Junior Papers

CONTACT: Karen A. Kelly, Undergraduate Administrator
kkaras@princeton.edu, 208 Jadwin Hall, 609-258-4418


Each physics concentrator must complete a junior paper (JP) in each semester of the junior year. Each JP is a full-semester effort intended to be roughly comparable to one Princeton course. The goals of the JP are to gain experience doing independent research, to become familiar with the physics literature, and to learn to present information in a clear, concise, scientific style. Students are expected to work closely with faculty advisers throughout the JP process.

Typically, faculty members suggest topics (often from their own research area), although student-inspired topics are also more than welcome. For many of you, this will be your first chance to participate in working with a faculty member on a subject of mutual interest. Make the most of it!

The final version of your JP is due in electronic form by 3:00pm on the date the University sets as the deadline for junior independent work; this is typically the Tuesday one week before Dean's Date. The requirements when turning in your JP are somewhat detailed; please consult the section entitled Grading. The page on important dates gives a complete listing of dates and deadlines relevant to junior independent work. In case of any confusion about dates and deadlines, the page on important dates should be regarded as authoritative.

Junior committee

A committee of several faculty in Physics oversees all the junior papers. In spring 2018, the committee members are Profs. Duncan Haldane (chair), Andrew Leifer. The junior committee is assisted by Karen Kelly, the Undergraduate Administrator. The committee meets with the juniors at the beginning of the academic year to outline what is expected and to help them get started on choosing advisers and topics. The committee may establish milestones during the semester in addition to the ones indicated on this webpage; any such additional milestones will be announced to all juniors via e-mail and clearly indicated on the important dates page. For general questions about JPs, please contact the chair of the junior committee.

Getting started

Choice of JP topics and advisers is wide open, subject to the following rules:

  • Your topic must involve physics.
  • Your adviser and second reader must have a full-time faculty appointment at Princeton University, and at least one of them must have their primary appointment in the Physics Department.
  • Your two JPs must have different advisers.
  • It is recommended that the two JPs be in different research areas, and it is required that they be independent projects; in other words, the second JP may not build upon the first but should instead be in a new direction. It is allowed to write your senior thesis with the adviser of one of your JPs; in fact, a JP can be a useful precursor to a senior thesis.
  • If you are in any doubt about whether your proposed JP topic and/or adviser is appropriate, please ask sooner rather than later.

You must communicate your choice of adviser and topic to the Undergraduate Administrator by the Wednesday of the third full week of the fall term. (Note that since classes typically start on a Wednesday, the Wednesday of the third full week of fall term is usually the fourth Wednesday of fall term, whereas in the spring it's the third Wednesday of term.) If your adviser does not have their primary appointment in the Physics Department, you must communicate your choice of second reader to the Undergraduate Administrator by the Wednesday of the third full week of the term. This second reader will then function as a co-adviser for the JP, responsible for ensuring that the topic involves physics.

You can build on previous work in your junior papers, for example summer work (recall however that the second JP cannot build upon the first). However, it is equally acceptable to start a brand new project at the beginning of each term with an adviser you have not previously worked with. In any case, in order to have a level playing field, your JP will be evaluated based on work done during the term at the end of which it is turned in.

The main advice on writing a good JP is to limit the scope. An overview of an active field, or an account of some reading that you undertook during the term, is to be avoided. Go for specificity and depth rather than breadth. Experimental work is welcome in a JP, but take particular care to have a defined goal that is not too many steps beyond your reach when you start. JP extensions are not granted on the basis of equipment failure. Computer simulations as part of a JP are possible, but you should ensure that your JP work goes beyond programming and shows understanding of the physics and of why the simulations came out the way they did. Some JPs contain original work, but this is not a requirement. Strong JPs could come from rederiving results already in the literature (perhaps in a better or clearer way), making relatively routine measurements with an experimental apparatus (whose purpose you can explain clearly in the JP), or finding some modest extension of work already published or in progress. The key is to meet regularly with your adviser, prioritize the JP sufficiently so that you make steady progress, and focus on a writeup which tells us what you did and shows your understanding of your specific project.

Outline and draft

A brief outline of the JP is due at 3:00pm nine calendar days after the deadline for announcing your topic and adviser. This outline must be signed by your adviser.  Send an electronic copy to the Undergraduate Administrator with a CC to your adviser, and also to your second reader/co-advisor if your primary advisor's primary appointment is not in the Physics Department. Outlines should be prepared in consultation with advisers. The outline should make clear the scope of your JP, and it is usually a few sentences of summary plus roughly half a page of outline.

