The College of Wooster

Frequently Asked Questions About Senior Independent Study in Economics and Business Economics

Admissions literature at the College describes Independent Study as the hallmark of a Wooster education. When one talks with alumni years later, most of them agree with that description. During the process, however, you're likely to find IS challenging, dull, fun, satisfying, exciting, and sometimes exasperating. The information that follows answers a number of frequently asked questions about Senior I.S. in our department. If you have a question that is not answered here, please let us know.


How do I pick an I.S. topic? Selecting a topic is often one of the most difficult parts of Senior I.S.. People worry that they will be stuck with a "bad" topic, won't be able to find data, or that they will later wish that they had selected something else (remember "sunk" costs). The selection process doesn't have to be traumatic, however, if you take it step by step and think things through logically. In general, you should select a topic that is interesting to you, that is "do-able", and that meets the Department's expectations.

Since you will work on this project for most of the academic year, choose something that interests you. Think about the classes that you have taken and what you enjoyed most about them. Look at your old textbooks or class notes and see if you can find a topic that way. Ask a "favorite" professor about it and look up some relevant information in the library.

Selecting something that is related to your course work is one way to help make sure that the topic is "do-able." You should also make sure that the hypothesis is very specific and narrowly-defined. Will you be able to know when you are done? Be realistic about your own background, skills, and motivation. Is this a topic that YOU can do? If you struggled with calculus, for example, does the theory related to this topic require a lot of complex derivation? Have you already had related course work? Did you do well in it?

The topic must also be acceptable to the Department. This means several things among them: Is a faculty member willing to work with you on this?; Does the topic require economic analysis to evaluate it?; Is the hypothesis of sufficient depth that it is worthy of a long-term project?; If data are required, are they likely to be readily available? Talk with faculty about the various topics and let them help you evaluate whether an idea is feasible for you.

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How am I assigned to an advisor? At the beginning of the Fall semester, all seniors will meet with the Department Chair to discuss the I.S. process. The time and place are given in the Daily Schedule of Classes under Economics or Business Economics 451. Unlike Junior I.S., there is no senior seminar and this is the only group meeting that will be held. The purpose of this meeting is to acquaint you with Senior I.S. and to take care of several clerical details. You will be advised about which faculty members specialize in what areas and will be encouraged to talk with them about potential topics. You will also find out about the I.S. deadlines including a date by which you must submit to the Chair a prospective I.S. topic and your Advisor preference(s), if any. The Department Chair will then assign you to an advisor based on your preferences and considerations of teaching loads. These assignments will be posted in Kauke 217, on the Departmental Bulletin Board, and at various faculty offices. If you are not satisfied with the Advisor to whom you have been assigned, let the Chair know immediately so that alternatives can be discussed.

How do I know who would be a good advisor for me? In general, you should select someone who is knowledgeable about the subject and someone with whom you feel comfortable working. There are probably several faculty who fit this description, so don't worry if you have no particular preference or if you don't get your first choice?

How are second readers assigned? After you and your Advisor have determined a topic and you have worked on it for a few weeks, your Advisor will give your topic to the Department Chair. After all of the topics have been assembled, the Chair will assign second readers according to the same kind of criteria that are used for the Advisor selection. You and your Advisor should meet at least once during the Fall semester with your second reader to discuss your topic and the approach that you are taking. Your second reader will generally not meet with you regularly nor read drafts of your paper, but will be ready to make helpful suggestions and to help you with areas where the first reader might be less knowledgeable.

How much help should I expect from my Advisor and second reader? 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 your Advisor to be on time for meetings, carefully to read what you write, and think critically about what you have to say. You are not imposing by asking an Advisor to read drafts or to respond to your questions. This is part of your Advisor's teaching load and most find it interesting and, perhaps, fun. It is not fun, however, when you make no progress or when you ask an advisor to read and respond to things at the last minute.

During the semester, your Advisor will read your drafts and comment specifically about concerns that he or she has about what you have written. You should expect comments about any errors and about areas that are unclear to the Advisor and/or are likely to be unclear to your second reader. In general, Advisors are best able to respond to things that you write. If you and your Advisor talk about a specific concept or empirical test during a weekly meeting, write it up and hand it in as a draft for the next meeting.

It is reasonable to ask an Advisor about 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?" Remember, your final I.S. grade is determined by two readers not just your Advisor. In addition, the grade reflects the entire paper and how it fits together not just the individual segments. Your Advisor will not be able to give you any firm answer on this until he or she sees the final paper as you submit it.

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How long should an I.S. be? How many references should it have?The Department assistant in Kauke 217 can show you papers from past years that will give you an idea about these issues. Compare those that received honors with the others. While there can of course be no set number of pages or references that are required for I.S., a brief look at the old papers will give you an idea of what is expected. In general, your paper should be long enough to evaluate a topic completely, but no longer.

The College does not have any of the journals I need for my topic.Think about this when selecting a topic. Even if Wooster doesn't have what you want, it may be available at local universities or through inter-library loan. You will have a much more rewarding experience in I.S. if you choose a topic that has many local resources available. Ask you advisor about these issues before you start.

