Departmental Honors

Procedure, Requirements, and Deadlines for Attempting Honors in Physics and Astronomy

Students interested in graduating with departmental honors do so by carrying out an extensive research project during their senior year, writing an in-depth thesis, and passing an Honors Discussion.  Students should think carefully about their desire to obtain departmental honors, as it is a significant commitment.  To be considered as an honors candidate, the student must satisfy and complete the following requirements:

  1. The student must have a cumulative physics GPA of 3.30 (or higher) during the spring semester of their junior year.  The student must maintain this GPA through the fall semester of their senior year.

  2. Honors projects can be completed either through the PHYS 491/492 sequence during senior year, or through two courses of independent research (PHYS 550) in both semesters of the senior year.  In general, it is not possible to obtain honors through other means (e.g., by mixing these routes, or by using a 550 from junior year).

  3. During spring semester of junior year (ideally no later than spring break), the student initiates discussion with faculty member(s) who might serve as the Research Advisor for the honors project.  If the student intends to pursue honors through the 491/492 route, they should speak with the faculty member scheduled to teach PHYS 491 the next fall.

  4. No later than the Friday of the second-to-last week of spring semester of junior year, the student submits a Statement of Intent to go for honors This statement is not a formal proposal, but it does need to indicate the Advisor and the approximate scope of the project.  The Statement of Intent must be approved by the full Department for the project to proceed.  The student will be informed of the Department’s decision by the end of finals week.  Students who will be studying off-campus during the spring semester of their junior year are encouraged to start the process as early as possible so that there is sufficient time for discussions with the Advisor.

  5. Assuming the Statement of Intent is approved, the Advisor meets with the student to outline summer plans, ideally including a summer reading list.  The point of this meeting is to outline what should be accomplished over the summer so that research can begin in earnest at the start of the fall semester.

  6. No later than the Friday of the fourth week of fall semester of senior year, the student submits a formal Honors Proposal and organizes a Thesis Committee.  The Honors Proposal should include a detailed description of the project and an approximate timeline for the research.  The student must also organize a Thesis Committee comprised of two faculty members in addition to the Research Advisor.  These faculty members will be formal readers for the Honors Thesis.  The Honors Proposal must be approved by the Thesis Committee for the project to proceed.  The student will be informed of the Committee’s decision within two weeks of the proposal being submitted.  If the decision is positive, the student will be considered an Honors Candidate.

  7. No later than the Friday of the next-to-last week of fall classes, the Honors Candidate organizes and presents a research report to the Thesis Committee.  It is anticipated that significant progress on the project will have been made by this point.  The Thesis Committee will respond to the Honors Candidate within two weeks, indicating whether the progress is sufficient to proceed.

  8. The Honors Candidate is encouraged to seek opportunities to present their research to an outside (off-campus) audience.  The Advisor or other faculty members may have suggestions of appropriate venues, such as a regional APS or AAPT Meeting, or the CPC Astronomers’ Meeting.  An outside presentation is not required as part of the regular honors procedure.

  9. No later than the Friday following spring break, the student supplies the Thesis Committee with a complete draft of their Honors Thesis.  The Committee will respond with comments within two weeks.  Assuming the draft of the Thesis is sufficient, the Committee meets to advise the Honors Candidate on preparation for the Honors Discussion.

  10. Shortly after spring break, in collaboration with the Advisor, the Honors Candidate should schedule a public presentation (a colloquium) of the research.  The colloquium typically occurs during the last week or two of classes during the spring semester and should be scheduled in consultation with the Research Advisor and the Academic Department Coordinator.

  11. At least one week before the date of the colloquium, a PDF of the complete Honors Thesis is due to all members of the Thesis Committee.

  12. The Honors Candidate gives a colloquium discussing the research, not to exceed 30 minutes in length.

  13. The Honors Candidate participates in a 45-minute Honors Discussion with the Thesis Committee that focuses on (1) the honors research project, and (2) basic and fundamental physics topics, some of which will likely not be directly related to the honors research.  The Honors Discussion is scheduled by the Thesis Committee and typically occurs on reading day (Wednesday) of finals week.

  14. After the Honors Discussion, the Thesis Committee meets privately to discuss the Honors Candidate’s research accomplishments, the colloquium, and the Honors Discussion.  The Thesis Committee then votes on whether to approve departmental honors or not.  The Honors Candidate is typically notified of the Committee’s decision shortly after the Honors Discussion.

  15. No later than the last day of finals, the final version of the Honors Thesis is due.  This version should incorporate edits and suggestions from members of the Thesis Committee.  A PDF of the thesis, conforming to the College’s standards for Honors Theses, must be submitted to the Thesis Committee and the Academic Department Coordinator by this date.  It is the responsibility of the student to be in contact with the Academic Department Coordinator regarding what the College requires to grant Honors at graduation.

The following LaTeX template is designed to satisfy the College formatting requirements.
DC Honors Physics LaTeX template (pdf)
DC Honors Physics LaTeX template (.zip with all files and figs)

Past Recipients of Departmental Awards

Each year the Department of Physics & Astronomy gives awards and scholarships to the strongest students.

Past recipients of departmental honors