Independent Study Project (ISP) guidelines

GPA alert:  While all three of the grades you earn during The Washington Center program (seminar,  internship, and ISP) are all reported on your transcript, only the ISP grade will be calculated in your GPA.

Note: The following guidelines were developed for students working with Prof. Hoefler.  Other students should consult with their own ISP adviser for specific guidance, as the following guidelines are suggestive only.

ISP and professionalismProfessionalism will count significantly in your ISP grade.  Key components of professionalism include:

  • maintaining good, regular, quality contact with me via emailed journals;
  • responding to queries, requests for clarification and elaboration, and feedback;
  • completing interim work products on time as you maintain steady progress toward successful completion of the ISP.

Weekly journal submitted via email:  You will be submitting journal entries about your internship experience to your TWC program supervisor on a regular basis.  You should copy me on those entries, and add a personal post script to me each week that discusses what progress you have made on the independent study.

Topic selection:  You should initiate email conversations with me in the first week or two of the semester to propose possible topics for your ISP.

Talk with the folks at your internship site about your ISP to get the ball rolling.  Pick their brains about the hot topics the office is dealing with, the special areas of expertise that exist within the staff, and the readily available materials to which you will have access.  Maybe you will find a special project that has been waiting for someone like you to come along.  Whatever you propose, it has been my experience that projects which focus on a dimension of the work your office is already involved in will provide you with the most productive and rewarding independent study experiences.

Methodology:  Here are just three possible approaches that your ISP could take.

  • Comparative analysis: Compare two or more entities (e.g., states, countries, businesses, government departments, etc.) that are roughly equivalent. Be sure to explain why you can compare the entities you do, and what flaws there might be in this approach.
  • Longitudinal analysis: Follow one policy, entity, or population through a specific time-period. This is especially useful when there is an identifiable “intervention” between the beginning and the end of your study. For example, PA used to require motorcyclists to wear helmets, and now they don’t. Tracking the accident experiences of motorcyclists over time (seriousness of injury; rate of fatality) would help you begin to figure out what impact helmet use has on accident outcomes.
  • Case study: A case study is used to explore one particular entity or policy in great depth. It should cover the history of the subject matter in some detail.

Project development:  Once you have settled on an approved project title, you should compose a brief synopsis and a rationale for why working on this particular topic will constitute a productive use of your time.  You should also outline the project in detail, annotating the materials you plan to use (e.g., personal interviews, records, reports, and other data) along the way.  Submit the synopsis and outline to me via email.

On-site visit:   I will pay you a visit sometime during the middle weeks of the semester, during which time you should be prepared to:

  • Brief me on the progress you have made on the independent study project, to date (include your topic and thesis, rationale, methodology, sources, challenges, and expected outcomes);
  • Provide me with a one-page memo at that time to guide the discussion (use the standard memo format used at your internship site);
  • Provide a short tour of your internship site (if this is not too disruptive to the operations of the office);
  • Set up a short meeting with you, me, and your site supervisor (this is not required — we will do this only if your supervisor is interested and able to meet; the meeting could range from a simple introduction, to an informal chat of 15 minutes or so, depending on schedules).

Project completion:  Your project should begin to shape up nicely in the closing weeks of the semester.

  • Send a draft of the project no later than 2 weeks prior to the completion of your internship
  • Send the final work product in to me by the last day of the internship progrm.

Debriefing: Set up a debriefing with me here at Dickinson when you arrive back on campus to discuss your ISP, specifically, and the TWC experience more generally.