Prof. Joshua Shaevitz
Chair, Junior committee
244 Carl C. Icahn Laboratory
Junior Paper Deadlines
All independent work is due on the date set by the physics department. This is a strict deadline; grade penalties will generally be imposed for late papers. Those who are unable to complete independent work by the department deadline because of illness or another compelling reason essentially outside their control should contact the chair of the junior committee and also apply for postponement to their residential college dean. The application must include an endorsement of the adviser. The residential college dean will consult with the department representative and with the Junior Committee before granting the extension.
The JP papers should be turned in to: Karen Kelly, 208 Jadwin Hall by 4pm.
Fall 2016 Deadlines
- Topic and Adviser: Oct 5
- Outline: Oct 14
- Draft JP: Dec 2
- Second Reader: Dec 8
- Final JP: Jan 10
Meetings - 8am Jadwin 111
Spring 2017 Deadlines
- Topic and Adviser: Feb 13
- Outline: Feb 27
- Draft JP: April 14
- Second Reader: April 24
- Final JP: May 9, 4pm
Each student pursuing a physics degree at Princeton must complete a Junior Paper ("JP") in each semester of the junior year. The goals of the JP are to gain experience doing independent research, to become familiar with the physics literature, and to learn to present information in a clear, concise, scientific style. Students are expected to work closely with faculty advisers throughout the JP process.
Junior papers present physics concentrators the opportunity to work closely with professors on important topics in physics and related fields. The phrase "junior with independent work" is a bit of a misnomer, as the work involves frequent one-on-one interaction with a member of the physics faculty. Typically, faculty members suggest topics (often from their own research area), although student-inspired topics are also more than welcome. For many of you, this will be your first chance to participate in working with a faculty member on a subject of mutual interest. Make the most of it!
Also, by "independent research" we mean that you explore a topic and write about it in your own words, it does not imply that your JP, especially the Fall JP, must represent ORIGINAL work. It is quite possible to get an excellent grade by writing a very clear, lucid and understandable JP on a well-understood topic! A great JP is one that one of your classmates can read and say: NOW I understand what this topic is all about!
Students who do not have too intense a schedule might find it useful to take concurrently an elective course on the topic of their JP. This might help them build a good background on the chosen JP topic and facilitate the JP writing experience. A partial list of electives is here.
The Junior Committee consists of Profs. Joshua Shaevitz (Chair), Elliot Lieb and Andrew Leifer. For general questions about JPs please contact Prof. Shaevitz.
The spectrum of possible JP topics is very broad; the only rule is that the topic must involve physics. Specific topics must be agreed upon by student and adviser, and approved by the Junior Committee. A common course is to study a specific topic of current research interest, but this is by no means all you can do. A JP might describe the background of the work, the details of a specific research topic, and implications for future work. Occasionally JPs cover topics of a philosophical or historical bent. In such cases, care must be taken to ensure that such JPs incorporate reasonably rigorous, physics-related independent research.
The JP is not intended to be an original contribution to the field (although in some cases it might be). However, it must be independent work; that is, it must be written in your own words. Reading a book and summarizing it is not acceptable, nor is it acceptable to dodge things you don't undertand by saying "it can be shown that." If it can be shown, then do it.
Many JPs are written about current research within the department, but care must be taken with the level and scope of such projects. For example, it is difficult to gain an in-depth understanding of the latest innovations in string theory within the JP time scale. Sometimes students suggest doing "an overview" or "some reading" in a current field. Experience has shown this to be a bad idea---the end result is too superficial to be of much value. Pick a specific topic and go into some depth on it.
In choosing a JP topic you might want to look ahead to Senior Thesis research. By doing a JP in a particular area you will learn the physics background and techniques that will allow you to jump right into original research during your senior year. It will also confirm or disprove your interest in the subject. Of course you can also do a senior thesis outside the scope of both of your JPs.
If you are interested in experimental physics, you are encouraged to do a JP that involves actual experimental work. However, one has to be realistic about what can be accomplished in one semester. Since a JP doesn’t have to include original work, don’t feel that you need to build a new apparatus or make measurements that no one has ever attempted before. Learning about experimental techniques used in a particular group, making relatively routine measurements and describing in some depth both the physics and equipment used in your work would make a good JP. The strict time limit must be kept in mind. JP extensions are not granted due to equipment failure!
Computer simulations as part of a JP are possible, but you should ensure that your JP work goes beyond programming. In particular, your JP should demonstrate that you have gained a clear understanding of the physics that underlies the simulation and you should show evidence that you understood why the simulations came out they way they did. The computer is a useful tool, but can’t do your thinking for you.
Final Hint: limit the scope of the project! The JP deadline comes quickly and with great force. It is better to cover a narrow topic well than to give superficial treatment to a larger one.
Lists of faculty and their research interests can be found on the department website in the "research" section. A good way to find an adviser is to look over the research statements, find someone who is doing something that sounds interesting to you, and drop by his/her office to ask if he/she has any good JP ideas. There is also a list of faculty JP topics distributed on the web. Some suggested JP topics are included here, but most faculty members will also have many ideas for JP topics not explicitly included on the web lists. Students may also come up with JP topics on their own and suggest them to faculty members. Advisers may come from outside of the physics department (but see ``Advisers outside the physics department,'' below).
