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Writing Intensive Courses

Writing Intensive Courses

The WIC requirement in physics is built around undergraduate research, which is an important component of our curriculum. Students may either participate in PH 317, a one-term experimental physics course that has some open-ended exploration, or write a thesis (PH 403) over three terms. The individual research project that is the basis for your thesis is conducted under the supervision of another faculty member and is usually started before taking PH 403.

A screenshot of a Zoom video call with 24 participants.

Physics students who completed their senior thesis in 2021.

PH 317 — Experimental Physics

PH 317 offers an in-depth experience with a few experiments, coupled strongly with writing experience, just like the thesis option. PH 317 is currently offered in winter term and enrollment is limited to 12 students.

Overview of the thesis

Many physics majors complete a senior thesis. The thesis can be based on experimental work in a laboratory, computational work using workstations or supercomputers, or theoretical work with paper and pencil.

The ability to conduct research and disseminate the results is the hallmark of a scientist. Research results need validation, so they are shared with the community to be examined, verified, and expanded upon. The written form is important because it is a permanent record, and allows other researchers to carefully critique the details of the work. We therefore connect the senior research project and thesis with the University’s WIC requirement. Each year, a WIC Culture of Writing award is made. Students participate in a departmental mini-conference at the end of spring term to give oral presentations of their work. The senior thesis also fulfills the Honors College thesis requirement, and the "Undergraduate Research Fellow" transcript notation.

A group of 15 students posing together for a photo after completing their thesis presentations.

Thesis presentations, June 2016


First year, sophomore year

Look for research opportunities, begin research if possible; attend informational presentation in junior class in mid-late Fall term (watch calendar for details), attend senior presentations at the mini-conference in finals week of Spring term

Junior year

Research projects underway, attend informational presentation in junior class in mid-late Fall term (watch calendar for details), attend senior presentations at the mini-conference in finals week of Spring term.

Senior year (or final year of 5-year program)

Continue research, enroll in PH403 for 1 unit in each of Fall, Winter, Spring. Complete thesis, give oral presentation in finals week of spring term.

PH 401 — Research

Research projects are usually under the supervision of a Physics Department faculty member, but physics-related research projects with faculty supervisors from other departments are common. In either case, register for PH401 (Research). Off-campus internships or REU projects (Research Experience for Undergraduates) are excellent avenues for conducting research. If you exercise this option to fulfill the research/thesis requirement, you must discuss it with the PH403 instructor before you go. It is important that the off-campus mentor agrees ahead of time that the project is of appropriate scope and is willing to keep in contact through the year. You must also arrange to have an OSU faculty member be a local mentor.

Students should begin their research early, using freshman and sophomore years to explore research opportunities. Visit faculty members in their offices, browse their websites, talk to other students in the department, look at lists of former projects, attend presentations in the department to find out what type of research would be interesting to you. Find out about internships and summer research opportunities on and off campus. Organize meetings through SPS to educate yourselves about possibilities, invite faculty to speak about their work. You will gain the most from your research experience if it is sustained over a longer period, but you should plan to be working on a project no later than the spring of your junior year.

The physics major requires 3 units of PH401 (Research). There are separate sections for each research advisor. A typical timeline for PH401 research is 1 unit in the Spring of the Junior year and 1 unit in each of Fall and Winter of the Senior year. If you do research off-campus, the PH401 requirement may be replaced with other physics courses; discuss with the undergraduate advisor.

PH 403 — Thesis

PH403 (Thesis) concerns the writing aspect of the research, and students enroll in 1 unit of PH403 in each of Fall, Winter and Spring of the senior year. You will need permission from the Physics office to register. These three total credits satisfy the OSU Writing Intensive Course (WIC) requirement of the OSU Baccalaureate Core requirement. Students meet weekly as a group to write a thesis proposal and to critique and revise their writing. They also discuss and write about issues relating to ethics, types of science writing, and logical presentation of ideas. In Winter and Spring, activities focus on the thesis itself, including significant time devoted to the writing and revision of the thesis. Steady progress and continual peer and advisor review are expected throughout. A typical thesis is about fifteen to twenty pages, or about 3,000 to 5,000 words. The goal is to have the thesis ready by week 6 of Spring term. This means that research should be substantially complete by the end of Winter term of the senior year.


After the written thesis is complete, class time is devoted to preparing 10-minute oral presentations, the standard at physics conferences. In the final week of Spring term, there is a mini-conference where students give oral presentations on their projects to the department.

Additional resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to common questions about the WIC and the senior thesis.

Browse the department's research page to find out what the faculty do. Look at the current projects listed under the link at the top of this page. Look at the thesis topics of previous students. Approach professors and ask them if they have a project for you. If you are uncertain about how to do this, ask a senior student, a professor from whom you have taken a class, or the PH403 instructor. Starting in 2020, the Physics Department hosted a "WIC Fair" during which students who had not yet found an advisor met with faculty who had projects to offer. Students also learned about the PH317 course. The outcome of the fair was a match-up between student and PH317 or between student and advisor for a PH401 research project leading to PH403. We plan to hold this WIC Fair each year.
When should research begin?
The sooner, the better! The research for your senior thesis should begin ahead of the start of the WIC, in the spring or summer of the academic year before the WIC, and absolutely no later than the first day of the fall quarter for graduation in the spring of that year.

No, most students have been working for a term or two, or a summer when they start the WIC, but still have work to do to get results. If you start research in the Fall in which you begin the WIC, you will have to devote a considerable amount of time to research in that term. Some students who have participated in an REU or internship or who have been working in a lab for more than a year may have completed their research by the time they start the WIC.

PH403 and PH401 are different. PH403 is the writing course that is offered to the entire senior cohort for 1 unit each in Fall, Winter & Spring (1 unit each). Do not register for PH403 for any other reason. The purpose of PH403 is help write the thesis associated with the research you conduct by taking PH401 or by conducting research off-campus in an approved program. The physics major program requires of 3 units of PH401 (Research) for students entering in Spring 2017 and later. If you conduct off-campus research, you must discuss a waiver with the head advisor. If you conduct undergraduate research at OSU as an undergraduate, even for purposes other than the senior thesis, it is good practice to register for PH401 (Research). There are separate sections of PH401 that correspond to different research advisors. You will need permission to register.

You can take the thesis WIC in the 4th or 5th year. Choose the year in which you can devote the most attention to your thesis. Your research should begin ahead of the term in which you begin the WIC. PH317 can be taken in any year, but permission is required.

You should take the thesis WIC in the last full academic year that you are at OSU. PH317 can be taken in any year, but permission is required.

Talk to the PH403 course instructor and the research advisor about details. Most students who choose such a delay continue to take the WIC and work on research. They write a good basis for the thesis, and receive an incomplete for the course in the Spring. That "I" grade is removed when they turn in the final thesis.


As in most of life, exceptions may be possible if you are responsible, professional and plan ahead. You will need to present an alternative plan that will fulfill all the university requirements for the WIC. We have had very few exceptions to the rule. If there are serious unforeseen circumstances, please discuss them with us at the earliest possible opportunity.

The PH403 course instructors may change in different years, refer to the OSU course catalogue ( for the most updated information. The current UG Advisor is Fred DeAngelis.