Close menu Resources for... William & Mary
W&M menu close William & Mary


Honors Program in physics provides the opportunity for especially well qualified students to complete their undergraduate education by engaging in research, individually or as part of a major research project. It is particularly well suited for students planning to pursue graduate degree in Physics and related disciplines.

Admission to the program is restricted to those who, in the opinion of the Physics Department, have sufficient preparation, ability, and motivation to complete the program successfully. Concentration Honors: A Guide for Students and Thesis Directors is a general guide provided by the Charles Center, which oversees all departmental honors programs.

Requirements for Honors in Physics
  • A physics GPA greater than 3.0
  • In addition to the major course requirements, the department requirements (PHYS 201, PHYS 208, PHYS251, PHYS 252, PHYS 313 and PHYS 401), the department requirements for Honors specify PHYS 314 and PHYS 403, as well as either PHYS 303 or PHYS 402, and either PHYS 351 or PHYS 352. 
  • The Honors Thesis (3 credits of PHYS 495 and 3 credits of PHYS 496)
Procedure for Securing Admission to Candidacy
  1. Initial Application: By four weeks before the last day of class of their junior year, students should submit an online application for permission to pursue Honors in Physics. Students are urged to consult informally with interested faculty members as they prepare their initial proposals. The initial application includes: 1) a description of the proposed project; 2) the name of the proposed research advisor; 3) a list of physics courses taken and currently being taken, including names of instructors and grades received; 4) cumulative grade point average and grade point average for the previous semester; and 5) any other relevant information which would assist the Department in determining the candidate's adequacy of background for the proposed project.
  2. Tentative Approval: Students will be promptly notified if  their initial application is approved by the Physics Department.
  3. Final Application: Working with the research advisor, the student should select an honors project and submit an Honors research proposal to the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee, Irina Novikova, [[ixnovi]], two weeks before the last day of scheduled classes. This proposal should state the scientific goals of the proposed research, briefly describe proposed methods, and identify student’s anticipated contribution. The document should not exceed three double-spaced typewritten pages, and must include a list of relevant references. (Under unusual circumstances, such as when students are spending their junior year abroad, the submission of the final proposal may be delayed with the permission of the Undergraduate Committee Chair. It should be pointed out, however, that such proposals are less likely to be accepted.)

  4. Final Departmental Approval: Students who have submitted final applications by two weeks before the end of scheduled classes will be notified of the department's decision no later than the last day of scheduled classes in the semester. At that time the official Honors Application form will be submitted to the Charles Center.

    Note that the registration for PHYS 495/496 – Honors is done by the Charles Center, and not by individual students.
The Honors Thesis
  1. Mid-Year Reports: All candidates for Honors are required to present a mid-year report, consisting of a paper and a short talk. The paper is to consist of approximately 5-10 double-spaced printed pages including appropriate figures, formulae, and references. It should describe both the work to date and the final goals of the project. The first draft of the paper will be submitted to the research advisor by the Monday before the Thanksgiving holiday. The corrected paper will be returned on the next Monday so that a corrected mid-year paper can be submitted when the oral report is given. Mid-year oral reports will be given during the last week of classes. They will be of 15-20 minutes duration with 10 minutes allowed for questions and comments. A candidate who successfully completes PHYS 495 will receive a grade of "G" at the end of the first term of the project. 
  2. Complete Draft: A complete draft of each student's thesis (not necessarily including all final results and discussion) must be submitted to the student's advisor not later than four weeks before the last day of classes of the student's graduating semester.
  3. Thesis Submission: Two weeks before the last day of classes of the student's graduating semester a copy of the corrected and completed thesis conforming to the specifications listed in Section III of Concentration Honors: A Guide for Students and Thesis Directors must be submitted to the advisor and distributed to members of the examining committee. This copy need not be on acid-free paper unless it will be the copy retained by Swem Library and/or the department.
  4. Project Summary for Diverse Audience: All students using their Honors research to satisfy COLL400 requirement must submit a brief project description (not exceeding 500 words), written at a non-scientist level (for example, for high-school students). It must summarize the goals of the project, student’s contribution and results.  The Project Summary must be e-mailed to the Research Coordinators together with the thesis draft two weeks before the last day of classes of the student's graduating semester.
    The Oral Examination
  1. Scheduling of Examination: All oral examinations will be completed by noon of the Thursday of the last week of classes.
  2. The Examining Committee: The oral examination will be conducted by an Honors examining committee of at least three members. The Committee shall include at least two examiners from the Physics Department, one of whom will be the candidate's Honors advisor, and one external examiner.
  3. Attendance at Examination: All members of the college community are invited to an Honors oral examination. All students concentrating in physics are strongly urged to attend.
  4. Subject Matter of Examination: The oral examination is designed to test both the candidate's ability to defend the conclusions and procedures of his/her thesis and his/her knowledge of the current state of research on relevant topics of a similar nature.
  5. Format of Examination: At the beginning of the examination, the candidate will give an oral presentation of his/her thesis (typically 45 minutes). After the presentation questioning will proceed in whatever fashion is agreed upon by the examining committee. When the committee determines that the examination should be concluded, all persons not on the committee will be asked to leave the room.
  6. Awarding of Honors: After deliberation, the examining committee will determine whether the candidate's work is of sufficiently high quality to merit the award of Honors. If this decision is favorable, the designation of "Honors" will be given (the Physics Department awards one level of honors only). In making this decision the procedures specified below will be followed.
    • The decision whether or not to award Honors is to be based solely on the thesis and the oral examination. If Honors is not awarded, the student will instead receive a letter grade for Physics 451-452, Senior Project.
    • In cases of disagreement among the members of the committee, the opinion of a simple majority prevails.
    • If Honors is awarded, all members of the examining committee are to sign the committee's report to the Dean and the title page of the candidate's thesis. The original of this page must be immediately submitted to Elle Wilkinson, and the copy must be turned in to the Charles Center by 11:00 am on the last day of classes.
The Deposition of the Honors Thesis 

It is the responsibility of the successful Honors candidate to submit electronic copies (commonly called ETDs) to W&M Libraries' online scholarship platform, W&M Publish. The deadlines for Honors students to upload the final version of their thesis, including the signature cover sheet, to W&M Publish are 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before commencement for students defending in the spring, and 5:00 p.m. on the last day of exams for students defending in the fall. Further guidelines concerning requirements for the thesis are found in Concentration Honors: A Guide for Students and Thesis Directors.

Failure to meet these deadlines may result in the loss of honors.