I. Why Research
(a) Personal Incentives
Doing research is possibly the most rewarding academic and intellectual experience you can experience at Penn. For at least one semester, you (with the guidance of your faculty supervisor) can decide to focus on what you want to study in great depth and tailor the research accordingly (rather than have the agenda of the course set by an instructor teaching to many students.) You have the freedom to conduct this research at your own time, with some basic deadlines being the only constraints.
It is a tremedous thrill to see your work published - in student journals at Penn or in academic peer reviewed publications. In 2013 PPE student research (subsequently published in a journal), was cited by a Harvard Law Professor writing for the UChicago Law Review. Many of our students publish their research in the PPE journal: students interested in publishing their research there should contact the editorial board at ppejournal@sas.
(b) Professional Incentives
On a more practical level, research embellishes your transcript, usually returns good grades, and gives you a taste of what you will be doing a lot more of in graduate school. If the research is for your honors theses, then it will appear as a distinction on your transcript.
(c) PPE Academic Incentives
The PPE curriculum makes it especially easy to incorporate research into the major and we encourage research very strongly. Theoretically, students can fulfill their entire 4 credits of thematic requirements by doing research (provided the research they are doing is relevant to their theme, of course). Almost all Capstones have a research component built in to the class structure. And, because of the interdisciplinary nature of the PPE program, our undergraduates are able to cut across boundaries and collaborate with a variety of faculty in an array of subjects. In the past PPE students have done research on topics in applied ethics, economics, law, political science, public policy, psychology, political philosoph, social work and other fields.
II. How to get started
Students wanting to do research need:
(1) Some prior basic knowledge of the field they want to do research in. Doing research should be at least as challenging as taking a junior or senior year course. This typically means you have taken a couple of classes in the area, enough to form an educated hypothesis that you wish to investigate.
(2) A willing faculty supervisor to guide the research. This could be someone whose class you have taken in the past (and hopefully done well in) or someone you happen to know in some other way (perhaps worked for that person, or been directed to that person by some other faculty member).
(3) Passion and time to make this happen.
PPE does not have much leeway in helping you with step 2, except to remind you that we have a set of young scholars in residence with a diverse group of interests (see especially our Post-Doctoral scholars and Research Fellowsl). Many of them teach PPE Capstones for our students. This is a resource that you are strongly encouraged to use, especially if you have trouble finding a member of the standing faculty to serve as advisor: young scholars may be more aware of the cutting edges of the discipline, and be able to give you more time.
III. Administrative Steps for starting
These are really minimal.
(a) Once you have found a willing supervisor, simply send an email to ppemajor at sas dot upenn dot edu. Copy your supervisor and mention a few words about the research. The research needs to be related to your theme if you are planning to use it for that purpose. If you are doing it for an elective credit or simply to fulfill honors requirements, it needs to at least related to PPE (even if not your theme) for us to give you a pemit (see next paragraph).
(b) We will then issue a permit to the student if necessary. Students are required to be formally enrolled in a class, such as PPE 299 or PPE 301 or an independent study class in the supervisor's department*.
If you are doing the research before your senior year or you cannot reasonably expect to attain a 3.6 GPA in the major by the time you graduate, we will issue you a permit for PPE 299 - Independent Study. If you are a senior and can expect to graduate with a GPA of 3.6 or above in the major, you are eligible to graduate with honors in PPE and in that case we will issue you a permit for PPE 301 (Directed Honors thesis). Note that you need to be in the class before Add period ends for the semester.
*Sometimes, faculty in different departments (such as PSCI) would prefer that you enroll for an independent study in their department. Even if this is the case, please still send the email mentioned earlier to ppemajor at sas dot upenn dot edu.
IV. Academic Interaction and Nature of Research
The exact process varies from supervisor to supervisor, but usually follows a common structure:
(a) Discussion of topic first, and the faculty supervisor guiding the student into doing something feasible
(b) A reading list suggested for the student if apporporiate
(c) Meeting(s) to discuss what will be written.
(d) A draft, with ample time to do corrections if needed - when this is due varies from supervisor to supervisor
(e) Final paper, with grading deadlines as in any other class.
(f) PPE leaves the nature of the research paper to be jointly determined by the supervisor and student. There are no minimal number of pages - an Economics thesis might be shorter, and a Political Science thesis longer. Generally speaking, the thesis should be a substantial body of intellectual work that may be expected from a upperclassman student doing research.
V. Deadlines and other formalities
Since the research is being done in a credit bearing class, the instructor will assign a grade. This grade needs to be turned in by the day grades are due for all other classes for the respective semester (Jan 1 for fall, 3 days after end of exams in spring, and 3 days after end of classes in the respective summer sessions). Note that this means that you must discuss with your advisor how early the last draft of the paper needs to be turned in to him or her, so that the paper may be comfortably evaluated in time to meet the grading deadlines. Honors theses work may not be completed after graduation.
Finally the process is not complete until we receive an electronic copy of the completed work at ppemajor at sas dot upenn dot edu and a bound hardcopy in the PPE office, 311 Cohen. Campus Copy Center at 3907 Walnut has cheap, quality thesis binding options.
VI. Research Support
PPE has a small amount of funds for student research, which must be conducted under the supervision of faculty at Penn. In general, students are encouraged to apply for funding from other sources, as our resources are unlikely to cover the demand for such funds. The primary College Resource for such opportunities is CURF.
1.Students who believe they have a viable research proposal should fill out this form, and send it to ppemajor at sas dot upenn dot edu.
2. Students should not make any plans based on obtaining the research funds until they have been formally notified about the amount they will receive.