A draft of the JP is usually due at 3:00pm on Friday of the ninth week of term; see the important dates page for each semester's particular date, since Thanksgiving sometimes interferes. Usually the draft deadline coincides with the University's add-drop deadline. The draft must be e-mailed to the Undergraduate Administrator with an indication of who your second reader is; even if you have previously identified your second reader/co-advisor, please confirm this choice at the time of turning in your JP draft. You should CC your adviser and your second reader/co-advisor so that they too have an electronic copy of your draft. The draft will not be graded, but failure to turn one in on time as described will result in the final JP grade being lowered by half a letter grade. The adviser will read the draft and return it within a few days with comments that will help you with your endgame for the JP.


JPs should be prepared in LaTeX unless you adviser specifically requests a different typesetting system. Figures and tables should be properly numbered, with captions. Citations to the scientific literature should be done with a bibliography at the end of the document, and the bibliography entries should be complete and in a standard and consistent format. Above all, strive for clear, readable prose. If you need to use jargon, explain it. Introduce at least once any acronym you utilize. A good way to make sure your JP is accessible to other physics concentrators is to ask another concentrator to read it and comment.

The recommended length for the final JP is 15-20 pages. This may seem short for a full-semester effort, but it is an opportunity to produce a really polished document. The more mature your own understanding is of your topic, the better you will be at presenting it in a concise and lucid manner. Be ready to go through several drafts to achieve the right level. Revise, revise, revise!


We recommend turning the JP in electronically, as a PDF attachment to an e-mail to the Undergraduate Administrator, with a CC to your adviser and second reader. This e-mail must be received by the Undergraduate Administrator by 3:00pm on the date the University sets as the deadline for junior independent work. The Student Acknowledgment of Original Work must appear on the first page of the JP, and the normal expectation is that the title of the abstract, your name, and your adviser's name also appear on the first page. The wording of the Acknowledgment must be as set forth in the current edition of Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities: "This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations." The Acknowledgment must be signed. For electronic submissions, you may electronically sign by typing your name preceded by the notation /s/. Signing and submitting electronically indicates your agreement to be bound by University Academic Regulations in regard to this JP. If you are not comfortable with an electronic signature, you may instead turn in your JP in hardcopy with a handwritten signature to the Undergraduate Administrator by 3:00pm on the date the University sets as the deadline for junior independent work. In this scenario, you must still send an e-mail copy of the JP to the Undergraduate Administrator, your advisor, and your second reader, to be received no later than this same 3:00pm deadline.

The grade for a JP is based on the JP itself as a document, not advisers' impressions of the student. In assigning grades, advisers and second readers should address the following questions:

  • Is the paper correct?
  • Does the paper indicate a clear understanding of the subject?
  • Is the paper written at a level that another junior physics concentrator could understand?
  • Is the paper well written? In particular:
    1. Is the writing clear and precise?
    2. Is the paper well organized?
    3. Are the grammar and spelling correct?
    4. Are the figures clear and readable? Do they have useful captions?
    5. Was the paper carefully proofread?
    6. Are the references clearly cited in the text?
    7. Is the length of the paper appropriate (15 to 20 pages)?
  • Is there an attempt to apply undergraduate physics to the problem? (This might involve deriving equations, checking magnitudes, etc.)
  • Does the paper have some depth as well as breadth?
  • Does the paper indicate an ability to use the scientific literature effectively?

Scientific content and quality of presentation are given roughly equal weight in the final grade.

Grade recommendations from the adviser and second reader are communicated to the junior committee, along with short text descriptions describing and assessing the JP. The junior committee is responsible for assigning final grades, and it usually does so with the help of a meeting to which all JP advisers are asked to come.

The following approximate grade descriptions are representative of Physics Department grading practices.

  • A+, A, A-. The JP shows excellent scholarship. It may contain some new ideas or results, or it may be an excellent review of existing literature. Presentation and content are both strong, and the JP would be comprehensible to another junior concentrator.
  • B+, B, B-. The JP shows good or reasonable scholarship, but leaves room for improvement. Some flaws in content or presentation may be noted.
  • C+, C, C-. The JP shows some scholarship, but without sufficient depth. There may be significant errors or omissions in the content, and the presentation may be sloppy or incomplete.
  • D. The lowest passing grade. The JP is deficient in multiple respects, with minimal physics content, poor presentation, and/or poor scholarship.
  • F. There are several ways an F can result. One way is for the JP to be largely incomplete and incorrect. A second way is for the JP not to be turned in on time, accounting for any extensions granted. A third way is for the JP to be turned in on time but with issues that prevent it from being accepted. Examples of this last are omitting from the first page the title, the student's name, the Student Acknowledgment of Original Work, or a signature following this acknowledgment (see above for how to handle an electronic signature). Formatting that renders the JP unreasonably difficult to print and/or read may also prevent it from being accepted and result in an F.