Departmental Honors

General Requirements

Majors with outstanding records may be nominated for graduation with department honors. To be eligible for such nomination, a student must:

  • complete both the 320 (or 321) sequence and the 330 (or 331) sequence or the equivalent (in exceptional cases, students who have not completed these courses may also be considered for honors)
  • complete with distinction two quarters of independent study or two quarters of a 400-level course
  • complete a project which culminates in an honors thesis
  • have a grade point average greater than or equal to 3.5 in courses which satisfy major requirements (in this calculation, courses such as those in the calculus sequence which are prerequisites for the major are not counted)

The Honors Project

An honors project must be an independent work by the student, devoted to some sharply focused subject in pure or applied mathematics not covered in normal course work. It should attest to the student's in-depth understanding of the material and his or her ability to use the material in a substantial manner.

There are three general forms such a project may take, in part or in combination; other possibilities may be considered if sufficiently original in concept.

  • The project may be a thesis written after intense immersion in some specialized topic in advanced mathematics. The thesis itself should be an extended exploration of this topic leading the reader to the cutting edge of research in the area.
  • The project may be a thesis written after historical investigation of important mathematical concepts in which the mathematical results themselves are described and their development explained and set in the proper historical framework.
  • The project may involve an experimental investigation of some interesting mathematical phenomena through the use of a computer program or programs. For such a project, the student should present, in addition to the program, an explanation of the nature of the algorithm, together with a discussion of the results of the calculation and their meaning.

A student's work towards an honors project/thesis shall be supervised by a faculty member of the department (the "advisor"), who helps the student frame the project and provides necessary guidance and motivation. The honors thesis must be evaluated independently by at least one other faculty member in the department. In exceptional cases, a member of another department may serve either as the student's advisor or second reader, but not both. Both these faculty members shall present their recommendations in writing to the Departmental Honors Committee, which votes on whether or not to nominate the candidate for honors. The department's Director of Undergraduate Studies appoints the Departmental Honors Committee each year, in the absence of such an appointment, the Undergraduate Committee of the department shall constitute the department's Honors Committee.

Procedural Matters

Students interested in pursuing work that may lead to nomination for department honors should speak with the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies by the end of the junior year (in exceptional circumstances, they may do so no later than the fall quarter of the senior year). Students should come prepared with some ideas of what they may wish to pursue as a topic for honors work (in which case the Director of Undergraduate Studies will assist the student in locating a member of the faculty with whom the student can frame an appropriate project) and/or the names of faculty members who they may wish to have as their honors advisor (this might be someone who has taught the student in a 300-level course, or an expert in the subject which the student wishes to pursue). A student might also locate a faculty supervisor independently; if so, the Director of Undergraduate Studies should be informed of the arrangement immediately, certainly no later than the end of the fall quarter of the student's senior year.

The student is expected to have a detailed outline of the project and at least ten pages of serious technical writing from the earlier chapters completed by mid-February. This material should be made available to the second reader of the thesis by the student's adviser, and the student must have a mandatory meeting with the second reader to get feedback and suggestions by the end of February.

Two paper copies of the student's completed honors project must be submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies by a due date (usually early in the last week of April to allow adequate time to examine the project) which is communicated to students and their advisers in November of each academic year. The thesis should be typed in the TEX markup language and bound in a spiral binding. Students may, if they wish, also submit their theses electronically as a .pdf file (in addition to the paper copies).

A student with concerns about the supervision he or she is receiving should speak with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, unless the honors advisor is the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in which case the student should speak with the Chair of the Department.

In case of a dispute between the project supervisor and the student as to the merits of the project, the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the department Chair shall act as a committee of appeal. This two person group has final authority with respect to the department's nomination.