Notes on the construction, requirement, and deadlines for the term paper are here. Please see the term paper topics page for some topic ideas.

For students enrolled in PHYS or PHIL 419 only. 419 obtains ACP credit and requires a term paper; 420 students are not required to submit any element of the term paper. For 419, the term paper project as a whole is worth 35% of your grade.

You are to write a critical essay of about 2500–4000 words (~8-12 pages, but go by word count) on some aspect of the interpretation of physics. The topic should reflect your interests and make use of your background. You should develop your topic into a coherent presentation of ideas for which you argue clearly and convincingly. We do not expect you to do groundbreaking work on the foundations of science, but you must not merely summarize or restate some other author's views. Graduate students will be expected to choose a weightier topic and write a longer paper (5000-6000 words – ~15-18 pages).

It is an unfortunate historical fact that students sometimes put off their term paper work until too late in the term to do a good job. To encourage you to meet the deadlines, late outlines and drafts will be penalized 5% per day (each). The final paper will not be accepted after the due date without a written medical or comparable excuse.

Step zero!
Before doing anything else, make absolutely sure you understand the campus policies on citations and plagiarism. Each stage of the paper must be submitted via SafeAssign on Compass to facilitate routine plagiarism checks. All significant special information, wording, illustrative examples, etc., must have specific in-text references, not just general bibliographic notes. We are not picky about the exact format, but the style must allow a reader to find the source for any material easily and must specifically identify quotes and paraphrases.

The term paper project has four milestones. Meeting each of these milestones is necessary if you are to receive a good grade.
  1. You must choose a topic by 13 March – preferably sooner – and turn in a working abstract (topic paragraph) with a list of your main references on Compass. Unlike other assignments, this one must be revised until it is acceptable. It is better to spend an extra round of work finding a good topic and approach at this early stage than to waste time writing a dead-end paper. At least one in-person consultation with Prof. Ceperley must be held while the paper is being written; aim to meet with him in the two weeks prior to the topic deadline to make sure that you have a workable topic (electronic consultations are also encouraged).
  2. An outline with topic paragraphs is due 29 March. We need to see that you know what the structure of your paper will be. You should write an introductory paragraph for each of the (usually 3-4) major sections of the paper. You should list the working bibliography (the books that you are actually using).
  3. A complete rough draft is due 17 April. It does not need to be well polished; the point is to help you create a document with structure, that presents your fleshed-out argument, and that will resemble your final draft.
  4. The final revised paper is due 3 May.

If you need help with your paper, Prof. Ceperley is available to meet with you by appointment, or you can email him. You can also email Charles at any time, or arrange a meeting with Apoorv. Please also consider utilizing the Writers Workshop, an invaluable resource for writing help.