Empirical Project: Student-Supervisor Checklist
This checklist is designed to meet the following goal: To help ensure that staff who supervise Year 3 Project students, and the Year 3 Project students whom they supervise, are both “on the same page” as regards their expectations about the Year 3 Project.
A number of sections follow. Each section pertains to a different aspect of the Year 3 Project. A paragraph or two serve as a starting point for discussion. Supervisors and students are encouraged to go through each section together.
An overlap often exists between students’ interests and the supervisors. This is unsurprising: an attempt is made to allocate students to supervisors in a way that maximizes this overlap for the class as a whole, based on a fair combination of ranked preferences and random allocation where these are not possible. In some cases, the individual overlap in interest is very high, to the extent that a student pursues a research idea fully congruent with a supervisor’s own interests. In other cases that overlap is lower, because a preferred supervisor is not available, or because a project topic turns out to be other than expected. Even here, however, the 3rd Year Project can still be a very rewarding experience, with students learning to like the topics they work on, taking pride in doing a good job, and earning a good grade for competent work. Even if you do not pursue your initial choice of topic, or a topic directly pertinent to your career aspirations, this does not mean that you will not develop useful marketable skills, nor that you cannot achieve the very highest marks of which you are capable for your Project.
Project topics are often settled after period of negotiation between the supervisor and one or more students. Students are encouraged to develop basic ideas that staff might put forward, or to think of good ways to implement ideas that staff might have. Staff will evaluate such ideas, and consider possibilities for their implementation in the light of their own expertise, and may often suggest alternatives. Students should take on board the advice they give.
Finalizing a Year 3 Project topic is the first of many goals that students will need to set and achieve over the course of completing it. There are many others. For the Literature Review, these would include: identifying a thesis or dispute to write about; identifying a list of relevant references; reading and interpreting the relevant papers; planning the structure of one’s essay; writing a draft of that essay; and finishing that essay. For the Research Paper, these would (or could) include: formulating a specific hypothesis; preparing materials online or in the lab; submitting an ethics application; getting permission to access a sample; running participants online, or in the laboratory, or in the field; putting all the data together; analyzing the data statistically; interpreting the results; and drafting and writing up the different parts of the Research Paper (Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Appendices). To this end, it is helpful to come up with, in conjunction with your supervisor, a set of achievement milestones: realistic dates by which you can expect to complete each of these goals. Doing so will help to keep you on track. Note that, because Projects will vary, milestones will also vary across students. Note too that failing to meet a milestone is not fatal: it is not a deadline. Rather it is a useful signal that you need to devote more time and energy to achieving the goal you have not yet completed. Suggestive milestones are provided on the Blackboard website devoted to the Year 3 Project. Actual milestones will vary by student.
Some projects are more challenging than others. The challenge can come from several quarters: the subtlety of the conceptual question; the complexity of the experimental design; the sophistication of the statistical analyses; the difficulty of developing experimental materials; and the problem of finding enough participants. In general, students are encouraged to pursue project ideas that are highly feasible, likely to yield results, and unlikely to stress them unduly. However, the motivation and ability of students is one determinant of feasibility. Supervisors and supervisees should think carefully about what topics are appropriate in individual cases in light of students’ prior academic attainments. More able students should be allowed sufficient scope to demonstrate their abilities; less able students should not be burdened with tasks that are beyond them. Academic attainment is previous years may be useful guide for supervisors and students alike in deciding how difficult a project to pursue.
Contact with Supervisor
In general, completing the 3rd Year Project is students’ responsibility. It is an enterprise that students undertake with supervisors providing occasional input in the form of advice and correction. Supervision does not mean intensive coaching (even if supervisors may occasionally—above and beyond the call of duty—provide extra help for struggling students). Supervisors may steer the boat, but students must pull the oars.
This being the case, a student should meet his or her supervisor occasionally, neither too seldom (once a month) nor too often (every single day). Once every two weeks—for at least half an hour—is a reasonable minimum. Also, if you are collaborating on a Project with another student, you can expect to be met on your own at least once a Semester for at least half an hour. Depending on the nature of the project, and the ability and attitude of the student, it is common to meet on average about once a week, if only briefly. However, relatively more meetings will occur early on in a semester, and towards the end of it. As regards email, one should expect a supervisor to respond to queries within a week, in the absence of face-to-face meetings.
