Purpose and Benefits

A large sector of the electrical and computer engineering profession is regularly involved with planning, performing, managing, and evaluating both applied and theoretical research. In academic and government facilities, in the laboratories of individual consultants and corporate giants alike, success in research often dictates the overall success of the institution. Furthermore, although it is not possible to work in each of the many sub-disciplines of science and engineering, research techniques in one area are often transferable to another. Thus, the electrical and computer engineering department believes that involvement in research can begin to prepare you for a successful and rewarding career.

The honors program at Lafayette College is designed to give selected students a special opportunity to pursue a challenging research project of their choice at a depth not normally possible in an undergraduate course. While students work in close collaboration with a faculty mentor, they are also guided toward independent investigation and are expected to formulate and carry out many of their own research ideas. In the past, this has proven to be a confidence-building experience for students and richly rewarding for students and faculty alike. Needless to say, a transcript bearing the legend “Honors in Electrical Engineering with Thesis” is of high value on résumés, graduate school applications, and future job interviews.

Students pursuing an honors thesis in electrical and computer engineering enroll in two thesis courses during their senior year: ECE 495 in the Fall, and ECE 496 in the spring.  ECE 495 is counted as a free elective, while ECE 496 is counted as an ECE elective.

Getting Started

Participation in the honors program normally begins with an invitation from the electrical and computer engineering department head, generally in April of your junior year.

The ECE department requires an overall and in-major GPA of at least 3.0 for consideration in the program.

Your first step in pursuing an Honors Thesis should be to identify an area of interest, set up a time to speak with the professor in that area, and discuss potential research projects for the upcoming summer and following year.  It is also possible to propose a research topic of your own, although it is still necessary for you to find an ECE faculty member who will agree to serve as your research adviser.  Keep in mind that the ECE Department requires an overall and in-major GPA of at least 3.0.  The next step is for you to inform the department head in writing of your intention to pursue honors, noting the research area and the professor with whom you will work. This by the end of spring semester classes.  In addition, you should register for ECE 495: Thesis for the following fall semester. Before leaving campus for the summer, you should also work with your research adviser to determine what steps you should take during the summer to begin investigating your topic in preparation for formal course requirements in the fall.  Typically, some background research and preliminary planning will be required so that you can present a proposal during the coming Fall.

Thesis Committee

Your thesis work will be advised and judged by a committee composed of the research supervisor, another member of the ECE Department, and one person from outside the department or even outside the College. While the primary responsibility of the committee is to determine the merit of your work, as judged largely by the thesis and final defense, committee members may also be sought for advice as needed. It is wise to keep committee members involved in your thesis throughout the year so that their input can be incorporated as you go; otherwise, you run the risk of being at odds with a committee member who feels you have not adequately addressed a particular topic and not having enough time to meet any requirements they impose.

It is usually the responsibility of the research adviser to choose the other members of your committee, but your input on the matter would be considered. (For example, if you have a good working relationship with another professor or feel that another professor would be especially able to help you with a particular aspect of your work). The thesis committee recommends approval/disapproval of the honors thesis to the major department. Ultimately, it is the ECE department faculty who must approve the award of departmental honors

College policy requires that all students successfully completing honors work will receive the grade of A for both ECE 495 and ECE 496. However, if for some reason you do not successfully complete honors requirements, your credit for ECE 495 will be counted as a free elective for work done in the fall with an appropriate, while work done in the Spring will be counted as an ECE elective with an appropriate grade.

Discussion of Requirements

  • Qualifying Oral Presentation
    A gathering of honors students and ECE faculty will be called during the first two weeks of classes. Students will describe the preliminary research they performed during the summer in preparation for the thesis, present an overview of the research topic, propose specific research goals, and show a tentative timeline (with projected dates) for meeting the research goals. Presentations will be roughly 15 minutes plus extra time for questions.
  • Thesis Proposal
    This is to be a written summary of the qualifying oral presentation. It should be three to five pages minimum, due to the honors coordinator, with a copy to your research adviser. (Note: writing more on the background while it is fresh in your mind is a good idea, especially since it will mean less writing later, when you are busier.) This written summary will be made available to all ECE department faculty.
  • Mid-Year Presentation
    At the end of the first semester, thesis students will present their findings and research results to date. It is normally expected that at least part of the talk will be devoted to reviewing any background material resulting from a literature survey on their topic. Talks will be 15 minutes in length, plus time for questions. Following this talk, the ECE faculty will assess the appropriateness of the student continuing with ECE 496 in spring semester. Outside readers will be invited to the mid-year presentations, and will be consulted regarding this assessment (generally held on the Reading Day).  Students who do not continue in ECE 496 in the spring semester will need to take an ECE elective instead.
  • Thesis Draft Due to Committee Members
    Your adviser and other committee members should each receive a draft copy of your thesis. The thesis text should be completed using the guidelines set forth below, including such details as page numbers, figures, figure captions, references, etc. Although this is a draft, it should appear essentially in its final form so that committee members can fairly judge your level of effort and results over the year, as well as your ability to present your work. Minor items like acknowledgements, final table of contents, etc., may be omitted at the discretion of your adviser. Be sure to arrange with the committee members how and when you are to receive the thesis after they have marked it with corrections and suggestions, i.e., campus mail, pick up on a certain date, etc. It is due on Tuesday of the second to the last week of classes.
  • Final Thesis Defense
    Honors students will present the final results of their research to their peers, committee members, and ECE department faculty. An open invitation to the College community is sometimes extended as well. Each student will be given 20 minutes plus time for questions. This is held during the last week of classes or early in Finals Week.
  • Completed Thesis Due to Research Adviser
    The final version of the thesis is due to your adviser on the last day of final exams. Copies of the thesis in PDF format should also be submitted to the ECE Department Head and to the Office of the Dean of Advising for their permanent archives. A courtesy copy should be offered to the committee members.

Thesis Format

Your thesis committee possesses the ultimate authority regarding the exact format of your thesis. However, in the absence of specific direction, the following guidelines should be used.

A properly written thesis usually includes at least the following components:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introductory Chapter
  • Body (including several chapters as needed)
  • Concluding or Summary Chapter
  • Bibliography/References