ALL POLITICAL SCIENCE MAJORS MUST COMPLETE SENIOR PROJECTS. While our senior project (POSC 396) serves as a SAGES capstone, and hence meets that requirement, it has always been part of the major. Therefore, even if you do a capstone in another major, you must do POSC 396.
The senior project is essentially an independent study, which must result in a paper and a short presentation. Students should think about topics that they would like to learn more about, and ask professors if they are willing to supervise those topics. The best capstone topics are likely to explore further questions arising from your previous or current POSC coursework. Once you find a supervisor for a topic, you and the instructor must agree on a plan of work. This should include at a minimum:
What written work will be required, by what dates
An overview of how you expect to research the topic.
Required project plan: This work plan should be written up as a Senior Project Prospectus. A copy of the prospectus form can be downloaded Department of Political Science Independent Study Prospectus. A hard copy of the prospectus must be filed with the Political Science department office. Department rules as stated in the General Bulletin say the prospectus should be filed with the department office no later than the drop/add date of each semester (Friday of the second week). The intent of this rule is to ensure that the prospectus is filed in time for the student to register for the course. That means, no instructor for a senior project should issue a permit for a student to register for the project until the faculty member and student have drafted the prospectus!
Each member of the faculty will have his or her own expectations of projects. All will expect some significant writing. Faculty are also expected to require some delivery of work by the middle of the semester, and to reflect any failure to deliver work in the midterm grade report. Beyond those requirements, there are many forms of projects. Some will collect and analyze primary data. Others will be literature reviews. Some faculty members, such as Professor White, are willing to have a project in which the students begin by learning about a subject more generally, prepare reports on what they are learning, and then focus on a more precise paper topic towards the midpoint of the term. Others expect a more precise topic earlier. The most important things are 1) to find a faculty member who feels comfortable advising on a topic and grading a study about it, and then 2) to have a clear agreement about what the student will be doing.
Oral presentations: As part of the requirements for a SAGES capstone, all projects are presented in a public forum. The political science department has been doing this in a format modeled on our disciplinary academic conferences, with formal presentations followed by questions and discussion.
We schedule the presentations during the penultimate weeks of each semester. The sessions begin in the late afternoon, and last between two and three hours. Refreshments are provided. Students are divided into panels based on their topics and their supervisors. For example, in the Spring of 2009, we had seven panels, with three or four students on each. Four of the panels started around 5:00 p.m., and the other three around 7:00 p.m. Each student’s section of the panel lasted approximately15 minutes. Students took 8 minutes to report on their work, and the remaining time was reserved for questions and comments from the audience.
This format is a version of what you would do at an academic conference. Other members of the panel and the audience give feedback on the work. The audience is not likely to be large, but the way we do this means that the students who are speaking in the earlier or later panels are expected to be there to listen to other students, and the department faculty is also present. The presentations also are open to other students if they wish to attend.
Students are not expected to have their final paper ready for presentation. They are expected to have done enough to be able to give a coherent and interesting talk. One of the reasons for doing the presentations during the penultimate weeks of classes is to give students time to think about comments made at the presentations as they finish writing their final papers. This is similar to how most conferences work. At the American Political Science Association meeting, for example, most participants present papers that they hope to submit to journals, and they use the feedback to help them determine how to finalize the paper for submission.
Finding a Project Supervisor: Students are responsible for finding a supervisor for their topic. Your major advisor or the department chair should be available to discuss your interests and suggest which of their colleagues might fit those interests. Unless they are going to supervise the project, however, they cannot issue the permit. Whoever issues the permit has to do the grading, so only the actual supervisor can issue the permit. Also, as explained above, the permit should not be issued until the prospectus has been prepared and accepted.
Please note that there is no reason to feel you need the permit during the usual preregistration period. POSC 396 cannot “fill” and no Political Science major will ever be closed out of POSC396. You should not, however, plan to show up during first week of a term and start looking for a topic and advisor. In short, planning ahead is a very good idea. Registering ahead is not necessary.
Occasionally a political science senior project is advised by a faculty member from another department of the college or unit of the university. This requires approval by the department chair so that the department administrators can arrange it with the registrar, and of course confirm that the faculty member is willing to do it. This arrangement almost always involves a student who wants to study some aspect of the law, with a faculty director from the School of Law.
The department is instituting a new policy about how many senior projects can be supervised by any individual faculty member.
As of Fall of 2010, no member of the political science faculty may supervise more than five senior projects during any term. There are two reasons for this rule. First, if a member of the faculty supervises more than five, he or she might not be able to attend presentations for all of the students whose work he or she is directing. Second, we want our faculty to be able to give enough attention to the projects they are advising. We will be asking the registrar to put caps on how many students can be registered for each of our faculty members’ versions of POSC 396, so that our professors cannot make exceptions.
No member of the faculty is required to supervise any particular topic or student. The idea is to find good matches among students, faculty, and topics. If a member of the faculty is uncomfortable with a topic, he or she should not feel obligated to supervise, even for a student he or she knows well. Similarly, if you have done previous work with a professor, that does not mean you should feel compelled to work with that professor on your senior project. You should feel free to talk to multiple members of the faculty and to consider a range of possible topics and capstone directors.