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What is due at the end of the First Semester? The College requires that you complete enough in the first semester to make the completion of your paper a "reasonable expectation" in the second semester of IS. The meaning of "reasonable expectation" requires judgement by your advisor about you and about your topic. In the Economics Department, we understand this to mean specifically that your Theory and Review of Empirical Literature chapters must be complete at the end of the first semester.

Is my completed I.S. due before or after Spring Break? Two bound copies of your thesis are due in the Registrar's office on the first day of classes following Spring Break. As far as the Economics Department is concerned, it is due a week before Spring Break begins. At that point, your final draft should be done so that your Advisor can give you some last-minute comments. Only minor corrections and touch-ups should be done, if at all, over the break. Your Advisor is not obliged to provide any advice or feedback for work taking place over the break. When the spring recess begins, you will be on your own. Do not plan on using the Spring break for making up time lost to procrastination. Because of the nature of economics research, it simply cannot be done.

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How is my grade at the end of the first semester determined? Senior I.S. is a two-semester project and the grade that you receive at the end of the process counts for both semesters. In order to keep you and the College informed about your progress, however, your advisor submits a "grade" for you which covers the work that you have done in the first semester. This "grade" is either "SP" or "NC". The designation "SP" stands for "satisfactory progress". It does not mean that your work has been evaluated as "satisfactory" as opposed to "good" or "honors". It means simply that you have done enough that there is a reasonable expectation that you will complete your paper in the allotted time during the second semester. In our Department, we have interpreted this to mean that you must have two chapters (generally Theory and Review of Empirical Literature) completed by the end of the first semester. It is your job to make sure that this expectation is met. Ask your advisor, how you are progressing.

How is my final grade determined? Both of your readers will evaluate what you turn into the Registrar's office on the due date established by the College. It generally takes two to three weeks for us to read all of the papers. The Department then has a meeting to discuss all of the papers and grades together. One thing we want to determine during this meeting is whether any of the papers are not satisfactory. If the paper that is turned in is not satisfactory, no oral examination is scheduled and a grade of N/C is assigned. For the remaining papers, the first and second readers assign a TENTATIVE grade of H (Honors), G (Good), or S(Satisfactory). This grade is tentative, because the results of the oral exam must be factored in. Issues discussed during the oral exam and the student's performance may influence the initial evaluation in a positive or negative direction, or not at all.

Another purpose of this meeting is to make sure that papers are evaluated consistently across the Department. We want to ensure that the lowest "Good" is better than the highest "Satisfactory". Under most circumstances, the two readers agree on the grade that an I.S. should receive. On the rare occasions where the readers do not agree, the Chair will assign a third reader to mediate in the process and help reach an acceptable conclusion.

I hear that there is a "quota" on the number of Honors grades that can be awarded in the Department. Is that true? We've heard that too, but it simply isn't true. There is no quota or maximum number of honors. However, honors grades are reserved for papers of exceptional quality matched by excellent orals. Not surprisingly, the number of Honors grades is small. You should also know that the grades of H, G, and S do not correspond to A, B, and C. In general, the spread between the highest and lowest "S" is much wider than between the highest and lowest "H". You can be proud to be a member of a department with high standards. When you receive a grade, from H to S, it MEANS something.

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How are orals scheduled? After the Department's I.S. meeting, students with acceptable papers will be able to schedule orals. It is up to you to find a time that is convenient for you, your Advisor, and your second reader. It's generally best to schedule at least an hour for the oral exam. During orals you should be prepared to discuss all aspects of your paper as well as how your work relates to course material that you have had and economic issues generally. Orals are not a memory test. Bring a copy of your paper with you as well as any notes that you think will be helpful.

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What is plagiarism and how do I avoid it?
Plagiarism is representing someone else's work as your own. In it's worst form, this means copying something from another source and not properly citing where you found it. More often, it takes more subtle forms, however, such as paraphrasing an article or book, citing it, but only at the end of a lengthy section; discussing something with a friend in such detail that the two of you end up writing virtually identical papers; or copying something, changing a few words, and not putting the result in quotes with the proper citation.

Plagiarism is a serious issue that will result in serious penalties, often failure on your paper. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid by following the steps below:

In addition, there are some additional issues about copyright issues on the WWW that you should read.

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Is it okay to draw my graphs by hand? Of course! As long as they are legible and reproduce well when photocopied, hand-drawn graphs are perfectly acceptable. A well-drawn graph done by hand is always preferable to a nice-looking, but incorrect one done with the computer.

Should I have my paper bound? The most important aspect of your paper is what it says. Appearance, as long as as the paper is well organized and legible, plays no part in the evaluation process. Many students choose to have their papers bound at the bookstore or elsewhere, but this is not required nor expected. Others choose simply to put their paper in a 3-ring binder. It's up to you.

I've done everything that I have been told to do in I.S. and only received a grade of "S". Almost all College of Wooster students work harder on their I.S. than they have ever worked in any other course and you have most of an academic year invested in this project. It's natural to feel like your I.S. is worth a lot and, unlike the case with courses where you have regular exams, there is little basis for comparison with other students. But, an I.S. reflect the culmination of all the preparatory work that you have done throughout your first 3 years at Wooster as well as your personal habits and skills. People differ in their backgrounds and in their constraints. Some people who are very good at course work find I.S. difficult. On the other hand, some people who have struggled with classes find a topic that really motivates them and do an excellent job with it.

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Updated by Jws, August 2010.