Please also see Guidelines for writing a thesis for important information on writing your thesis and choosing a supervisor.

Each Honours student in the School must undertake an Honours Project as part of their Honours year. This involves:

  • Independent study under the supervision of a member of staff.
  • The writing of a thesis giving an account of what was studied.
  • The presentation of some of this material in a 15-50 minute seminar which will be attended by staff and other students.

The objectives of the project are:

  • To give the student an opportunity to engage in some study which is driven more by their curiosity than by a given syllabus.
  • To expose the student to mathematics beyond the standard syllabus and to get some view of what is happening at the research front.
  • To help develop some of the basic research skills including use of the library and computer databases.
  • To develop the skill of writing technical material well.
  • To develop the skill of presenting technical material orally.

Many of these skills will be of great benefit whether or not the student progresses to further study in mathematics. Of course, for the student who does go on to do mathematical research, these skills are vital. It should be noted that although the project is an important part of a student's research training, the aim of the project is not to produce original new theorems. Occasionally a project will contain some original results, but this is certainly not a required component.

Remember that different projects can have quite different natures. Some are surveys of a particular area of mathematics, some look at the history behind a famous problem, others may require calculating some examples, or filling in gaps in published works.

  • The thesis will be assessed for quality in four major areas (see below), each of which is important. The mark for the thesis will be made up as follows: 90% based on the written thesis, and the remaining 10% will be determined by an oral presentation. The written thesis and the oral presentation will be assessed by three markers, one of which is the supervisor.  Each marker will provide a written assessment and grade(s) for the written thesis based on the following:

    • Exposition: Clarity of the presentation. Sufficient introductory and summary material. Organisation and style of the presentation.
    • Literature coverage: Adequate coverage of related material in the field. Placing the topic in a wider context.
    • Critical analysis and insight: Understanding of the problem and/or model. Quality of the discussion. Discussion of the advantages and limitations of the problem/method.
    • Originality: E.g. by modifying or extending earlier theory or methods, or by developing new examples, or by an application to a new area. Are there new results, insights, methods or applications?

    The weighting of the various assessment components will vary depending on the type of thesis. For example, the literature coverage will be more important in a survey type project than in one which contains original results. All theses are expected to address all four areas mentioned above.

  • Typically in the last or week before the last term of their Honours year, students each present a seminar of 20 - 50 minutes (depending on the department) on their thesis to members of the mathematics staff, interested visitors and other students. This presentation is worth 10% of the thesis mark, and each of the three thesis examiners will attend and record a grade for the presentation. The presentation will be assessed on: Knowledge displayed; motivation presented for the study of the topic; description of contributions/achievements; description of results; clarity of verbal discussion; clarity of slides/figures; quality of presentation (e.g. eye contact, pace); keeping to time; and responses to questions.

    • Your talk should be self-contained. As with the thesis, it should be aimed at the level of your fellow Honours students.
    • Discuss with your supervisor which aspect of your project would make a good talk. The hard thing is deciding what to leave out while still telling a coherent story.
    • Start the talk with a non-technical introduction so that everyone understands what your project is. Pitching the talk at a higher level may be necessary later in the talk, but try not to get to the stage when only you and your supervisor understand what is going on. Remember that it is very easy to overestimate what the audience understands (haven't your lecturers been doing that to you for years!?).
    • Go to other seminars during the year. If you can, go to the seminars of Honours students who are ahead of you. Take notes of what works and what doesn't work in their seminars. 
    • Have a run through with your supervisor at least a week before the talk is scheduled.
    • Don't worry too much. This is not an examination, and we are not trying to catch you out. We all remember how nervous we were before our first talk, and will take that into account.

    There will usually be some questions asked at the end of the talk. Don't feel that you have to know the answer to all of them. Questions are asked because the questioner wants to know the answer, not because they want to see whether you know.

  • The final Honours mark consists of thesis grade (which contributes 18/48) and five courses (contributing a total of 30/48). This mark is then rounded up to produce your final Honours mark, which determines your grade.

    • 85+ : Honours I
    • 75 - 84:  Honours IIA
    • 65 - 74: Honours IIB
    • 50 - 64: Honours III
  • You should begin to plan the 'shape' of the thesis before the start of your third term. You supervisor should have a fairly mature draft by the end of Week 7 of your last term, but you should probably give them a chapter sooner than this so they can check your writing style.

    The following is a general guide to how work on your thesis should progress. If you think that a major variation is warranted, please discuss this with either your supervisor or the Honours Coordinator.

    • Select supervisor and topic - before the start of your Honours year
    • Research, reading, discussion, understanding - mainly first term
    • Outline of thesis & significant piece of writing - by the beginning of your last term
    • Give a substantial draft to supervisor - end of Week 7 of your last term
    • Talk - last two teaching weeks of your last term
    • Final submission - the Friday of the last teaching week (week 10) in the final term of honours candidature.
  • Students in their final term should submit via Moodle a PDF file of the final version of their thesis by the posted due dater. For more details on how the thesis should be presented see the next section.

    A late penalty of 5% of the maximum mark for the thesis will be applied per day or part day that the thesis is late. Where "late" in this context means after any extensions granted for Special Consideration or Equitable Learning Provisions. For example, a thesis that was awarded 75% would be given 65% if it was 1-2 days late. Any thesis submitted after 5 days will not be accepted. 

  • Students are responsible for the production of their theses. Almost all students type their theses using LaTeX. 

    Getting a good looking thesis can be helped by having a good style or 'document class' file and a decent example to copy.  A style file and an example thesis are provided below.

    Your thesis should be in 12pt font, singly spaced (or one-and-a-half spaced). Typically, a thesis should be between 40 and 60 pages in length. If you think that you have a good reason to write a shorter or longer thesis, discuss this with your supervisor. Theses are not judged by their weight! It is better to write a shorter thesis in which you understand everything than a longer one where you are rather hazy on the details.

    The following files can help you to get your thesis writing started. (You will only need one of the UNSW crest files, depending on whether you are using the pdflatex or latex command to compile your thesis.)

  • Rules for dealing with illness and other unavoidable issues

    • If your progress has been affected by illness or an unforeseen issue, you may apply for Special Consideration by following the standard University rules. You should also provide your Honours Coordinator with a letter explaining your situation. Medical certificates or other written evidence to support your request should be supplied where appropriate. You should ask your supervisor to submit a report on the extent to which your progress has been interrupted.