The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.1 How widespread is the use of undergraduate research in degree programmes?

Although no research exists documenting the degree to which institutions require undergraduate research in economics, one recent survey documents the characteristics of writing requirements, honours programmes and capstone/senior experiences at institutions in the United States (McGoldrick, 2006).

Results of this survey indicate that 70 per cent of institutions have a formal writing requirement and the most popular form is a senior seminar with a significant writing component. These senior seminars are typically low enrolment courses designed to allow students to strengthen their knowledge of a particular field of economics and practise their application of the subject matter. Because of the labour-intensive nature of such courses, they are more likely to exist at smaller institutions where the faculty to student ratio is higher. These smaller schools are more likely to require writing and subsequently are also more likely to see improvements in students’ writing skills. On average, students are assigned four research papers by the time they graduate no matter what type of institution they attend.

More than one third of the institutions offer honours programmes which typically require a minimum GPA, a research paper, and an oral presentation. Capstone courses are typically situated in the final year of the student’s educational programme and are designed around students demonstrating their mastery of the content and application of economic theory. Survey results suggest that capstone/senior experiences occur at 60 per cent of institutions and most likely in the form of a course. Courses that are dedicated to the research process require students to apply the tools they have mastered to a specific research issue. These experiences are designed to stimulate an independent and economic way of thinking and to teach students how to synthesise the literature. Such courses typically expose students to new, policy-oriented topics and provide specific exercises to teach the components of the research process.

Overall, about one half of the institutions reported that students’ work had been published in both professional academic and student journals although this was slightly less likely for students who participated in a capstone/senior experience course rather than the honours programme. For additional information about capstone courses, refer to the case studies associated with this chapter.