Math 97 Senior Conference Syllabus

Senior paper:

The most important part of Senior Conference is the senior paper. This is a 13-18 page, double-spaced paper on a mathematical topic of your choosing. Your choice of topic is due by September 17, so it's important to get started right away. You may write about anything that interests you, as long as it substantial mathematics and it does not duplicate something you have covered (or will cover) in one of your courses. At least part of the paper should be devoted to a rigorous proof of something. The paper should be written at the level of an audience of your peers: senior math majors at Swarthmore. Senior conference papers are nearly always expository in nature—that is, you are not expected to produce original research—but, of course, your sources should be carefully credited and everything should be written in your own words.

In choosing a topic, it is probably a good idea to define the scope of your project as quickly as possible. For instance, try to identify a target—an idea or a theorem—that you want to get to, so that, once your reach it, you'll know that you can stop. As a general rule, expect to complete the basic background research in about a month and then spend the rest of the semester organizing and writing it up.

Some other small points: One of the goals of the paper is to give you an opportunity to do some independent work, but you should feel free to come see me about any ideas or questions you have. Depending on their expertise, other members of the department may be willing to help you with the material, but please don't approach them until after you have talked about it with me first.

The paper is to be word processed (or typed), except that expressions which require complicated mathematical formatting may be written in by hand, if necessary. Please turn in two copies of all written work (outlines and drafts). I will keep one copy and return the other copy to you, with comments.

See the class schedule for a list of due dates. The bulk of the grade for your paper will be based on the final product. Nevertheless, your intermediate work—the draft and outlines—and your success in meeting the various deadlines will also be factored in.

Oral presentation:

Towards the end of the semester, you will give a 30-minute public talk on your paper (plus around 5 minutes for questions). I have already scheduled exact dates for each of you. See the class schedule for the list of dates. If you need to change the date you will speak, let me know as soon as possible—changes will only be easy to make early in the semester. In addition, a week or so before you give your official talk, you and I should schedule a practice talk with just me in the audience. The schedule for these practice talks will be set later in the term.


You are expected to attend all class meetings, department colloquia, and student presentations this semester. The registrar has scheduled us from 2:30 to 5:30 each Tuesday, however the details are more complicated: each week there will either be a class meeting, a colloquium, a series of student final talks, or free time for individual appointments.(Click here for a complete schedule.)

In case of unavoidable conflicts, you are allowed three absences from scheduled Tuesday events, though you should let me know in advance if you cannot make them.


These web pages are largely derivative of Jim Wiseman's web pages for math 97 in Fall of 2003. I give him my hearty thanks for permission to mangle them at will. All credit for the good things should go to him and all blame for the mistakes should go to me.

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Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics

Swarthmore College

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