Skip to main content

Honors Program

All our undergraduates have the opportunity to do research under the guidance of superb faculty representing many specialties, including biological physics, astrophysics, condensed-matter physics, computational physics, particle physics, and nuclear physics. Nearly half of our physics majors complete senior honors theses and our undergraduates frequently co-author significant scientific papers.

The Honors Program requires a high level of accomplishment in a rigorous program of coursework and culminates in research work which is presented as a senior thesis. Note the requirements below:

  1. GPA across all coursework must be above 3.3;
  2. GPA in coursework in the major must be above 3.3; and
  3. Required coursework while a candidate for honors:
  • 6 hours of research, using some combination of independent studies (PHYS 3850/3851, ASTR 3850/3851) taken prior to honors registration, and
  • At least two hours of senior thesis (PHYS 4998)

Students are encouraged to prepare for the thesis project during the junior year, but application for candidacy in the Honors Program usually is done promptly at the start of the senior year. Electronic copies of physics and astronomy honors theses are available from Vanderbilt’s Institutional Repository.

Return to top


Please discuss your plan with the chair of the Honors Program and Independent Study Committee, Will Johns, as you prepare the application. The formal application for admission to the Honors Program consists of:

  1. A multi-page document containing:
    • The title of your proposed research
    • A paragraph briefly describing the work proposed for the honors thesis
    • A two-page research proposal attached to a single-page form
    • A statement that you seek honors in physics or in astronomy
    • Your overall GPA and GPA in physics and astronomy courses
    • A list of physics and astronomy courses completed
    • A statement of how you intend to satisfy the requirement of 6 hours of research credit (at least two hours must be in 4998, i.e. Honors)
    • Your signature and your adviser’s signature

Bring this to the Director of the Honors Program (Prof. Johns)  DOC and PDF versions of the form are available from the links.

Additionally, submit the Registration in Independent/Directed Study Courses form, filled out and signed by you, your honors adviser, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. This form is available online, from Ms. Lucas-McGowan (6301 Stevenson Center Complex), or from the Director of the Honors Program. Bring the completed form to Mr. Donald Pickert in Stevenson Center 6310A and he will register you for the 4998 course (after the 10th day of classes only the University Registrar can register you for courses).

The paragraph describing the proposed research is suitable for the research description on the Contract for Registration form. Keep a copy of this paragraph because you will need it when you register for the remainder of your 291 or 296 credit for the spring term.

The director of the Honors Program reports the candidates for honors to the physics faculty shortly after the tenth day of the fall semester. Approved candidates are sent to the dean of the college for final approval.

Return to top

The Honors Work

The research, interpretation of the thesis work, and its summary in the thesis, proceed during the academic year. The only formality is registration for PHYS 4998 or ASTR 4998 for the spring semester. Early in the spring semester, those honors students who wish to participate will have an opportunity to meet as a group with the program adviser to look at previous honors theses and to make a practice presentation of their own work.

Return to top

Completion of the Program

The thesis and oral examination are the final steps to complete the Honors Program. The examination is given by the Committee of Independent Examiners, which is nominated by the candidate and adviser and appointed by the Chair of the Department Honors Committee. The thesis must be completed sufficiently before the end of the spring semester so that:

  • The Committee of Independent Examiners reads the thesis.
  • The candidate schedules the oral examination.
  • The committee makes its recommendation to the adviser.
  • The adviser presents the appropriate motion for award of honors to the physics faculty at a faculty meeting, usually on the Monday of the last week of classes.
  • The department chair (or chair of the Honors Committee) reports the decision to the University Registrar in time for it to be included in the commencement bulletin and printed on the diploma. This last step, reporting to the registrar, must occur two weeks before commencement.

In order to provide time for this tightly constrained sequence of events, the deadline for the oral examination is usually 1:00 p.m. on the Monday of the last (partial) week of classes.

Questions about the Honors Program should be directed to:

Dr. Will E. Johns
Chair of the Departmental Honors and Independent Study Committee
Stevenson Center 6906

Return to top