The Senior Thesis


December 7, 2018 - For Fall 18 Graduation

March 15, 2019 - For Winter 19 Graduation

June 6, 2019 -  For Spring 19 Graduation

August 23, 2010 - For Summer 19 Graduation

The senior thesis submission process is as the following: 

  1. Students submit a full, nearly-final draft of thesis to the thesis adviser.
  2. Students complete the senior thesis exit form:
  3. Students ask the thesis adviser to email the APPROVED thesis in pdf format to the department chair. 
  4. Department Chair may request changes. After approval, signs cover page. Sends to physics department adviser.
  5. Major Adviser updates the thesis grad requirement in student portal and emails a copy of the signed cover page to student. 

 What is the senior thesis?

The senior thesis is a requirement for graduation with a B.S. degree in Physics, Physics (astrophysics), Applied Physics. 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.

LaTeX template files for the standard UC thesis format, with examples of figures, tables, references, etc.  This package has been tested with the graphical Web tool Overleaf ( but may work with stand-alone LaTeX or other interfaces.  Please report errors to Prof. David Smith.

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 advisor

You and your thesis advisor will sign and agreement at the start of the process.  If you are doing research with a faculty member, that person will usually be your thesis advisor.  Normally, the 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. If your thesis advisor is not a faculty member in Physics or Astronomy, they must be approved by your 182 instructor.  If the thesis advisor is not a member of the UCSC faculty at all, a UCSC faculty member in Physics or Astronomy must agree to be a backup advisor and review your final draft. This document contains the agreement between the student and their thesis advisor, outlining the expectations of both, and a checklist to help the advisor determine when the thesis meets departmental standards.  The agreement should be completed at the start of the thesis process and given to the student's Physics 182 instructor at the start of that class.

Timeline and format of the senior thesis

Timeline for the senior thesis

STUDENT Submit a full, nearly-final draft of your  thesis to your thesis adviser By agreement between student and advisor, but at least 2-3 weeks before the dates shown at the top of the page.
STUDENT Fill out the online thesis exit form.  Ask your thesis advisoer to email your APPROVED thesis in pdf format to the department chair, and to sign the exit form electronically (your advisor should get an email about it).
December 7, 2018 - For Fall18 Graduation.
March 15, 2019 - For Winter 1 Graduation.
June 6, 2019 -  For Spring 19 Graduation.
August 23, 2019 - For Summer 19 Graduation. 
DEPT CHAIR Reviews and may request changes. After approval, signs cover page. 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

Deadline to apply for Fall 18 graduation with NO FEE is October 29

Deadline to apply for Winter 19 graduation with NO FEE is February 8

Deadline to apply for graduation for Spring 19 with No FEE is April 26

Deadline to apply for graduation fro Summer 19 with No FEE is August 2

For more information on graduation application deadlines check the Academic Calendar 2018-19


Students who don't complete their thesis by their expected graduation date will have to pay a fee and  re-apply for graduation in the quarter they submit their thesis.                                        Students who complete their major requirements before their expected graduation date, but not the thesis, are not required to complete the online Withdrawal / Leave of Absence questionnaire. They will  apply to graduate in the quarter of their thesis completion. There will be no fee assessed.

When checking their portals, students who are working on their thesis and not enrolled in classes will see tuition fees listed.  However, once the Add/Drop/Swap date passes, those fees will be reversed since the student is not enrolled in any courses.

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:

  • Ideally, a research project should begin between 1 and 2 years before expected graduation.  Students who plan to do a literature review should have an agreement with a thesis advisor and a well-defined topic before they begin Physics 182.  
  • Physics 182 should be taken either 1 or 2 quarters before the quarter in which the student is graduating (e.g. fall or winter for June graduation, or spring or fall for March graduation).
  • A full and near-final draft should be submitted to the thesis advisor at least a month before the end of the last quarter.

Physics Department Thesis Honors Procedure

The senior thesis of a physics, applied physics, or astrophysics major may be given an honors designation, an honor that will be mentioned in the graduation ceremony. In order that all of our majors have an opportunity to receive the thesis honors designation, we have adopted the following procedure:

1)  No later than June 1 the thesis advisor may provide a nomination of the honors designation to the chair.This is best done at the time the thesis advisor signs the thesis. It is important that all faculty be aware of the honors designation and give consideration to all theses that they sign.

2)  The Department Chair  or their designated assistants review the advisor’s recommendation within the context of the full set of senior theses received and either accept or reject the nomination.

3)  The honors designation is forwarded to the Department Manager to be recorded.

5)  Late theses, for example completed over the summer, may still be given an honors designation, but no mention of that will be possible at the student’s graduation ceremony.

The following general criteria should be considered when nominating a thesis for honors:

1)  The thesis should reflect research done by the student. This does not rule out theses based on library research, but to be considered for honors such a thesis must provide some interesting in‐depth analysis that goes well beyond just summarizing information from references.

2)  If the student’s contribution to research is significant enough for the student to be included in the author list of a scientific publication based on or including the student’s work (regardless of whether it was or will be in fact published), then the thesis should be considered for honors.

3)  The thesis should conform to the writing quality and formatting expectations established within the Physics 182 course. Excellence in writing and presentation may be part of the consideration for honors but is not sufficient in itself.