Senior Honors Thesis

Latin Honors and Senior Honors Thesis

Students engaged in research are encouraged to write a report.

Students with >3.65 GPA are encouraged to write a formal senior honors thesis that will qualify them to receive a diploma with Latin Honors:

  • summa cum laude (top 15% by GPA), with the highest praise,
  • magna cum laude (next 35%), with great praise,
  • cum laude (other 50%), with praise.

The thesis is a proof that you have a deep understanding of the concepts acquired as a Physics major, and that you can use these concepts to do original research. The thesis should describe research performed by you in the Physics Department or elsewhere. The writing should attest to your ability to write a scientific paper. The thesis should include an introduction giving the motivation for the research project and background information, describe the methods applied and the results of the research, include a discussion section, and include appropriate citations throughout the thesis. You will receive faculty feedback on your thesis which will help you to improve your scientific writing skills.

Each year the deadline for seniors to turn in their finished theses is in March by 5:00 PM on the Monday that is the first class day after the end of spring break. This is a firm deadline that cannot be extended.

All students writing a senior thesis need to report their intent to do so to the undergraduate secretary Sarah Akin with this form. If the research was done and supervised in another department, you must find a physics faculty member to be a thesis supervisor, read your thesis and certify that it is substantial and well written. In this case, please give the names of both advisors.

A successful thesis usually contains twelve to twenty pages of text (single-spaced) plus figures, tables, and references. Writers should consult their advisors frequently to ensure high scientific and writing quality. The librarian, Alison Verbeck, has theses from recent years in the library, so you can look at examples there, or in the electronic repository.

All students writing a senior thesis are encouraged to give a 10 minute presentation about their work to fellow undergraduate students and professors. The Undergraduate Studies Committee will contact all senior thesis writers to schedule presentations. The Undergraduate Studies Committee will try to schedule these meetings before the due date of the senior thesis so that students can use feedback from the audience to address shortcomings of the thesis. We also recommend that a poster describing the research be presented at one of the two Undergraduate Research Symposia held each year.

We ask that students post electronic copies of their theses at the Washington University Libraries Open Scholarship repository. The repository is a service of the Libraries to provide free access to the scholarly output of the university. More information about the repository is available on the “About” page at Open Scholarship already contains several senior honors projects. You can find examples listed under Student Publications in two folders – Undergraduate Theses–Restricted and Undergraduate Theses–Unrestricted.

Students may perform the research work on which they will report as volunteers, for pay, or for academic credit. An hour of work may not earn both money and credit. Students should not be paid for time spent writing theses, but may count that time toward academic credit. Seniors may use Physics 499 and/or Physics 500 to sign up for credit. These courses require manual enrollment; your advisor will request that Sarah Akin register you for the class and appropriate number of credit hours. A University-wide guideline is one unit of credit for three hours per week of research work.