PHYS 390: Undergraduate Research in Physics

( This page was last updated on March 9, 2012.)

General Bulletin description: Research conducted under the supervision of a faculty member in the Department of Physics.  Arrangements must be made with a faculty member and a written description of these arrangements must be submitted to and approved by the department before a permit will be issued to register for this course. A final report must be supplied to the department at the end of the semester.   Prereq: Consent of department.

PHYS 390 provides a mechanism for students to receive academic credit for engaging in research. A faculty member in the physics department will serve as the research advisor for each student. This faculty advisor will have the primary responsibility for overseeing each individual student's work and will decide the grade for the course.

The department’s Senior Project Committee has an oversight role for PHYS 390; this committee must approve the arrangements made between the student and faculty advisor before a permit will be issued to enroll in PHYS 390. The committee will also receive the final report that must be submitted at the end of the semester.

The procedure for registering for PHYS 390 is as follows.
(Note that registration must be completed by the end of the DROP/ADD period in which PHYS 390 will be taken.  Ideally the process will be started – and completed – before the semester begins. Since the approval of the Senior Project Committee is required before a permit to register will be issued, delayed submission of a contract is problematic. )

1.  The student will contact a faculty member and negotiate the terms of the course, including:
- the nature of the research effort
- any particular objectives for the semester
- the number of credits (each credit equates to about 3 hours per week of effort)
- a tentative schedule of work (which the advisor and student may later change)
- a tentative schedule for student-faculty meetings (to insure appropriate oversight)
- the basis on which a grade will be assigned

2. A formal contract is downloaded from the web, filled out, signed and returned to the chair of the Senior Project Committee. The contract can be found at PHYS390Contract.htm or PHYS390Contract - Word or PHYS390Contract.pdf  .

3. After the senior project committee reviews the contract and any required adjustments are made, a permit will be issued for registration for the course.

4. At the end of the semester, the student must file with the Senior Project Committee a report on the research experience.

5. Although SIS will show that the chair of the senior project committee is the instructor of record for PHYS 390, the research advisor for each student is responsible for the student's experience in PHYS 390 and will decide the grade, transmitting it to the chair of the senior project committee for entry in SIS.

Archive of Projects   - original abstracts submitted by students for PHYS 390


1. Officially, the department chair has authority over this course but the chair has delegated this authority to the department's Senior Project Committee.

2. The Senior Project Committee will not micromanage projects; the advisor has the authority to modify arrangements such as time spent in the lab and the schedule for meetings. These elements of the project are included in the initial contract to be certain that there is a mutual understanding of the expectations by both the student and advisor.

3. If problems develop during the course of the semester, either from the student’s or the advisor’s point of view, and these problems can’t be settled directly, the issue can be referred to the Senior Project Committee or the department chair.

4. The course will be set up as an independent study course, with the chair of the senior project committee listed as the instructor of record. Permits and grades are controlled by this faculty member.

5. Credit is variable, from 3 - 6 each semester.  The department’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee determined this range.

6. There is no limit on how many times this course may be taken, either with the same research advisor or with different advisors.  While there is currently no formal restriction on the use of PHYS 390 to fulfill open electives, this course is not intended to substitute for the breadth of education that is encouraged in our various degree programs.

7. Regular meetings with the faculty advisor should be scheduled, at a minimum of twice per month. This schedule should be noted on the contract.

8. The basis for assigning a final grade should be understood by both student and advisor, and included in the contract. It is permissible to leave the grade solely to the discretion of the advisor, without any quantifiable criteria, if this is acceptable to the student.

9. PHYS 390 was created with a regular A-F grading scale.  Since this course is not a degree requirement, it is possible for an individual student to change the grading system to P/NP, with the approval of the advisor.  Normal university procedures should be followed to implement this change.

10. A final written report must be submitted to the department.  The department may determine the due date (most likely the last day of class or a final exam reading day) and any specific format for the report. However, until further notice, these details are left to the advisor to specify.  It is expected that the report will be reviewed by the advisor before it is submitted to the department and that the advisor will decide whether the report is acceptable or not before issuing a grade for the course.

11.  Work done for PHYS 390 credit must be independent of any paid position or credit for another course, such as PHYS 351/353 Senior Project.  While the topic of any research pursued in PHYS 390 may be quite similar to other work done by the same student for other purposes, the actual hours devoted to PHYS 390 should be independent of any paid effort or senior project work.