Supervising 12 students with their BA thesis at the University of Amsterdam

August 28, 2020

From March until August 2020, I supervised 12 students with their Bachelor Thesis at the University of Amsterdam. Because of Covid-19, this year’s supervision process was different compared to previous years, as the supervision was all those months only online.

Law & Economics track

I supervised students who were about to finalize the interdisciplinary Bachelor Programme Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) at the University of Amsterdam. The Bachelor thesis (worth 12 EC) challenges students to develop an original contribution to a societal problem. Our Bachelor Thesis Project focused on behavioral public policy & human rights. 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. I directed the thesis project together with Dr. Cenkhan Sahin (research fellow at the University of Amsterdam) and we combined our two disciplines: Law & Economics.

What was expected? 

In their thesis, students had to demonstrate their ability to set up and conduct a scientific research in which they prove their ability to find answers to a well-formulated research question. 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.

Organization of the ‘Bachelor Thesis Project’ 

First of all, Cenkhan 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. Cenkhan 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.

Research topics 

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:

  • Freedom of movement in the context of the Corona-pandemic
  • Conscientious objection
  • Chronic child malnutrition
  • Trade liberalisation v. female labour market outcomes
  • Gay rights
  • Child marriage
  • Child trafficking in football

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. Cenkhan 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.

Format of the thesis

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.

Assessment 

Cenkhan 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 although some students needed some extra time due to Covid-19, by the end of August all students passed the Bachelor’s Project!

Graduation Ceremony

Unfortunately, we couldn’t organize a Graduation Ceremony as we did previous years due to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead, we had a session online via Zoom, which was nevertheless a great way to close the academic year!