The Senior Thesis


 What is the senior thesis?

The senior thesis is a requirement for graduation with a B.S. degree in Physics, Physics (astrophysics), Applied Physics or Physics Education. The senior thesis is a clear, logical presentation of some independent, physics-related work done by the student under the supervision of a thesis advisor.  Possible forms of the thesis include: results of the student's experimental, theoretical, or numerical investigations (often in connection with on-going research at UCSC); a review of a particular topic in physics; or a significant extension of class material (for example a Physics 134 or 135 experiment). The thesis must display understanding of physics at the level of an upper-division physics course. In conclusion, the senior thesis may range between a literature review on a topic that the student will choose in agreement with an advisor and the representation of significant research effort. Examples of theses can be found here.

The value to you of a senior thesis

The senior thesis is designed both as a capstone requirement to complete the undergraduate physics experience and to provide writing and research skills that will be important for your career in physics and beyond. Complementing standard physics courses, the senior thesis emphasizes independent decision-making, activity-scheduling, and presenting of scientific material in a well-written form. It allows you to explore and develop subjects of your own choosing and develops your ability to communicate your work effectively.

The senior thesis and Physics 182

The Physics 182 course is designed to develop writing and presentation skills. It is typically taken in the fall or winter quarter of the senior year. Among other things, the structure, format, and content of a senior thesis are discussed in detail. Grammatical skills, effective writing, and literature search techniques are developed. Useful templates for the thesis in LaTeX and Word formats are made available during the course. When you write your thesis, the quality of writing should be at the level expected for Physics 182. Physics 182 is not meant to be taken when you start your senior thesis; you should have started your senior thesis before you take Physics 182. You should aim to have a thesis advisor and topic and, ideally, done some preliminary work before taking Physics 182.

The thesis coordinator and thesis advisor

The instructor of your Physics 182 class is the thesis coordinator for your thesis and is primarily concerned with a suitable professional level and presentation. Your thesis advisor will provide guidance for your research and thesis content. Normally, your thesis advisor will be a member of the Physics or Astronomy faculty. However, the advisor could also be a faculty member of another department, a postdoctoral researcher, or a researcher at another institution, perhaps a scientist or engineer who has worked with you on a summer research project. A thesis advisor who is not a member of the Physics or Astronomy faculty must be approved by the thesis coordinator.

Timeline and format of the senior thesis

Timeline for the senior thesis

STUDENT Gets thesis cover page signed by thesis adviser. Include printed cover page for 3 signatures
STUDENT Sends thesis in pdf format by email to thesis coordinator. Put signed cover page in thesis coordinator's mailbox Deadline March 10 for winter graduation
THESIS COORD. May ask for revision. Signs, and after approval, coordinator sends signed cover page and final thesis in pdf format to department chair when thesis is approved
DEPT CHAIR Reviews and may request changes. After approval, signs cover page (this is the 3rd signature). Sends to physics department adviser last day of quarter
PHYSICS ADVISER Updates that the thesis grad requirement is met in student portal ------
STUDENT Applies to graduate in last quarter at UCSC


The body of the senior thesis should be at least twenty pages of double-spaced text, figures and equations. 

  • When the thesis is done, you should give it to your thesis advisor, along with a printed copy of the cover page. Your thesis advisor will approve the quality and accuracy of the content of your thesis and will sign the cover page.
  • After this is done, you should send your thesis as an email attachment to your thesis coordinator (the instructor of your Physics 182 class) in pdf format. You should place the printed cover page of the thesis (signed by your advisor) in the mailbox of the thesis coordinator. This should be done at least two weeks before the end of the quarter in which you plan to graduate.
  • The thesis coordinator may request revisions to the thesis, in which case you should resubmit the revised version (in pdf) to the coordinator.

Once the thesis is approved by the coordinator, they sign the cover page and send the thesis and cover page to the department chair for final approval and signature. Most senior theses will be archived and can be accessed here. (If you want your name redacted from the thesis before it is archived, you should submit a pdf of the redacted version of the thesis to the thesis coordinator.)

Starting your senior thesis as early as possible is very important for timely graduationA significant number of students graduate late because they failed to finish their senior thesis on time. The following is a timeline to help you verify that your thesis is proceeding as it should:

  • Four-year students should find a thesis advisor by the end of the spring term of their junior year. Transfer students should do so by the beginning of their final year. If you have difficulty in finding a thesis advisor, contact the instructor of Physics 182 in the quarter you plan to take the course, the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor, or the department chair.
  • You should enroll in Physics 182 in the fall or winter term of your senior year. If you do not have a one-page synopsis of what you plan to do for your thesis project, endorsed by your thesis advisor, by the end of the term, you will fail the course.
  • You should start writing your senior thesis no later than the beginning of your final quarter, even if your research work is not complete. The actual writing (including the thesis introduction) takes more time than you think; it is easier to make additions to the thesis when your research work is complete than to write everything at the end.