APS Undergraduate Honors Theses

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Graduating with Honors

The University of Colorado offers motivated students the opportunity to distinguish themselves by graduating with “Latin Honors.” Latin Honors means that your diploma will note that you are receiving a special Honors designation of either summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude. Whereas some colleges confer these honors based solely on a student’s grade point average, receiving Latin Honors at CU means a student has also successfully completed an Honors Thesis Project.

Two Options for Graduating with Honors

You can choose to do an Honors Thesis Project either through a department or the Honors Program; most students who graduate with Honors have completed Departmental Honors requirements. If you have an interest in the Arts and Sciences Honors Program classes or want to do a General Honors Thesis, get more information on the CU Honors Program website.

Who is eligible to do an Honors Thesis?

The APS Honors Program is open to all APS majors. The most basic requirement is your grade point average (GPA). The college requirement is that your GPA be 3.3 or above. Most theses take more than one semester to complete, so you should be thinking about a possible thesis project by the middle of your junior year, and probably before that.  Students who have mastered some computer and technical skills, such as the IDL and data analysis topics taught in ASTR 2600 and 3800, may find a broader range of projects to work on, and so you may wish to schedule these classes before your last year at CU.

Can I write a thesis if I have a GPA les than 3.3?

Writing a thesis can be an exciting and formative experience where you can explore a topic in great depth and perhaps create a new result. In some cases, students with GPAs slightly lower than 3.3 who have written exemplary theses can be nominated for graduation for Honors at the cum laude level. If you GPA is slightly lower than 3.3 and you wish to write a thesis and have a faculty advisor who is also enthusiastic about your doing so, you should check with the APS office to find out how to contact the APS Honors Representative. They can help you decide whether writing a thesis is the right plan for your work.

Getting started: Finding an Advisor, Thesis Topics, and the Thesis Application

The APS department has no formal course or seminar for Honors thesis preparation, and so the first step is to start to think of a topic and to identify an APS faculty member who could serve as your project advisor. A good place to start is your APS faculty mentor, whom you meet with every semester, or with one of the instructors of your APS courses. Ask them for specific advice on faculty who are working in areas you are interested in or who have programs which might support Honors thesis work. Check out faculty websites (APS Faculty web page) and email these contacts and ask if they would be available and willing to talk with you about possible Honors thesis projects. You don’t have to have a well-defined project already worked out- most advisors will work closely with you to define a topic which fits your skills and interests as well as their own research specialties. You may actually work most closely with a non-faculty research scientist, but you must have an APS faculty member as your official advisor.

Once you have an idea of your thesis topic and a thesis advisor, you should stop by the APS Main office and pick up an Honors Thesis packet. This packet includes application materials for the Honors Program, and contact information for the APS Honors Council Representative. You should make arrangements to meet with APS Honors Representative as soon as possible, while you are still defining your thesis topic, to make sure that it fits the expected scope of an Honors thesis and to prepare an Honors Thesis application. This application is mandatory and is due towards the end of the semester prior to graduation (e.g., in April for a December graduation, and in October for a May graduation). Your application will contain a description of your planned thesis project work and the names of your advisor and thesis committee.

Your thesis committee

Your thesis committee will be present for your final thesis examination and consists of at least: your thesis project faculty advisor, the APS Honors Representative, and one faculty member from another department. You may also choose to have additional members on your thesis committee. It is your responsibility to schedule your final thesis defense prior to the deadlines set by the Honors Program (usually late October for a December graduation, and early April for a May graduation; the APS Honors  Rep can confirm these dates).

Your thesis and defense

The length and scope of your thesis will depend on the type of project that you choose, but must comprise a written paper that will be read by your committee and which you will defend in an oral examination. The examination is usually about 1-1.5 hours long, and begins with your presentation of your project and results (often as a Powerpoint presentation). Your committee will then ask questions about your project. At the end of your examination, they will confer briefly and decide whether to nominate you for Latin Honors, and at what level. The APS Honors Rep can explain the criteria for different levels of Honors.

Who awards Latin Honors?

Although students can work through one of many departments and programs to develop and complete an Honors Project, Latin Honors at CU are actually awarded by the Honors Council. Each department and program has representatives on the council who, along with your faculty advisors, make the case to the Honors Council for each student who is nominated to receive Latin Honors.

Can I get paid from a research grant or UROP for my thesis work?

Yes- both research grants and UROP funding can be used for salary and thesis expenses for your thesis research. However, you cannot get paid for the actual writing and defense of your thesis, and so you must reserve sufficient time in your final semester for this. Many students are paid as research assistants during the summer and sometimes the fall before graduation, but not the final spring semester when the thesis is being written. You also cannot be paid for work for which you are also receiving academic credit (e.g., Independent Study, see below).

Can I receive academic credit for my thesis work?

APS does not currently have a specific Honors Thesis course. However, you may receive academic credit under ASTR 4840/4841 Independent Study for your thesis research. Note that you may not be paid a salary for any work for which you are also receiving academic credit.

For more information on Graduating with Honors please see the College of Arts and Sciences Website.