Physics and Engineering Physics majors may graduate with a Departmental Honors designation on their diploma.
An honors designation with the College of Arts & Sciences is only achievable by the completion of an original piece of research. A senior thesis must be submitted, with typical lengths from 20 to 100 pages. An oral defense of the thesis also must be given to a committee of three faculty members. Typically the presentations last for 40 minutes.
In the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, an honors designation can be achieved by a high grade point average (greater than 3.8) or by writing an honors thesis and following the guidelines for A&S honors. It is possible to receive double honors in Engineering by having a high GPA and by writing and defending a thesis.
The level of Honors that a student receives depends on two factors, GPA and the quality of the senior Honors thesis. The following GPA cut-off acts as a guideline:
GPA > 3.8 Summa Cum Laude
GPA > 3.5 Magna Cum Laude
GPA > 3.3 Cum Laude
However, a GPA of 4.0 with no Honors thesis will not earn an Honors designation, nor will a 4.0 GPA with a poor quality thesis earn the designation of Summa or any designation at all if the quality is low enough. In addition, an especially high quality thesis may bump a student up from one designation to another. For instance, a student with a 3.4 and a very strong thesis may earn a Magna designation. Even a Summa designation is not impossible, but such jumps are very rare.
Students are encouraged to find a faculty member from Physics or any of our associated departments (including APS, CASA and JILA or even NIST or NREL) to serve as a thesis advisor. These advisors serve to support students through their research and thesis process. Please contact the Honors Chair for important direction in finding a thesis advisor. The departmental Honors Chair must approve any thesis advisor that originates outside of physics.
Each student’s Honors thesis committee is composed of three faculty members: two members from the Physics Department, one of whom must be a member of the Honors Council, and an external member from outside the Physics Department. If the student’s thesis advisor does not fall into these categories, he/she can be added as a fourth member to the Honors thesis committee.
To graduate with an Honors designation, students should enroll in at least one semester of Physics honors (PHYS 4610/4620/4630), although two or three are more usual. Due to the dependence of the Honors designation on GPA, PHYS 4610/4620/4630 are controlled enrollment courses. Students need to contact the Honors Chair (the teacher of these classes) to be admitted to the class. Typically, students will be enrolled only if their GPA lies within striking range of the 3.3 minimum. This is considered on a case-by-case basis.
All students are required to attend a once a week, hour-long Honors class. These classes are designed to help shepherd students through the Honors process. As part of these class sessions, students rotate through giving 20-minute oral presentations of their research to their peers.
To be eligible for Departmental Honors in Physics, a student either must (if in A&S) or may (if in Engineering) complete an original piece of research and write and defend an honors thesis. It is expected that Honors students will spend between 6-10 hours per week working on their Honors research. Information on how to obtain a research opportunity can be found on our Research Opportunity page. Thesis advisors and the Honors Chair can also provide guidance to find a research opportunity.