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Honors Program

This page has been updated. Here is a link to the old version.

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 an Honors thesis. Note particularly the requirements of research 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. In order to allow completion of the thesis defense before the spring semester of the senior year, application to the Honors program during the junior year is strongly encouraged. This will allow you, for example, to complete Honors work before application to graduate schools.

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 multi-page document containing:
      1. The title of your proposed research
      2. A paragraph briefly describing the work proposed for the honors thesis
      3. A two page research proposal attached to the single page form
      4. A statement that you seek honors in physics or in astronomy
      5. Your overall GPA and GPA in physics and astronomy courses
      6. A list of physics and astronomy courses completed
      7. A statement of how you intend to satisfy the requirement of 6 hours of research credit. (At least 2 hours must be in 4998)
      8. Your signature and your adviser's signature.

        Bring this page to the Director of the Honors Program (Prof. Johns) Word and PDF versions of the form are available from the links.
    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  3850, 3851, and/or 4998 courses. (After the tenth day of classes only the college registrar can register you for courses.)

Prepare the proposal 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 3.300. Your GPA must remain above 3.300 while you are an honors candidate. The provision for the time and effort commitment of course work is fulfilled by hours accumulated in Independent Study (3850/3851), taken before you are registered for honors, and at least two hours in Honors Research and Senior Thesis (4998), taken while registered for honors.

You will need a paragraph describing the proposed research suitable for the research description on the 4998 registration form. Keep a copy of your application form as the brief description of your research can be reused for the 4998 form.

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 P4998 or A4998 for the semester in which you intend to defend your 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. To include the honors result in, for example, graduate school applications, we encourage student to complete their honors examination before the end of the fall semester in their senior year. The thesis must be completed sufficiently before the end of the student's graduating 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.)