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Guidance for Thesis Advisors

Guidance for Thesis Advisors

Thank you for supervising OSU physics undergraduate research projects! This page provides information about the thesis advisor's role in the senior thesis research project required of all physics majors.

PH401 (Research) and PH403 (Thesis)

Physics majors who choose to fulfill OSU's Writing Intensive Curriculum (WIC) requirement with PH403 (Thesis) are required to conduct research on a physics-related topic by registering for 3 credits of PH401 (Research) under the guidance of a faculty mentor/advisor (you). Faculty mentors can reside in departments other than physics (e.g. engineering, mathematics, chemistry, oceanography). The physics major then uses the research project to write a thesis by enrolling in PH403 (Thesis) for 1 credit in each of Fall, Winter and Spring terms of the senior year. PH403 is taught by a Physics Faculty member and a TA. Ideally, students should begin the research before enrolling in PH403. They may complete the research while enrolled in PH403. The three PH401 credits may be distributed across multiple terms as the mentor and student see fit, but the strong recommendation is that the research be essentially complete at the end of the winter term in which the student is enrolled in PH403.

The research project

You and the student should agree on a project that:

  • allows the student to conduct physics-related research in a quasi-independent manner. The research does NOT have to be original or publishable, but the student should have responsibility for managing and executing a project with guidance from you and your research associates. Discuss what would constitute publishable work and encourage the student to work towards publication if appropriate.
  • introduces the student to the norms of research: diligent process, record-keeping, literature review, professional integrity, teamwork, acknowledgment of intellectual input from others, equipment issues, etc., as appropriate.
  • allows the student to make enough progress on the project to have significant portions of the writing in progress early in the winter term of the senior year, and be essentially complete at the end of winter term or very early in the spring term of the senior year.

The hardest part of the thesis writing class is to get the students to revise their writing more than once. Mostly, they are still waiting for results at the last minute, so this makes revision difficult. So please push them towards early completion of the project.

Students may wish to receive OSU's Research Fellow designation on their transcripts but this designation is not connected to the PH403 course. They must post the thesis on the OSU Scholars' Archive to receive the designation and mentors must sign off on the statement on Form A (off-campus mentors may instruct the on-campus mentor to sign off). The thesis work is presented in 10-minute talk mode at a conference at the end of Spring term.

Student responsibilities

  • conduct research diligently and regularly;
  • report regularly to advisor, inform advisor of deadlines;
  • seek feedback on the research and on writing as it pertains to the norms of the subfield;
  • while attending the yearlong PH403 sequence, write early drafts of various thesis sections so that the writing process can guide ongoing research/analysis.

Mentor/Advisor responsibilities

  • ensure that the project can be completed in a timely fashion. Often, a portion of the student's ongoing project is sufficient for a thesis;
  • approve a written thesis proposal early in the Fall term;
  • be the instructor of record for PH401* and meet with the student on a regular basis and provide guidance on the research process;
  • check chapter drafts for scientific accuracy and appropriate scope and content;
  • evaluate the thesis in the spring term based on a very simple evaluation rubric. You are asked to assign a preliminary letter grade; the PH403 instructor has ultimate responsibility for the grade and considers all advisor-assigned grades in the class and makes adjustments for consistency.

OSU Advisors NOT in the OSU Physics Department

Many faculty members do physics-related research in departments other than physics (engineering, chemistry, mathematics, oceanography are recent examples of departments where physics students have completed a physics senior thesis project). Provided the project is physics-related, it should be suitable. Students should consult with you about the project and have it cleared by the PH403 instructor before research begins. Examples of thesis projects are here. We can provide a section of PH401 where you can be the instructor of record, or you can ask the PH403 instructor to be the instructor of record.

Non-OSU Advisors

We allow some students to use REU or other external research experiences as a senior thesis project. In this case, we may waive the PH401 requirement. Students are expected to (a) discuss their intentions with you before the REU experience begins to ask you if you are willing to allow the work to be used, (b) agree to find an OSU on-campus mentor who can deal with general questions and administrative matters in the coming year, (c) ask you to read a proposal for the thesis (Fall), a draft (Winter) and the final version (Spring), (d) ask your permission to post the completed thesis on OSU's Scholar Archive, and explicitly discuss intellectual property and proper attribution with you. Any questions you have can be answered by the PH403 instructor.

Getting approved as a non-physics or non-OSU advisor

If a student is planning to write their PH 403 thesis based on research with an advisor outside the OSU physics department, they need to get written confirmation that their advisor can:

  1. Provide feedback on the scientific accuracy, scope, and content of the thesis (the technical/specialized aspects of research that the advisor has expertise in). This entails reading and providing feedback on the student’s written progress on their thesis up to 6 times (2 per term, fall/winter/spring).
  2. Meet with the student on a regular basis (at least every other week) to provide guidance on the research process.
  3. Read the final draft of the student’s thesis and assign a preliminary grade to it using a provided rubric.

Students should forward this confirmation to the PH 403 instructor, who can grant approval for the project. Approval cannot be guaranteed after the fall term is already underway.

PH 403 (Thesis) - Writing the thesis

PH403 meets once a week for 50 minutes. Students work with a faculty member, a TA and their peers to write the thesis. In the process, they also participate in writing and presentation exercises, peer review, and some professional development activities. The class provides a forum for students to review and edit the work of their peers, learn the basic structure and norms of writing, presenting information, and time management. Students are also expected to teach peers about their projects and to learn about the other projects.

Advisors are not expected to engage in line-by-line editing of the thesis, nor to correct grammar errors or structure, but they may certainly undertake these tasks if they wish! However, peers and the thesis instructor are not in a position to correct content errors, so this is the advisor's main role. Advisors should point out large-scale problems with structure, grammar, vocabulary etc., and the students should use the PH403 forum to address these problems.

Advisors read and approve a thesis proposal in the Fall term. If the actual project deviates from the proposed project, students and advisors should communicate about goals and expectations as the project proceeds.

Oral and poster presentations

Students present 10-minute talks at a mini-conference. Presentation is required, but is not graded. These oral presentations are in two 2-hour sessions, one during the last scheduled class (week 10) and one during finals week (dates TBA). Please try to attend your student's presentation. Honors College students arrange separate presentations in accordance with the Honors College procedures.

Honors College students are required to present their research as a poster at the Honors College thesis fair in May. Encourage all students to present posters at the CUE (Celebrating Undergraduate Excellence) event in May.


The following timeline ensures that the students who qualify for the OSU research transcript notation on their diplomas can submit the paperwork in a timely manner. It also gives students time to focus on their oral presentations and study for finals. It allows the PH403 instructor to read all theses to ensure grading consistency.

  • End of week 6, spring term: Student gives the completed thesis to research advisor, who suggests final revisions.
  • End of week 8, spring term: Student resubmits final thesis with implemented revisions to advisor, and to the PH403 instructor (via Canvas).
  • End of week 9, spring term: Advisor completes the evaluation rubric and sends it to the PH403 instructor.
  • End of week 11, spring term: PH403 instructor reads theses, checks for consistent grades and assigns final grades.

More information

The PH 403 instructor for 2024/25 is: Prof. Patti Hamerski (

Please contact Prof. Hamerski if you need more information. Thanks again for guiding these students!