Note students cannot expect that a supervisor to be able to provide impromptu and substantial assistance within a few days of a deadline: supervisors have multiple students and other duties. It is students’ responsibility to manage their time and progress so that they do not need such assistance at the last minute.
Supervisors have different styles of supervision. For example, some supervisors tend to be more hands-on, scrutinizing the details of students’ work and progress, whereas others tend to be more laissez-faire, letting students get on with things by themselves. There is no consensus about which style is pedagogically best. Both styles are liable to have advantages and disadvantages. For example, students with a more hands-on supervisor may receive more corrective feedback, but may never learn how to do research by themselves, whereas students with a more laissez-faire supervisor may receive less corrective feedback, but may better learn how to become independent researchers. Supervisors’ style will also differ in other ways (e.g., more or less formal). The bottom line is that variability is to be expected, and is not necessarily a bad thing. In addition, the nature of the project, and the ability and attitude of the student, will lead supervisors to adjust their supervisory style. In general, supervisors appreciate students who make an effort and who can get on with things in an organized way—something they will factor in to the grades they award. Note, however, that a student will not be penalized for seeking legitimate assistance from their supervisor (e.g., on how to do a logistic regression). However, a supervisor cannot be expected to act in a remedial role, re-teaching a student how to do tasks that they have already been taught how to do in previous years (e.g., like carrying out a t-test).
Feedback on Work
The 3rd Year Project is designed to be both a means of instructing students and of assessing them. For example, students are taught in previous years both how to conduct statistical analyses and to write up research reports. The Year 3 Project is one test of how well students have acquired these skills (and others). Hence, a supervisor’s level of input into the Project should be limited: it can’t be all their work. Moreover, in the interests of equitable marking, it is reasonable to expect that no student should receive substantially less input from their supervisor than another student.
Hence, supervisors have been advised that they should NOT comment on full drafts of the Literature Review or Research Paper. However, they are encouraged, in the first instance, to comment to two types of work:
(a) an outline or plan of the Literature Review or Research Paper;
(b) individual sentences or phrases used in the Literature Review or Research Paper, to check them for spelling, grammar, or phrasing; or for logical sense and factual accuracy; or for adherence to statistical or APA conventions.
Note that students should not attempt to game the system through repetition. For example, they can expect only to receive feedback on a single outline or plan, and perhaps a revision thereof, but not again and again. The same applies to sentences and phrases. Instead, students are advised to bring a short list of particular questions with them to each supervisory meeting. By “short” is meant less than ten. By “particular” is meant pertaining to a specific and well-defined issue, such as “Would design X or design Y be more optimal to test this hypothesis?”, rather than general and vague issue, such as “How should I write my Method section?” Students should think carefully the best questions to ask, and not “waste” questions on matters they can readily discover the answer to themselves (e.g., “What is the correct APA format for reporting a t-test?”).
Students can present plans or outlines, or a few sentences or phrases, to supervisors and expect to receive feedback on them promptly (either in person verbally, or within about two weeks by email). That said, supervisors have some discretion in applying these guidelines (e.g., reading a larger segment by a weaker student; allowing more talented student to work more independently).
In addition, supervisors can be expected to provide the following conditional type of once-off and more extensive feedback:
c) detailed comments on a draft of up to 1200 words of the Literature Review.
The condition is this: the draft for Literature Review must be submitted via email by a deadline near the beginning of December (Friday 1st December in 17/18). Supervisors will then provide feedback before the University closes for the Christmas break (Friday 15th December in 17/18). If no draft is submitted by the prescribed deadlines, then no feedback need be given on it. Deadlines for draft submission will also be publicized by email and on the Blackboard website devoted to the Year 3 Project.
Whatever the length of the draft that students have prepared by each due date, they can submit it, and receive feedback on it. But feedback will be given on no more than 1200 words. Where the draft exceeds 1200 words in length, supervisors can choose which 1200 words to give feedback on. Feedback will be given one-to-one, as well as on the manuscript itself.
The purpose of this feedback is to give students assistance, not only with the overall structure of the Literature Review or Research Paper (outlines, plans), or with particular elements of those assignments (sentences, phrases), but also with several other mid-level challenges, including but not limited to: framing a question intelligibly; building a logical argument; providing precise descriptions; reporting coherent results; and interpreting findings judiciously.