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Astro JPs, Senior Theses, and Thesis Defense

Listed below is information about Astrophysics Junior Papers, Senior Thesis, and Senior Thesis Defense procedures. For more information, please see Prof. Neta Bahcall, Director of Undergraduate Program.

Junior Papers, Senior Theses, Senior Thesis Defense

1. Junior Papers (Fall and Spring) and Senior Theses in Astrophysics represent original research work done by the student in collaboration with a faculty adviser. The work ranges from observational astronomy and data analysis to theoretical and computational astrophysics.  All topics in astronomy and astrophysics are covered, from planets, stars, and the interstellar medium, to galaxies, quasars, large-scale structure of the universe, dark-matter, dark-energy, black-holes, cosmology, the microwave background, and the early universe. These topics can be carried out both theoretically and observationally.  The Astro Majors have a choice on what topic they wish to work for for each of their JPs and ST. Typically, each student will discuss possible choices with the Director of the Undergrad Program (Prof. Neta Bahcall) at the beginning of each term; Prof. Bahcall will advise the students of various possibilities and direct each student to discuss potential projects with a couple of faculty and researchers in the department. The student then selects the topic that most excites them.   This is repeated for each of the JPs and for the Senior Thesis.

The department allows students to carry out a JP or a Senior Thesis in another department if relevant and appropriate for the future directions and goals of the student.  Some of our students have carried out a JP or a ST in departments or topics such as Physics, MAE, Philosophy, the WWS, Science Education, and more.  A student should discuss such possibilities with the Departmental Representative.

. The Junior Paper and Senior Thesis do not have specific format requirements other than being similar to scientific papers published in professional journals; i.e., they should contain a concise Abstract, a comprehensive Introduction that reviews the general topic (more extensive than a typical publication), followed by presentation of the work itself -- the data or theory used, the analysis methods, the results, and the main Conclusions.  Figures, Plots, Tables are all expected in the paper.

3. Many but not all of the Astro JPs and STs are eventually published as scientific papers in professional journals.

4. The department deadline for Fall JP is the University deadline (at the beginning of January).   The deadline for Senior Theses and Spring JPs  is typically the Friday before the university deadline (in early May) in order to reduce conflict with the special student celebrations that weekend.  For those students who need and request extra time, the deadline can be extended if needed up to the university deadline (which is on Mon-Tue immediately following that weekend).  Such requests should be made to the adviser (with a copy to Prof. Bahcall). No extension beyond this university deadline can be made without approval by the Dean (and none can be made for graduating Seniors).

5.  All students are requested to provide drafts of their JPs and STs to their advisers before the deadline ( a couple weeks prior to the deadline) in order to receive comments and improve their papers.

6.  JUNIORS and SENIORS: Please provide Polly with an electronic PDF copy of your final paper (JP and  ST) by the deadlines listed above [for both Fall and Spring JPs, and for Senior Thesis].

7.  Advisers of JPs: The review process of the JPs is as follows: you provide Prof. Bahcall with a recommended grade for the JP based on the grading guidelines posted on the website; we then follow with a meeting of all the JP advisers and Prof. Bahcall to review the recommended grades to ensure consistency across the department.

8.  SENIORS: together with your adviser, you need to select one additional reader for your thesis; the two faculty (adviser plus one reader) will comprise your thesis committee.

  • please give a copy of your thesis to the two members of your committee;
  • you will need to arrange a thesis defense date with your committee.  

The dates for the defense are usually within 1-2 weeks after the Thesis deadline. You need to reserve a room for that time with Polly (for about 1.5 hours).

9. The THESIS DEFENSE is composed of three parts:

   A. THESIS: a 20 min presentation by the Senior of the thesis;

   B. THESIS DEFENSE: ~15 minutes questions by each of the two
       members of the committee on topics related to the thesis;

   C. GENERAL: ~15 minutes questions by each of the committee
      members on general topics in astrophysics (mostly based
      on topics covered in your classes). I suggest the students review
      the basic F. Shu book "The Physical Universe" or other comparable textbooks
      (~AST204-level). The idea is for the students to know basic Astrophysics.       

(The grade on part C, General, does not appear on the transcript.)

  Advisers:  Prof. Bahcall will need separate grades on each of the three parts above (A, B, and C).  The grading guidelines are posted on the website.

10. SENIORS: The department needs 2 bound copies of your final thesis:  one for the Lewis Library, and one for the department.  An additional third copy in PDF format for the university archives should be emailed to Polly Strauss, Academic Programs Administrator (

Please provide the 2 bound copies and the 1 PDF format copy to Polly Strauss.

  Good luck and best wishes for a good academic year!

(April 15, 2013)