be an important factor in a thesis.
- Is there evidence that the thesis research draws heavily on the training, course work, and academic experience in the 3-year physics undergraduate program? Could the thesis have been written by a student that did not go through the program?
- In an interdisciplinary thesis that involves two fields with rather disparate methodologies or philosophies, is the student sufficiently familiar with the methodology of the other discipline? Is the scientific method that should be expected from a physicist apparent in the work?
The overriding factor, as always, is excellence of academic research. Is the content of the thesis, at least in principle, appropriate for a professional journal? Note, it is understood that the thesis as written is probably not ready for publishing, it is the quality of the content that should be quite substantial. Historically, examples have arisen of ill-contrived theses which turn out poorly because the selected topic did not lend itself easily to excellence in research at the undergraduate level. Theses with an interdisciplinary flavor require frequent contacts between the primary advisor and the student, and a careful choice of the research topic.