Research Mentor Role in PHYS 351/353 – Physics Senior Project

(updated on 1/7/2020)

The primary responsibility of a research mentor in the Department of Physics Senior Project program is to  provide the student with an enriching research experience. However, as a formal CWRU SAGES Capstone course that is linked to our formal PHYS 352 SAGES Departmental Seminar, there are several university and departmental requirements incorporated into the experience. These requirements are described below from the perspective of a research mentor.

Research Contract

PHYS 351/353 are year-long courses based on year-long research projects. Students are expected to submit a contract to the Senior Project Committee near the end of the DROP/ADD period of their first semester (two weeks after the start of the semester).  The contract form is available to students in the form of a downloadable Word file on the course Canvas Learning Management System site; research mentors will be given access to the site with the role of an ‘Observer’ after the contract is submitted. The contract includes the following elements:

  1. Project Title
  2. Project Abstract (submitted by the student via email separate from the contract)
  3. Proposed Weekly Schedule

All three elements should be negotiated between the student and research mentor.  Students are told to give their mentor at least three workdays to review all of their written submissions and oral presentations, but mentors may specify a longer or shorter lead time.  Students are penalized for late submissions but the penalty can be forgiven if the research mentor accepts responsibility for the delay.

The student should prepare the first draft of each submission but might need more help with the project title and abstract since the topic could be new and foreign to the student. The proposed weekly schedule is included in the contract to force the student (and mentor) to confront the roughly 10 hour per week effort expected for the 3 credits of PHYS 351+352 (or PHYS 353+352) each week, including longer blocks of time often needed to make progress in research. Schedules also commonly include times for weekly meetings to review progress and plans. There will be no attempt to hold the student or mentor to the schedule on the contract, unless the Senior Project Committee’s assistance is requested because there are concerns.

The abstract must be appropriate for posting on the public Physics Senior Projects web-page. This is not a problem for most projects but can be an issue when proprietary information, intellectual property rights or journal publication policies are a concern. If any of those concerns apply, the Senior Project Committee chair ( should be informed so that appropriate accommodations can be put into place for this and other elements of the senior project program. 

Project Content

The project should contain significant physics. Given that most physicists have a liberal interpretation of the discipline, there is considerable flexibility in the nature of good physics senior projects.  These projects can be experimental, theoretical or numerical/computational  in nature and can include basic or applied science, engineering and math as well as the application of physics and technology  to disparate disciplines (past examples include business plans, economics, education, music performance and nursing).  

The work done for the senior project can be related to work a student has done previously or even concurrently, but it must be clearly identifiable as a separate project with its own time commitment.  Students cannot be paid for the time spent on their senior project work nor can that work be used to satisfy a requirement for some other course. 

The path of a Physics Senior Project, like any research project, can be unpredictable. It is not a major concern if there is a substantial change in the objectives or methods of the project but the Senior Project Committee chair should be consulted if this is being considered.  It is, however, a major concern if the relationship between the student and research mentor becomes problematic, in which case one or both should contact the Senior Project Committee chair immediately.  It is possible to change projects and/or mentor/mentee during the course of the year but sooner is, of course, better.

Senior Project Program Elements 

The physics senior project program includes the following elements, some of which require personal participation of the mentor.

  1. The formal contract, described above.
  2. Written research proposal, including a first draft, revision and final proposal due during the first semester.
  3. Oral research proposal (the research mentor is welcome to attend).
  4. Oral progress report at the end of the first semester (The research mentor is expected to attend a report to the ‘external committee’ but not a shorter report made in-class to the class). 
  5. Oral progress report near the middle of the second semester (the research mentor is expected to attend a report to the ‘external committee’ but not a shorter report made in-class to the class).
  6. Poster presentation (draft to the class, final at Research Showcase and/or SOURCE Intersections, the research mentor is welcome to attend). 
  7. Final written report, including a draft and revisions due near the end of the second semester.
  8. Final oral presentation at the department’s Senior Project Symposium (the research mentor is expected to attend).


Grades for the PHYS 352 component of the physics senior project program are assigned by the course instructor (the chair of the senior project committee), based largely on the student’s oral and written submissions.  Grades for the PHYS 351/353 capstone component are assigned by the research mentor, in consultation with the committee chair, based on a rubric approved by the Department of Physics.  That rubric includes the following elements and weighting but research mentors are free to make adjustments if they wish.

  weight in %
Knowledge of physics and other project elements 5
Ability to design and conduct experiments or theory and analyze results 5
Ability to design a system, component or process within realistic constraints 5
Ability to learn on own / independence 5
Creativity and resourcefulness 5
Effectiveness in working with others 5
Communication skills 5
Timeliness and consistency of effort 5
Final oral report 20
Final written report 40



Many project mentors have research funds that can be used to cover costs associated with a physics senior project (materials, supplies, facility charges, travel expenses for a conference presentation, etc.) but others do not.  The CWRU Department of Physics can provide moderate financial support if it is needed; consult the chair of the senior project committee for more information about this.