The Physics Department offers an honors program that can lead to graduation with distinction or with high distinction based on academic excellence and on excellence in research as judged by a committee of physics faculty. The honors program requires writing a thesis followed by defending the thesis. These requirements and procedures apply to both physics and biophysics degrees.
A physics major can also graduate with Latin honors, which is based on the student's grade point average and does not require any research. Details about Latin honors can found on the Registrar's webpage Academic Recognition and Honors.
Students doing senior thesis may wish to register for PHYSICS 495, an independent study course. However this is not required.
A senior thesis is required for Graduation with Distinction in the Physics Department. The thesis is a written document that summarizes and explains the thesis research for a faculty committee who will evaluate the quality of the research, the quality of the thesis, and the student's understanding of the thesis as demonstrated during an oral thesis defense. The committee will then decide on whether to award honors and what kind (honors or high honors).
The honors thesis defense is an oral examination that involves a student giving a 30-minute presentation to a committee of faculty that will then evaluate the quality of the thesis work and of the student's understanding of his or her thesis work. The committee will then vote on whether the student has obtained honors and, if so, award honors or high honors.
The defense must be held no later than the last day for undergraduate classes during the spring semester. A final version of the thesis must be submitted to the DUS in PDF format before the end of the examination period of that same semester.
The thesis defense will last no longer than two hours. The student should plan on speaking for no longer than 30 minutes (without interruptions). The remaining time will involve the committee asking the student questions about the thesis and for discussion (in the student's absence) about whether to grant honors and what kind.
The student is strongly recommended to practice his or her thesis presentation at least once with the thesis advisor before the actual defense.
It is the responsibility of the student to make all arrangements for the defense in consultation with the faculty advisor. These responsibilities include:
- Finding three committee members to be on the thesis committee and emailing the membership of the committee to the Assistant to the DUS for approval by the DUS. The committee chair is the student's advisor; the DUS (or the Associate DUS for Biophysics, for Biophysics theses) will often (but not always) serve on the committee. The student should request one or two additional faculty members to serve on the committee. Any faculty member at Duke may serve, although at least two should have appointments in Physics. Non-faculty members with Ph.D.s involved in supervising students (e.g., research associates) may also serve on the committee, but there must at least three faculty members. It is preferable for at least one committee member to have expertise outside of the subfield represented by the thesis topic.
- Finding a time when all committee members can meet for the two-hour defense, on a date no later than the last day of classes.
- Reserving the meeting room with the help of the Assistant to DUS. The defense date must be set and the room reserved by the Friday before spring break, 5 pm.
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