Supervising 12 students with their bachelor thesis at UvA
From March until July 2019, I supervised 12 students with their Bachelor Thesis at the University of Amsterdam. The bachelor thesis of the Bachelor Programme Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) at the University of Amsterdam is meant as an ‘assessment of competence’ completed by students towards the end of the interdisciplinary Bachelor’s programme. The Bachelor thesis (worth 12 EC) challenges students to develop an original contribution to a societal problem. In order to guarantee the interdisciplinary character of the Bachelor thesis project, each thesis project was directed by two lecturers, representing two disciplines offered in PPLE.
Law & Economics track
I directed the thesis project together with Dr. Marco Fabbri (research fellow at the University of Amsterdam) and we combined our two disciplines: Law & Economics. Marco has a background in economics and has extensive knowledge on behavioral & experimental economics and micro-econometrics. His PhD thesis focused on social welfare and behavioral public policies. It is therefore no surprise that when combining our two fields of expertise, our Bachelor Thesis Project focused on behavioral public policy & human rights.
What was expected?
In their thesis, students had to demonstrate their ability to set up and report about scientific research in which they prove their ability to find answers to a self-determined question of scientific interest. The thesis was ment to be the culmination of an explicit skills development process building up throughout the research methods courses, research based teaching, and the interdisciplinary content of the PPLE curriculum. What I really liked was that students proved to be able to demonstrate the added value of PPLE’s interdisciplinary programme in their thesis.
How was the ‘Bachelor Thesis Project’ organized?
On the one hand, Marco and I prepared two introductory sessions of two hours each during which we presented and discussed the main theoretical framework of the thesis, and we introduced the area to research. We presented possible research methods and case studies as examples. In addition, we situated the topic in a broader context. In the first session, a buddy system for regular peer-review was formed. Students were expected to discuss each-other’s project and provide feedback to one-another. Marco and I monitored this process closely. Apart from the two introductory sessions, we also had three plenary sessions of three hours each for students presentations and peer-review sessions. These sessions served as workshop spaces. On the other hand, students individually carried out substantial and original research at the crossroads of Law & Economics.
Because the overall theme ‘Behavorial Public Policy & Human Rights’ is still (deliberately) very broad, students came up wide a wide variety of research topics, including the following:
- Gender quota and tax evasion
- Cash Transfer Programs and poverty
- Teenage Childbearing in Mexico
- International Investment Arbitration
- Alternative Credit Scoring and Artificial Intelligence
- Prostitution Policies (gender-quality vs. self-determination) in Europe
- Conscientious Objectors in Israel
- LGBTQ Rights Implementation in the EU
- Ecocide and Indigenous Peoples
- Coca Policy Change in Bolivia and Colombia
- Vote Selling in India
- Migrant Domestic Workers in Qatar and Bahrain
Deadlines & Format
Over the past months, several deadlines were to be met during the reading and writing process. First of all, we requested the students to submit a first draft of their individual research proposal, including formulation of the problem, initial research question, initial research statement, initial outline, and preliminary bibliography. Marco and I discussed the first draft with the students one-to-one. The next step was to submit a final draft of the research proposal, to us supervisors as well to their peers and we organized a review session to give our feedback. A couple of weeks later students submitted their first complete draft of the thesis and later on the final version of the thesis. After this deadline, we organized oral presentations as well, to allow the students to present their work.
The thesis was written in the form of an academic article, between 8.000 and 10.000 words (excl. footnotes, bibliography and appendixes). This was quite interesting, because at the Law Faculty I was used to supervising students with their thesis which had a ‘normal’ format, meaning different chapters. Now students had to work with sub-sections instead of chapters, and following a clear format suitable for publication. For instance: introduction + clear and precise research question (and hypothesis), methods, theory, data/case study, analysis, discussion/conclusion.
Marco and I assessed the theses by using a grading rubric form provided by PPLE. The final grade was based on (i) content: problem statement, theoretical framework, methods, results/case study, argumentation and creativity, conclusion and discussion; (ii) form: structure, lay-out, language, references; (iii) process and (iv) oral presentations. All students did well and (after one student did a re-take), all students passed the Bachelor’s Project!
The 11th of July we had the graduation ceremony at Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam. Before the ceremony, PPLE organized a dinner for all lecturers. The weather was great, what a beautiful venue to close the academic year!