Physics 399 – Senior Seminar, Fall 2013

Welcome to Senior Seminar! In this course you will write a scientific paper (your thesis); learn how to give a scientific presentation in oral or poster format, and present both types; hear lectures by eminent scientists and interact with them; learn more about careers available to you when you finish at Haverford; get into contact with alums who have gone in career directions of interest to you; learn about graduate school and how to go about selecting and applying to schools; and participate in discussions on topics relevant to science.

This course serves as the capstone for the physics & astrophysics majors, providing a venue for you to write your senior thesis and give your senior poster (both due end of spring semester.) The grade for this course primarily is based upon the faculty's evaluation of your performance on the senior thesis and poster. (You receive a separate grade for the quality of your research per se if you are taking research for credit.)

You will give a talk in finals week, fall semester, on the intro and background to your senior thesis; you will also submit a paper on this material by the end of finals period, fall semester. These assignments break the ice on your senior thesis, allowing you to learn how to do these tasks in more manageable parts and giving you lots of time for feedback and planning before the real thing. You will get regular feedback and advice from your research supervisor and others as you write your actual thesis and plan your senior presentation.

You will also learn about science culture and science skills in approximately weekly meetings in the fall and occasional meetings in the spring:

We will have opportunities for you to interact with past graduates of our departments and you will be able to access a database of our departmental alumni sorted by career, background and year of graduation.

You are also required to attend all designated colloquia and research talks in the departments of physics and astronomy, and to participate in designated events surrounding the visits of our research visitors. These are invaluable opportunities to learn about the world beyond Haverford and we urge you to make the optimal use of them! Many of our majors have come away from these events with contacts that have determined their futures in important ways.


Fall meetings will be held Wednesday 1 to 2pm in KINSC L205, except as announced by e-mail.


Course Requirements (Fall)
• Attend all scheduled meetings of the seminar.
Attend all candidate visits, Philips visits, and department colloquia.  In addition to the usual number of visitors, we will have five candidates coming on campus for our search for a “replacement” for Jerry Gollub.  We hope you will also attend the informal meetings with our visitors. They enjoy talking with students and these informal gatherings are a great way to find out more about speaker and what he or she is up to.

• Read assigned selections and participate in class discussions.
• Conduct phone or Skype interviews with two alums, present your results of each interview to class orally, and write up a brief summary of each.
• Write a short paper consisting of a preliminary version of the introduction and background sections of your senior paper (4-5 pages typically), a short (one page) progress report on the actual status of the project, and a bibliography that puts your work in its proper scholarly context. This is due at the end of the semester.
• Give a 10-15 minute presentation to the seminar about the intro/background part of your senior paper project during Finals Period.


You will receive one grade at the end of the academic year for Phys 399 as a whole. (The grade of CIP, course in progress, will besubmitted at the end of the fall semester provided all fall requirements were met.) The physics faculty working together assigns grades in the senior seminar according to the following approximate weighting factors:

Fall semester


Quality of senior poster


Senior paper (Spring semester)


A reduction of 0.5 grade point will be applied per unexcused absence if more than one occurs per semester. (This includes attendance at required colloquia and senior talks.)


Homework for next week:

1) Talk to your thesis advisor, and decide on a tentative title for your thesis.  (It’s fine if this gets changed later.)  Be ready to give this title in class next week.

2) Read at least two of the career summaries based on phone interviews conducted by previous students.  Be ready to tell the class the two names and the most important thing you learned from reading each summary.