The role of the adviser is to advise, but not to micromanage, JP research. The interaction with a faculty member is one of the most beneficial aspects of writing a JP. Students and advisers should meet regularly throughout the semester.
It is the student's responsibility to arrange meetings with the adviser.
Because faculty members often travel during the academic year, it is important to check schedules early to avoid end-of-semester surprises.
In order to gain some breadth in physics research experience, each student's fall and spring JPs must be supervised by different faculty members. It is recommended (but not absolutely required) that the two JPs be in different research areas.
Juniors in certificate programs (e.g., biophysics) should choose JP advisors and topics appropriate to the programs for 1 of the 2 JPs.
A brief outline of the JP (a few sentences of summary plus roughly half a page of outline) must be submitted after settling on a topic and adviser. This is done to ensure that topics are of reasonable scope, and to normalize the amount of effort across the students. Outlines should be prepared in consultation with advisers. Advisers must sign outlines before they are submitted.
As a rough guideline, a JP should be around 15 pages long, including pictures tables, graphs, etc. It should be clear, concise, and written at a level which can be understood by other junior physics majors at Princeton. (It follows that a good way to test the level of a JP is to have classmates read draft versions.) Articles in such magazines as Physics Today, Science, and Nature give an idea of acceptable scientific writing style. The JP must be well organized, logically persuasive, and properly documented (citations, bibliography). It should include tables and figures as necessary to clearly present the topic.
You will notice that the journals and technical books you use vary in their bibliographic layouts. Choose one system that seems most readable to you, and stick to it scrupulously.
We are not sticklers for details of style - we don't prescribe margin widths, type faces, bibliography layouts, etc. - but clarity, readability, and internal consistency are all important.
The JP is an excellent opportunity to learn to use LaTeX, THE typesetting language for hard-science papers! You may use other word processing programs (e.g., Microsoft Word or Open Office), but you should ensure that the final product conforms to scientific standards. In particular, the math typesetting should be similar to what sees in math or physics texts and figures and tables should be properly numbered.
A draft JP must be submitted by the deadline listed above. One copy should be emailed to the Junior committee chair and a second copy directly to the adviser. The adviser will read the paper and return it within a few days. The draft will not be graded. However, failure to submit a substantially complete draft will result in a lower JP grade at the end of the semester. Hint: have your friends read through your draft.
As the semester ends, each student must find a faculty member to agree to be the ``second reader'' of the JP. The second reader must be a physics department faculty member (no exceptions). An excellent time to arrange a second reader would be just after the draft is due, in the last two weeks of classes. The adviser and second reader are the primary sources of the grade (see Grading, below).
You are required to send an electronic copy (PDF) via email to Karen Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are responsible for emailing your advisor and 2nd reader a copy of your JP. The Department will NOT make copies of your JP for your advisor or second reader. If they desire paper copies of your JP, it is your responsibility to generate those copies.
Advisers Outside the Physics Department
Students may work with outside advisers, subject to three conditions:
- The JP must cover a physics topic.
- The choice of adviser and topic must be approved by the Junior Committee (i.e., Prof. Shaevitz) before the deadline for selecting advisers and topics. NOTE that cultures in other Departments are different, and you may find that your outside advisor is not working out. PLEASE tell Prof. Shaevitz ASAP if there is trouble afoot so we can do damage control quickly!
- If your adviser is outside of the Physics Department, you should chose a co-advisor from within the Physics Department. This person will help ensure that Rule #1 is followed and will ultimately serve as your second reader.
JP Based on Summer Work
Students who have worked in the department (or elsewhere) on summer research projects may want to base JPs on that work. While this is acceptable, it is important that the JP go beyond "what I did on my summer vacation.'' It must represent new research done outside of paid lab work. Indeed, writing a JP can be a good opportunity to move beyond the details of day-to-day work and think about the underlying physics. In order to separate JPs from other work, some guidelines should be observed: (1) While a JP can be inspired by summer work or work-study, and can draw on the results thereof, it should involve a significant amount of work done during the semester. (2) An important goal of the JP is to gain experience using the physics literature. Like any JP, then, a paper based on lab work should include some work with traditional reference sources. (3) The final grade is to be based solely on the JP itself, not on the the adviser's impression of the student as a research assistant.
Past and Present Junior Papers
Some past and present Junior Papers are accessible here.
Advisers and second readers will both read a JP, discuss it, and agree on a grade. All advisers will submit their grades to the junior committee, who will follow a process designed to ensure that the assignment of grades is consistent across students. The precise nature of the process will depend on the number of JPs and other considerations. Both presentation and content are important in determining the grade. A list of grading criteria (distributed to the faculty) is given below. Note that scientific content and quality of presentation are given roughly equal weight in the final grade.
Grading Criteria for Junior Papers
- Is the paper correct?
- Does the paper indicate a clear understanding of the subject?
- Is the paper written at a level that another Junior could understand?
- Is the paper well written? In particular:
- Is the writing clear and concise?
- Is the paper well organized?
- Are the grammar and spelling correct?
- Are the figures clear and readable? Do they have useful captions?
- Was the paper carefully proofread?
- Are the references clearly cited in the text?
- Is the length of the paper appropriate (15--20 pages) ?
- Is there an attempt to apply undergraduate physics to the problem? (This might involve deriving equations, checking magnitudes, etc.)
- Does the paper have some depth as well as breadth?
- Does the paper indicate an ability to use the scientific literature effectively?