Notes and Comments on Junior I.S.
Prof. John W. Sell
(Summer 2011)

I.S. is a challenging, dull, fun, satisfying, exciting, and sometimes exasperating graduation requirement at the College of Wooster. As your advisor in this process, I feel compelled to make some observations about the I.S. experience and your prospects. You might also look at the Department's Frequently Asked Questions about IS Page.

A successful I.S. is within the grasp of every student at the time he or she registers for it, but registering is the easy part. It's what results at the end of your second semester that counts. The Department has no quotas on the number of people who can pass I.S., or get a grade of "A" for that matter. But, the statistical fact is that not everyone submits a satisfactory paper. You can be proud that you are part of a Department that has standards. When you receive a grade, from A to F, it means something. Conversely, if your work isn't up to standard, you will not pass and may not graduate with your class. It's as simple as that. Your job is to make sure that you are not in that group.

I think that a successful I.S. is within your grasp. I think that you can do it. But, it is up to you to do it with my feedback and that of your colleagues in the Jr. IS Colloquium.  It's up to you to take the initiative.  Like many things in life, I.S. is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. This doesn't mean that perspiration is everything or even enough, but without it, the inspiration required is beyond the capacity of most of us. The notes that follow are designed to help you get the most out of the I.S. process, the perspiration part. You're on your own for the inspiration, but I dare say that no one has failed for the lack of that.


1. Make a plan and stick to it. I.S. is a long-term project. Don't expect to write your entire paper in a "fit" of inspiration in one day, one week, or even one month. Work a little on I.S. each day. Set aside 50 minutes for it each class day as you would for a regular course and keep to the same 50 minutes every day. Even if you can't think of anything to do on a given day, re-read what you have already done and think about how you can improve it, re-read an article that you have found, look for a new one in the library, or simply re-write your hypothesis in a different way.

2. I.S. takes time and you will persistently underestimate how much. A good rule of thumb is that any aspect of it will take four times as long as you expect. For example, what you think will take one week will normally take a month so plan on it. If it actually takes less, you will be pleasantly surprised.

3. Make efficient use of our colloquium and any individual meetings that you may schedule. Arrive on time and think about your paper before you arrive. Always have at least one question to ask or point to make. This will force you to think about your project and will help me to recall what you are doing. Also, read any comments that I have made on a previous draft of your work and write down questions about things that are unclear to you.

4. Make an outline of your paper in as much detail as you can and revise it at least once a week. If you put it on a word processor, you can fill in text between the topics as you go. Check and double check your paper for consistency. Can you explain how each part relates to your hypothesis and how the parts relate to each other?

5. Explain your paper to a non-major friend. See if you can get them to understand what you are doing and why economists or business people would think it is important.

6. Read your entire paper out loud once a week. Are you proud of the results? If so, reward yourself in some way. If not, plan how to change it or think of a question to ask during our advising meeting.

What can you expect from me as your advisor? The main function of an advisor is to provide you with useful feedback to enhance the likelihood that you will have the best paper that you can write. At minimum, this means that you can expect that I will be on time for our meetings, basically cheerful, and will carefully read what you write and think critically about what you have to say. You are not imposing on me by asking me to read drafts or to respond to your questions. I do get paid to do this and generally find it fun. It is not fun, however, when I see no progress or when I am asked to read and respond to things at the last minute.

At the beginning of I.S., I will help you think through topics that are appropriate from the Department's point of view and tractable for you. Come prepared to discuss several areas that interest you and possible topics related to each. You should also expect that I will clearly spell out what progress is expected of you and on what schedule.  As a member of our Department, you are expected to write an IS that reflects serious thinking using economic analysis to illuminate your question or problem.

During the semester, I will read your drafts and comment specifically about concerns that I have about what you have written. You should expect me to comment about any errors that I find or about areas that are unclear to me. In general, I am best able to respond to things that you write. If we talk about a specific concept or empirical test during our meeting, write it up and give it to me to read for the next meeting.

It is reasonable to ask me how you are doing in terms of your progress in the I.S. process, but don't ask, "how am I doing" meaning "what kind of grade am I likely to receive?" or even, "is this passing?" In addition, the grade reflects the entire paper and how it fits together not just the individual segments. I will not be able to give you any firm answer on this until I see the final paper as you submit it.

Finally, I want to encourage you to communicate with me. When you are frustrated or intimidated by me or by the process is precisely the time to maintain close contact in order to straighten things out and move forward. Right now, you have the resources to make I.S. what you want it to be. Re-read the first sentence on page one and resolve which of the adjectives there you want to summarize your I.S. experience.