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Honors Program

The Honors Program requires a high level of accomplishment in a rigorous program of course work and culminates in research work which is presented as a senior thesis. Note particularly the requirements of independent study or thesis credit hours and the grade point average for a) all course work, b) course work in the major, and c) course work taken while a candidate for honors. Preparation during the junior year for the thesis project is strongly encouraged, but actual 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 DiscoverArchive. Hard copies of a number of recent theses are also available on the shelves of SC 6333.


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

  1. A single page document containing:
    1. The title of your proposed research
    2. A paragraph describing the work proposed for the honors thesis
    3. A statement that you seek honors in physics or in astronomy
    4. Your overall GPA and GPA in physics and astronomy courses
    5. A statement of how you intend to satisfy the requirement of 10 hours of research credit.
    6. Your signature and your adviser's signature Bring this page to the Director of the Honors Program (Prof. Johns)
  2. The college form "Contract for registration in Independent/Directed Study Courses" filled out and signed by you, your honors adviser, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Prof. Weintraub). This form is available on line, from Ms. Lucas-McGowan (physics office, SC 6301), or from the Director of the Honors Program. Bring the completed form to Ms. Lucas-McGowan and she will register you for the 291 and 296 courses. (After the tenth day of classes only the college registrar can register you for courses.)

Prepare the paragraph and title in collaboration with your honors adviser. Admission to the honors program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy requires that your GPA, both overall and in physics and astronomy courses be above 3.0. Your GPA must remain above 3.0 while you are an honors candidate. The provision for the time and effort commitment is usually fulfilled by ten credit hours accumulated in Independent Study (291), taken before you are registered for honors and in Honors Research and Senior Thesis (296), taken while registered for honors. Some upper level courses, related to your research topic and also research in previous years or summers, may be used to satisfy part of this requirement. Discuss it with the Director of the Honors Program.

The paragraph describing the proposed research is suitable for the research description on the college 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 reported to the Dean for final approval.

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 P296 or A296 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 thesis and to make a practice presentation of their own work.

Wrapping It Up

The thesis and oral examination are the final steps in 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 College 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 is usually 1PM 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 (SC 6906 (SC6924), or phone 615-343-8295).

The faculty legislation which defines this Honors Program can be found here: HonorsRules.pdf(The college has renamed High Honors as used here to Highest Honors.)