Physics 3xx: Independent Research

Your independent research project should be the capstone of your undergraduate education. One of the benefits of our small department is that you have the opportunity to be directly involved in research with a faculty member. Your research will allow you to experience firsthand how the frontiers of scientific knowledge are expanded. Some examples of recent student research projects are posted here.

Finding a Research Mentor

General information about getting involved in research is available on the Research Opportunities page. After you have identified one or more faculty you would be interested in working with, but before preregistration for the semester you plan to begin thesis research, talk the faculty member(s) about the possibility of thesis research.

Registration

For your first semester of research, you should enroll in Physics 301 (or PHYS-311 for Biological Physics research), with the section number appropriate to your mentor. You will need to complete an Add/Drop form and obtain the signature of your mentor. If you would like the opportunity to perform some really in-depth research, we recommend that you plan to take at least 2 semesters of independent research. In addition, two semesters of independent research are required for those wishing to be considered by the faculty for Honors in Physics. (For your second semester of research, you should enroll in Phys 302, then 303, etc., or, if you started with 311, then 312, then 313, etc.)

Expectations

Physics 3xx is normally taken for 3 credits per semester, and you should plan to spend at least 3 hours of research per week per credit. Students involved in experimental research will need to arrange for large blocks of time to spend in the laboratory. It is essential that you understand what your mentor expects from you and what is required for your specific research project. It is then incumbent upon you to follow through - you will likely have to take the initiative to keep your project moving, make progress on your writing, and be in a position to produce a complete thesis at the end of your project.

The Thesis

During each semester in which you are registered for Physics 3xx, you will be required to prepare a detailed report describing your research.

If you are doing only one semester of research, you will complete a 10-20 page research paper and deliver a 15 minute oral presentation. The paper should follow the guidelines here.

If you are doing two semesters in the same lab, during the first semester, you will complete a 10-20 page progress report and research plan. The progress report should begin with introduction and methods sections that follows the guidelines here, but instead of sections on 'results' and 'discussion', you will have sections on 'preliminary results' and 'planned research'. These sections should tell the story of what you will be doing in the next semester of your research, and why. For the second semester of research, you will complete a paper of at least 20 pages following the guidelines, and give a 20-minute oral presentation.

Here are some pointers for effective scientific writing and oral presentations.

The Second Reader

All thesis and progress reports will be evaluated by two members of the faculty, the research mentor and a second reader selected in consultation with your mentor. Second readers should be chosen in the first month of the semester and ordinarily are faculty from a different research area in physics who are not serving as a research mentor for other senior research projects. The final grade for the course will be determined by the quality of research performed, as determined by the research mentor, and by the quality of the written work, as graded by both the mentor and the second reader.

Honors in Physics

Two semesters of independent research are required for those wishing to be considered by the faculty for Honors in Physics. The draft of the full thesis and the oral presentation are important components of the faculty decision to award Honors in Physics

Timeline and due dates

Specific dates will be provided each semester

  • End of preregistration: Last day to submit Add/Drop forms to the registrar.
  • First month of first semester of research: Submit the name of your 2nd reader to the DIrector of Undergraduate Studies.
  • One week before classes end: A complete draft of your written report is due to your mentor and 2nd reader.
  • Right after classes end [usually the second study day]: Oral presentations
  • Last day of finals (or earlier in the finals period, at the mentor's discretion): Final revisions of thesis due.