Physics 499x: Independent Research (Senior Thesis)

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. Titles of recent student theses (and the names of their research advisors) can be found here.

Juniors and Seniors may take up to four semesters of Independent Research for course credit. Independent Research requires a time commitment of at least nine hours per week (i.e., 3 credits) and you will be rewarded with an opportunity to take a research project and really make it your own. This extra time will allow you to delve deeply into the physics of your research in a significant manner. By the end of your first semester, you will likely start thinking of some of your own ideas for the next steps in your project. With the progression of each semester, you will gain more experience, skills, and independence, and you might publish your work in a highly-regarded scientific journal. Click here for the steps needed to register.

For each semester of Independent Research, you will also be learning how to present your research to other scientists. If you complete at least two semesters of Independent Research, you will also be considered for Honors in Physics at the end of your Senior year.

Finding a Research Mentor

Research according to physics subfields can be found here. After you have identified one or more faculty whose research is of interest to you, talk to the faculty member(s) about the possibility of doing thesis research with them, well before preregistration for the semester you plan to begin thesis research.


For your first semester of Physics independent research, you should enroll in Physics 4998. You will need the section and CRN numbers appropriate to your research mentor. If you decide during registration, email this information to the DUS and the College Dean will add you. Otherwise, you must complete an Add/Drop form and obtain the signature of your research mentor. If you would like the opportunity to perform in-depth research, we recommend that you plan to take at least two semesters of independent research. Please note that 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 4999.


Physics 499X is taken for (at least) 3 credits per semester, and you should plan to spend 3 hours of research per week per credit – i.e., 9 hours/week for 3 credits of Physics 499X. Students involved in independent research will need to arrange for large blocks of time to spend with their research group. 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.

Writing Requirements

During each semester in which you are registered for Physics 499X, you will be required to prepare a detailed final 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.

If you are doing two semesters with the same research group, you will have a writing requirement for each semester. 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 follow these guidelines, 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 an undergraduate thesis 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 research mentors 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’s 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 the 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.
  • Just after classes end [usually the first study day]: Oral presentations.
  • Last day of finals (or earlier in the finals period, at the mentor’s discretion): Final revisions of thesis due.

Research Resources

A helpful guide to Physics Research Resources can be found on the Georgetown University Library Website.

Physics 499X Links