Guidelines for Senior Projects in Astronomy (B.A.) and Astrophysics (B.S.) Majors

General Guidelines

Senior projects are required for all majors. Students working on a senior project enroll in ASTR 490a and/or 491b. B.S. majors are required to complete a two-semester project; B.A. majors can complete either a one- or a two-semester project. The DUS will generally not sign schedules for seniors unless they have already determined their topic and advisor. 

Two copies of the project write-up should be submitted to the DUS on or before the first day of final exams in the relevant semester. Two-semester projects require a progress report at the end of the first semester (see details below). Students completing a two-semester project will receive a grade of SAT/UNSAT for the first semester, which will be replaced by the grade for the project when it is completed. Senior projects cannot be taken Cr/D/F. 

During reading period of the spring semester, students make brief presentations of their work to each other and to the department. 

Projects will be read by a member of the faculty who is NOT the student’s advisor, who will discuss the grade with the advisor. In the event that a consensus cannot be reached on an appropriate grade, the DUS will resolve the issue, unless the DUS is either the advisor or the reader, in which case the Chair will resolve the issue. The DUS will review all grades for fairness between students and over time, and is responsible for submitting grades to the Registrar. Upon request of the student, the DUS will provide a written discussion of the grade, based on input from the advisor and reader. Other than for recording errors, senior project grades cannot be appealed. 

As a rough guide to grading: projects will receive a grade of A or A- if the work represents a significant fraction of a potentially publishable research paper or other appropriate professional-level product, although the format of the written report may well be different from a professional product. The “product” of an instrumentation-oriented project includes both any relevant hardware and the project write-up; in the case of one-semester B.A. projects, the nature of the “product” should be appropriate to the particular project, and should be discussed in advance with the advisor and with the DUS - in non-standard cases it may be useful to generate a written record of what is agreed upon. Grades in the B range will be given to work which is of lower quality, but still represents a significant sustained effort over the duration of the project. Grades of C will be given to work that has some merit, but has significant deficiencies in quality or quantity. Grades of D are awarded only in exceptional cases. 

B.S. Major: 

Astrophysics majors must complete a two-semester senior project, consisting of a piece of original research in contemporary Astronomy or Physics. The project may be a part of a larger research program, in which case the written report should be the student’s own work, and should clearly distinguish between the student’s work and the work of other members of the project team. 

The written report should contain an introduction covering the scientific background of the problem; a description of the work done; and a discussion of the results and their implications for the scientific problem. The length of the report itself should be greater than 10 pages double-spaced, and less than 30 pages double-spaced, not including references, tables and figures. Digital data products and digital versions of the tables and figures, should be placed in a directory or website on the department computing system, and an index to these data products should be provided as part of the written report. 

The progress report at the end of the first semester should contain an introduction covering the scientific background of the problem; a description of work done so far; and a timeline for completing the project. Feedback on the progress report should be provided by the advisor.

B.A. Major:

A B.A. major may complete a two-semester research project similar to those described above for B.S. majors. The same guidelines, requirements and standards are applied. Students should not undertake such a project unless they have completed ASTR 255 or the equivalent, and/or carried out a previous significant research project. 

B.A. majors may also complete a one-semester project. One-semester projects have considerable latitude in their subject matter. Students are strongly advised to consult the DUS and potential advisors well in advance of undertaking such a project. Appropriate projects include (but are not limited to): 

  1. A one-semester research project, which would be similar in approach, but smaller in scope than a two-semester project. 
  2. A research paper discussing and analyzing in detail a problem in contemporary research in astronomy or astrophysics. The written report should demonstrate an essentially complete understanding of the basic scientific issues and the current status of research in this area. 
  3. An “amateur astronomy” project, carried out at the student observatory or elsewhere, which does not necessarily lead to new scientific results. Some previous experience with the appropriate observational tools is generally expected. A written report describing the background, goals, and procedures of the project is required. 
  4. A project in the history, politics and public policy, sociology or philosophy of astronomy. Such a project should constitute an original piece of scholarship, with appropriate sources and documentation. 
  5. A product appropriate for use in teaching or public outreach of astronomy, such as a planetarium show, a museum display, a lesson plan etc. Such a product must be accompanied by a written report describing the background, goals, and implementation of the project.


Please click here for a timeline of important deadlines and milestones in completing the senior research project.