The University of Texas at Austin
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Sample Proposal: Independent Inquiry

College of Liberal Arts

Please direct all questions about the flag proposal process to the Center for the Core Curriculum.

GOV 370M: Research on the U.S. Congress

Department of Government

Please describe how students will engage in independent investigation and presentation of their own work through the course. Please explain specifically how your course engages students in the process of inquiry in your discipline.

This course is part of a year-long research class that we offer to our undergraduate research teams. In the first semester, they are responsible for helping us gather and analyze data for our own research enterprises. At the same time, they are tasked with developing their own research proposal that utilizes our data is some way.

While the students are gathering data for us for an explicit reason (i.e., our research agenda), they are free to work on any project that they want so long as it involves analyzing data (even in the extreme case, they can analyze data that they haven’t even gathered for us). The best projects combine data that the particular student has gathered (because they know that data most intimately) with data that has been previously gathered (so that they can relate one set of data to another set).

Perhaps it’s easier to understand the research projects in context. I have a team of undergraduate researchers who have been gathering data about Leadership PACs (PACs sponsored by members of Congress who give money to other members of Congress). I want these data so that I can analyze the extent to which Gingrich Senators give to other Gingrich Senators. The students who are gathering these data are not as interested in my question as they are in their own questions. One student is doing a project examining the institutional factors that explain why someone would get money from a leadership PAC (does it have more to do with their vulnerability or to do with the loyalty to the giver?). Another student thinks that there is a social network that happens among members from particular geographic regions or who share a particular sex that leads them to give money to other candidates. So, as it turns out, we have one student examining the institutional side and another student examining the behavioral side. I couldn’t have planned it better and had I tried to plan it that way, no doubt, the students would have objected!

What kinds of projects, artifacts, presentations, or performances do your students produce as a result of engaging in this process of inquiry?

In the first semester, they have to come up with a two-page abstract of their project and present it to their fellow classmates in the last week of the semester. In the second semester, they have to complete a poster that is part of the University’s Research Week and write an 8-10 page paper.

Please explain what independent work students will do in this course. If students are engaged in team-based projects, explain how every student will exercise responsibility for and independence with some portion of the project.

The data collection is collaborative, but the development and execution of the student’s research project is completely independent.

How does the work that students produce in this course build upon skills or knowledge they have developed in previous coursework?

It ties it all together and forces them to do the work that we, as political scientists, have to do.

Please specify what percentage of the students’ grade is based on the process of inquiry as described above. Note that for a 3-hour course, at least one-third of the course grade must be based on the students’ independent investigation and presentation of their own work. (Students’ independent work must constitute one-half of the grade for 2-hour courses and all of the grade for 1-hour courses.)

In the first semester, it is about 40 percent. In the second semester, it is about 80 percent.

Return to Proposal Tips: Independent Inquiry.