New department guides help familiarize students, new faculty with independent work
Juniors and seniors undertaking their junior papers and theses will now receive additional guidance from the Office of the Dean of the College’s newly published Guides to Independent Work, the University announced last week. These departmental resources establish guidelines for junior papers, senior theses and independent projects.
The guides contain department-specific expectations for written work, overviews of the research process and objectives of independent work, adviser information, campus resources, a timeline for submission and grading standards, according to a University press release.
The motivation behind the guides is to provide students with a document they can consult, Pascale Poussart, director of undergraduate research, said.
“We had heard over and over from students that they were looking for more information about independent work, both junior papers and senior theses,” she explained, adding that prior to last year, only seven or eight departments had existing guides. ODOC asked how it could improve the situation so that students are better equipped for their independent work, she said.
Poussart helped coordinate the University’s 34 academic departments to develop working guides for independent work. Each department wrote its own specific document, loosely modeled off the existing guides.
While the thesis is a long-standing University tradition, not everyone knows exactly what the process entails. The guides have helped familiarize both students and new faculty advisers with independent work, according to members of the University community.
“As a new faculty member, it’s been really helpful because I didn’t have the same senior-thesis experience,” assistant English professor Sarah Chihaya said. Chihaya arrived at the University this year and is advising students on their independent work for the first time.
“I came from an undergraduate institution where I only had a one-semester senior project, so for me, it was really useful to learn [from the guides] about the department and learn what is expected from this kind of work,” she said.
Chihaya noted that the independent guide was also very helpful for her students, who are currently working on developing their projects. “At the current moment, I can already see that it’s been very helpful to students who are working on the planning and organizing phases of the project,” she said.
Assistant politics professor Omar Wasow, also a first-year faculty member, said he finds the guides helpful in setting standards for advisers and advisees. “It’s a framework that helps to set expectations of both the professors and their students,” he said. “Each advisee, with consultation from the adviser, defines goals and expectations for their own work.”
Another benefit of the guides is the timeline they provide, according to Wasow. “Because this is a long project for students and for their advisers, having a schedule that can be more or less agreed upon and understood from the beginning is important,” he explained.
One of Wasow’s advisees, Ryan Kang ’14, said that it was reassuring to have a work guide that he could consult for a project that greatly differs from the written work he has done before. “We have an idea of how shorter papers are written, but for longer papers, it’s helpful to have information to write different parts, such as method or literature review, which normally don’t come up in term papers.”
Prior to the guides, many departments conveyed information about independent work through individual meetings between students and professors, according to students from various departments.
But the guides are not meant to be a replacement for the one-on-one interaction between students and advisers that is core to independent work, Poussart said. She noted that many independent work guides provide information on navigating the adviser-advisee relationship and are merely a starting point to the road that lies ahead.
“While there is wide variety of such advising interactions, the guides ... lay down some of the basic advice the student can absorb before going to meet with their faculty in terms of setting expectations,” she explained.
Julie Gerek-Sefa, undergraduate administrator of the chemical and biological engineering department, said that her department constantly revises past guides to meet the current needs of students. The CBE department is one of few departments that has had senior thesis guides prior to this initiative. Gerek-Sefa said she believes that other departments will similarly be looking to revise the guides to better assist juniors and seniors.
Poussart explained that these independent work guides are in their first phase and may be revised based on student feedback.