Guidelines for Senior Theses in the Mathematics Department

A senior thesis can form a valuable part of a student's experience in the Mathematics Major. It is intended to allow students to cover significant areas of mathematics not covered in course work, or not covered there in sufficient depth. The work should be independent and creative. It can involve the solution of a serious mathematics problem, or it can be an expository work, or variants of these. Both the process of doing independent research and mathematics exposition, as well as the finished written product and optional oral presentation, can have a lasting positive impact on a student's educational and professional future.

Recent Senior Theses


Supervision by a qualified member of the field of mathematics at Cornell is the normal requirement for a senior thesis. Other arrangements are possible, however, provided they are made with the assistance of the student's major advisor, and with the approval of the Mathematics Major Committee.

Finding a supervisor/Encouraging students. It should be emphasized that both the writing and the supervising of a senior thesis are optional activities, both for students and faculty. Students interested in doing this will need to find a suitable supervisor — perhaps with the aid of their major advisor or another faculty member whom they know. Advisors and other faculty who encounter students whom they think would benefit from this activity are invited to mention this option to them and assist them in finding a supervisor.

Standard venues for senior theses. One obvious way in which a senior thesis can be produced is through an independent research course (MATH 4900); another way is through an REU experience, either at Cornell or elsewhere. (If the REU work was accomplished or initiated elsewhere, a "local expert" will still be needed to supervise or "vouch for" the work as a senior thesis.) In yet a third way, a student may present a faculty member with a solution or partial solution to an interesting problem. In such cases, this could form the core of a senior thesis. Faculty are invited to encourage such work from their students.

Public Lecture

A public lecture in which the results of the senior thesis are presented is welcome but optional. This should be arranged by the thesis supervisor in conjunction with the undergraduate coordinator and adequately advertised. Department faculty and graduate students are encouraged to attend these presentations.

Submitting the Completed Thesis

The supervisor must approve the student's thesis. No later than April 15th, the student must submit a completed thesis to the thesis supervisor. If the supervisor asks the student to make changes, the student has until April 30th to do so. By April 30th, the student must give the supervisor two paper copies and an electronic copy of the thesis in final form. The electronic copy will be posted on the department's web site. [Students who expect to graduate in January must submit a completed thesis by November 15th and the final form by November 30th.]

Form of the Thesis

Ideally, the final document should be TeXed or prepared in some equivalent technical document preparation system. The document must have large left margins (one and one-half inches or slightly larger). The title page should contain:

  1. The student's name and graduating class.
  2. The title of the senior thesis.
  3. The name of the faculty supervisor. (If there is more than one supervisor, list both. If one of the supervisors is not in the Mathematics Department, list the department and institution.)
  4. The date of completion of the thesis.

This information will be used to produce a standard frontispiece page, which will be added to the document in its library copies.

Merit of the Senior Thesis

Judgment as to the merit of a senior thesis will be based largely on the recommendation of the faculty member supervising the thesis. The Mathematics Major Committee will use this recommendation both in its determination of honors and in its decision on whether to place the thesis in our permanent library collection.

Honors Consideration

The senior thesis will automatically be considered by the Mathematics Major Committee as one of the ingredients for deciding on an honors designation for the student. Students may receive honors without a thesis and are not guaranteed honors with one. However, an excellent senior thesis combined with an otherwise excellent record can elevate the level of honors awarded.

Mathematics Library Collection of Senior Theses

Meritorious senior theses will be catalogued, bound, and stored in the Mathematics Library.