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Senior Thesis

The department offers Physics majors the opportunity to complete a senior thesis.

Thesis guidelines

  1. Students must submit a Senior Thesis Application Form once they identify a physics project, either theoretical or experimental, in consultation with individual faculty members. The application form is attached to this web page and is also available from the undergraduate coordinator. The application must be submitted by 4 pm on Friday prior to the Thanksgiving break of the academic year in which the student plans to graduate.
  2. Credit for the project is assigned by the adviser within the framework of PHYSICS 205, Senior Thesis Research. A minimum of 3 units of PHYSICS 205 must be completed for a letter grade during the senior year. Work completed in the senior thesis program may not be used as a substitute for regular required courses for the Physics major.
  3. A written report and a presentation of the work at its completion are required for the senior thesis. The senior thesis candidate is required to present the project at the department's Senior Thesis Presentation Program in mid to late May. This event is publicized and open to the general public. The expectation is that the student's adviser, second reader, and all other senior thesis candidates attend.

Choosing a thesis topic and writing the thesis

When should I start working on my thesis project?
No later than the autumn quarter of your senior year, but preferably earlier, during a summer research position.

When should I start writing my thesis?
No later than winter quarter of your senior year.

How much research must I do for the Senior Thesis?
When you have completed your senior thesis, you should be an expert on the particular area of research discussed in your thesis. Some projects are independent of the advisor’s research; some projects are a well-defined sub-area within the advisor’s broader research program.

Who should I ask for assistance in writing my thesis?
Your thesis advisor, as well as graduate students and/or postdocs with whom you have worked closely, can provide advice.
The Hume Center for Writing and Speaking is also a useful resource:

How do I identify a Senior Thesis advisor?
Students normally find a Senior Thesis topic and advisor through the Summer Research Program.
Other sources are courses such as Physics 59 (Frontiers in Physics Research), faculty web pages and resources on the Undergraduate Research and Independent Projects web page:

How can I obtain information to write the background section of my thesis?
Broad “review articles” in the field and references therein provide valuable background information.
Your advisor and group members should also be able to point you to relevant papers.

Is there a course in which I should enroll for my thesis?
You are required to enroll in Physics 205 (Senior Thesis Research) under your advisors’ section during your senior year for a minimum of 3 units. The course must be taken for letter grade. 1 unit = 3 hours of research per week.

If I register for Physics 205, can I get paid?
No, you cannot earn course credit and get paid for the same work.

May I get paid while doing research?
An advisor may occasionally have funds to support you during the academic year, but you cannot earn course credit for the same work.

The following links contain information on how to apply for funding during the academic year and during the summer term –
Student Grants:
Physics Summer Research Program:

How many pages should the thesis be?
The length of the thesis varies, depending on the type of thesis. A more theoretical thesis, perhaps fairly dense with equations, may be shorter than an experimental thesis containing a number of figures showing the experimental setup, plots of the data, fits to the data, etc. Most theses are between 20 and 60 pages long.

Electronic versions of Physics Senior Theses written in 2010 or later are available online here:[collection][]=ds247vz0452

In what format should I write the thesis?
The thesis should contain the following elements:

  • A title page listing the title, the student author, the primary and secondary readers, and the date.
  • An abstract, which could be on the title page or inside the document.
  • An acknowledgement at the beginning or after the abstract.
  • Table of contents.
  • A body, divided into sections and subsections.
  • A bibliography of references at the end. Include page numbers.

Each table should have a caption above the table and each figure should have a caption below the figure. Include a reference to each table and figure in the text.  If you have a large number of detailed plots, or a very long detailed derivation, consider putting it in an Appendix so that the text flows better.

Should the thesis be single or double spaced?
One-and-a-half spacing is best. It makes it easier to read and easier for your readers to mark up.

Can I write a thesis based on work done in another department?
Yes, but it must be physics related and you must have a faculty member in Physics as the second reader.

Does the thesis need to include a literature review?
Yes, a literature review should be included.

For which audience am I writing?
Your target audience should be students in your major. Other Physics majors should be able to follow the thesis and understand what you did – although they might not follow all the details.

Is it okay to include my published papers as part of my thesis?
Yes, as long as you include a citation to the publication.

Several Stanford professors have done research based on the results of my research. May I include some of their results because they greatly enrich my overall project or does the thesis have to be 100% on data I took myself?
It is definitely OK to include other data as long as you provide credit and appropriate citations.

Preparing the thesis presentation

In what format should my presentation be?
It is typical to use slides prepared with the presentation software of your choice.

Do I need to bring my own laptop or will there be one available for me to use?
Students should bring their own laptop and any necessary adapters.

Do you have any other suggestions for the presentations?

  •  Note that your presentation has a hard limit of 20 minutes. The moderator will cut off the presentation at that time for an 8-minute question-and-answer period. The next presenter will be asked to set up at the 28-minute mark.
  • In addition to practicing to make sure your talk fits into 20 minutes, note that you should practice presenting from your laptop in the same room well before the actual presentation. In this way you can avoid embarrassing delays due to technical problems or missing connectors, etc. Any technical delays will only reduce your speaking time.
  • Make sure you start your presentation with an accessible overview. The audience will contain mainly non-experts in the field you are going to discuss. This is often the most difficult aspect of any presentation, since you must bring along the non-experts while explaining later technical results and their importance without losing the audience.
  • PRACTICE!! (A good strategy is to do timed 20-minute practice sessions in front of your classmates, especially those who will also be presenting a thesis. Encourage your audience to give you feedback and to ask questions afterwards about anything that was not clear.)