Writing a Senior Thesis

Begin by finding an advisor in the area of mathematics on which you wish to write a thesis. Any member of the department can serve as a senior thesis advisor. A list of faculty who have expressed particular interest in advising, along with some suggested topics, may be found here. You may also find it helpful to look at the list of recent senior theses topics (listed below). You can begin looking for an advisor towards the end of the fall semester, or during the spring semester, of your junior year.

Your advisor will propose a collection of appropriate readings to get the process started. You should then register for 2 credits of Undergraduate Research (MATH 48800) for the coming semester. To get registration permission you have to contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (currently Sonja Mapes) telling her that you intend to complete a senior thesis, and telling her who your advisor is. (Don't forget to sign your email with your full name!) You should continue registering for 2 credits of MATH 48800 for each semester that you work on the thesis, until the final semester (spring of senior year) when you should instead register for 2 credits of Thesis (MATH 48900). Each registration period you will need to contact the DUS to get the necessary permissions; it would be helpful to him if each time you reminded him who your advisor is and what your topic is.

Writing a senior thesis is a major undertaking. It is never too early to begin planning and writing it. Although the details of your progress will vary depending on the specific plan you've worked out with your advisor, one possible timeline might be as follows. You might meet with your advisor for about an hour a week during fall semester of senior year (and maybe spring semester of junior year, if you started earlier), and in most cases you should aim to have most of the research and reading completed, and be able to give an outline of the thesis to your advisor, by the end of fall of senior year. You can then turn to writing, aiming to submit a draft of the thesis to your advisor by mid March, so that a final version can be ready by early April. Regular meetings with your advisor during the spring semester will help this process along. Usually your advisor will help you work out a more detailed plan of study, but there is a great deal of flexibility in this as the work progresses.

The length of your thesis will depend very much on the subject matter. Past theses have ranged from 15 to 60 pages, with most in the 30 to 50 page range. A good guideline is that the thesis should be long enough for you to convey enough details and explanations that a mathematics major would be able to follow it. Your advisor will help you with more precise guidelines specific to your chosen topic.

There are just a few deadlines to keep in mind throughout the process:

  • If you are an Honors student, then as soon as you know who your advisor is and what you topic will be, you should pass this information on to Liviu Nicolaescu (again, remembering to sign your email with your full name).
  • By January 24 of senior year you need to write to the DUS letting him know the following information: your full name, ND email address, the exact title of the thesis, your majors and minors, and your advisor's name. This information is required by the registrar.
  • By April 12 of senior year a hard copy of the thesis, with a cover page signed by your advisor, must be submitted to the DUS. He will then assign readers who will decide whether the thesis is acceptable. This decision will be made in time for the registrar to be informed, so that the appropriate citation can be put on your diploma.

Once your thesis has been approved, you should take the time to upload it to Curate ND so that it will be permanently available to future scholars. You should also consider giving a short talk about your thesis at the College of Science Joint Annual Meeting. Your advisor will help you figure out the deadline for this.

A note for Glynn Family Honors students: Your Glynn Family Honors Thesis can be submitted to the Department of Mathematics. You should follow the schedule described above, but note that there might also be additional requirements specific to the Glynn Family Honors program.