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Wilson School adds nine research seminars among host of changes to curriculum

After switching to a nonselective admission process last year, the Woodrow Wilson School admitted a record 163 students from the Class of 2015 and has introduced a number of changes to the school’s curriculum, among them the addition of nine new skills-based research seminars that will replace one of the two previously mandatory task forces.

Previously, all juniors in the Wilson School were required to participate in a policy task force each semester and wrote their junior papers in tandem with the task force. The Wilson School has now replaced one of these compulsory task forces with a research seminar, which will provide students with the basic skills needed to conduct public policy research.


The School first considered making changes to its program through a steering committee headed byformer Princeton University President Harold Shapiro and Professor Nolan McCarty acting under mandate from WWS Dean Christina Paxsonin the 2010-11 academic year, according to Undergraduate Program Faculty Chair and Wilson School professor Christina Davis. The following year, another faculty committee put together an implementation planwhose changes will be executed this year. The planproposed a new Science for Public Policy requirement, a new cross-cultural or field experience requirement, a new policy research seminar and the abandonment of the core class WWS 300: Democracy.

“There had been a long-standing debate about whether selectivity was in the interest of the school,” Davis said. “There was also a concern about creating more coherence to the curriculum while still maintaining interdisciplinary education and the flexibility for students to choose courses around their policy interests. The third concern was interest to help students improve the quality of the senior thesis by providing more structured coursework on independent research.”

While regular Wilson School courses, which are open to all students, have not changed or increased in number, the research seminar is a new development that will help students develop quantitative skills to prepare them for independent work, according to Davis.

“We replaced one of the policy task forces, actually, largely in response to the comments by students who felt that task forces, while very intellectually stimulating and exciting, did not provide quite the preparation they were seeking for their senior theses,” Wilson School Dean Cecelia Rouse said.

There are currently nine research seminars offered this semester, including WWS 351: Information Technology and Public Policy and WWS 302: International Development. Each seminar has an additional research methods lab component.

“[The seminar professors are] teaching it with a little more conscious self-attention to thinking about the challenges to research on a particular policy problem,” Davis said.


The Wilson School has also added more study abroad opportunities for students, launching new programs in Barcelona for the fall and East Asia and Amman, Jordan for the spring, Davis said.

Even though the incoming WWS class has nearly doubled, the policy classes and research seminars will still maintain a 10:1 faculty-to-student ratio, Davis said. She added that faculty and administrators had accurately predicted the number of students in the Class of 2015 and thus hired enough instructors in the past year and a half to accommodate the junior class.

Wilson School concentrator Ray Chao ’15 said that he is not worried about the increased number of students but instead sees it as a benefit for adding diversity.

“Maybe there is also an added benefit in having a lot more perspectives on issues and a larger cross section of campus in the WWS program. I personally don’t see any drawback so far,” Chao said. “I’ve never really had a problem at Princeton with getting attention from a professor or the help I needed, so I’m not worried.”

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How the Wilson School will manage to pair each student with an adviser next year when 163 students must write their senior theses remains to be seen. Although no concrete plan has yet been offered by the School to address the challenges posed by the Class of 2015 in its senior year, some administrators and faculty suggested several ways that the Wilson School could respond to meet student needs.

“[Students] have always been able to choose faculty from around the University and any department where faculty are willing to advise them, and that will continue to be the case,” Davis said.

Wilson School professor Stanley Katz and Davis both noted that since certain departments such as politics are smaller this year, it is likely that their faculty will be able to serve as advisers for Wilson School students.

Despite the promises of these changes, students and faculty acknowledge the limitations and challenges that accompany these changes.

Wilson School concentrator Aneesh Sahni ’14 said he approved of the new research requirement but said he felt concentrators would now have a lesser degree of freedom in determining their personalized courses of study.

“Something that I liked about Woody Woo was that it was a very accessible department,” Sahni said. “I think that [the changes are] good because it’s almost like quality control and keeping people on the same page, but I think that it doesn’t now offer the same kind of freedom for students it did.”

Katz said that with a more diverse student body, there will be a wider range of interests and needs that the School must meet.

“We had some idea of the range of interests of the people in the selective program. We don’t have any idea what the interests of this class are,” Katz said. “That’s hard because it’s hard to anticipate [their interests], for instance, for providing an appropriate range of policy task forces, and we’ll just have to see.”

As of now, administrators say that the program is running smoothly and is prepared to meet any upcoming challenges.

“It is a large group, but they’re very diverse and extremely motivated, and I’m optimistic that this is going to be a great group of students to work with,” Davis said. “We’re opening the door of interest in public policy to a larger number of students.”

“We’re working [the issue of thesis advisers] through, but we can be rest assured that they will get the kind of advice they need to write fantastic senior theses,” Rouse said.


Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the leaders of the 2010-2011 Wilson School steering committee. It was led byformer Princeton University President Harold Shapiro and Professor Nolan McCarty acting under mandate from WWS Dean Christina Paxson. The 'Prince' regrets the error.