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Undergraduate Research

The Department of Physics & Astronomy requires (optional for students who matriculated before August 2017)  Physics majors to engage in research under the supervision of department faculty or faculty elsewhere in the university who are engaged in physics-related research.  Normally, students wait to start research until they have completed at least one year of physics and mathematics coursework; some computer science (programming) skills are also often invaluable in getting started in research.

Students may get started in research by contacting a professor on their own or by asking for guidance from the Director of Undergraduate Studies or any other member of the faculty.

Students engaged in research outside of the Department of Physics & Astronomy (and enrolled in a course other than PHYS 3850 or ASTR 3850) can satisfy the research requirement of the Physics major if their outside research is pre-approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Physics & Astronomy.

Normally, students involved in research during the regular academic year enroll for credit in Undergraduate Research (either PHYS 3850 or ASTR 3850).

To enroll in research for credit, fill out the form found at


After obtaining the necessary approval signatures (faculty supervisor; DUS or Department Chair), students should turn in the form to Ms. Peggy McGowan in the department administrative office (SC 6301) or their Dean's Office.  Note that students cannot enroll directly, via YES, in any research course.

In exceptional circumstances, a student may engage in research as a paid activity and use that work to satisfy the research requirement. A student covered by Federal Work Study might be in this situation.  Also, in summers, students typically are paid a stipend when doing research, whether they are involved in research at Vanderbilt or at another university through the NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Both of these situations would satisfy the intent of the faculty for the student to engage deeply in a research experience.  Students in this kind of situation will need to arrange with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for a formal waiver from the research course requirement. Note, however, that even If a waiver is granted, the student will still need to satisfy the total credit hours requirement of the major and will therefore need to replace the three credit hours of research with three credit hours from regular coursework. (This substitution would be the context of the formal waiver request.)

Students who choose to pursue Honors in Physics or in Astronomy will enroll in either PHYS 4998 or ASTR 4998. See the departmental web page on Honors for undergraduates for more information about the Honors program.