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Comps exemplify arduous work

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, November 3, 2005

It’s that time of year again, when seniors around campus at Saint Mary’s become scarce. Not because of the imminent frigid weather for which South Bend is notorious, but because of rapidly approaching due dates for many of their senior comprehensive projects.

As a culmination of their career at college, students are required to complete a comprehensive project with varying requirements, depending on their major of study. In most departments, the comprehensive consists of an extensive research project, the results of which are the basis for a paper, and is completed with presentations of the project to a panel of faculty from the student’s major department, as well as fellow students and friends. Each major is unique in its specific requirements for the comprehensive, as is each topic on which students decide to focus.

According to biology professor Richard Jensen, senior biology majors are required to develop a proposal for an independent research project during the spring of their junior year. They then present it to faculty for approval and complete it with the assistance of a professor or an off-campus advisor during the fall of their senior year.

In the spring, students and faculty attend a research symposium where each student presents her project as if attending a professional meeting.

Jensen believes this is an important experience to have before graduation.

“I think we believe students should have some sort of defining experience in the major,” Jensen said. “We look at it as something really important for students in the sciences because they get a feeling of what it’s like to do research.”

Jensen said that many alumnae have contacted him and informed him that they felt the senior comprehensive is one of the most valuable experiences at Saint Mary’s because it gives students an edge when applying for jobs or admission to graduate schools.

Kirsten Fantom, a biology and psychology double major, is currently working on two comprehensive projects and feels that the experience will be a help to her in her future career. Both of her projects are centered on animals.

For biology, she designed a project in veterinary science looking at canine dental records and how they correlate with renal failure, while her psychology experiment consists of observing the benefits nursing home patients gain from being in the presence of animals.

“I think they are beneficial because we are able to design our own study and learn the proper way to do research, investigate a topic, and present it to peers and experts in the field,” she said. “I feel I will be ahead of the game.”

Similar to the biology department, students who major in communications also complete a research based project. Associate professor of communications Vince Berdayes said the senior comprehensive in communications is a two-course sequence that takes place in the spring of junior and fall of senior years, which lead up to a final project presented to the public during the fall of senior year.

“In communications, the idea is that when a person graduates from Saint Mary’s, they’re right at the point where they can do professional-level research,” Berdayes said, “so what we’re trying to do is ensure the person can write well, is familiar with the material and that they are capable of work on the professional level that could conceivably be published.”

According to Mary Connolly, associate professor and chair of the mathematics department, seniors majoring in math are also required to do extensive research for their comprehensives.

“Seniors in the math department do independent research for the senior comprehensive,” she said. “They study a topic not covered in any of the courses they have taken and work under the direction of an advisor. Seniors present two preliminary talks on their work to their peers in the senior seminar. They then write a formal paper on their work and give a final talk, open to the public. At the final talk, they answer questions posed by three faculty members who have read the paper.”

Research projects are required for many but not all majors as a part of the senior comprehensive. According to the Web site for the history department, students are given a choice of completing an objective examination and a four-hour written examination, or an objective examination and an essay for their comprehensive.

Other departments, like philosophy, state on their departmental Web sites that students can have a choice between taking a comprehensive examination or completing a research project with a faculty member similar to other departments.

Religious studies majors actually choose their own material for the two essay examinations they are required to complete for their comprehensives. According to the religious studies Web site, students choose four texts each semester and work closely with faculty advisors to develop a bibliography. For the examination, students are given 24 hours to complete an open-book essay examination about their selected texts.

Although each department is unique in its requirements for senior comprehensives, students and faculty agree that whatever the requirements, students benefit from the work that is required.

“My comprehensive consisted of many long nights meeting with my team of five,” senior business major Bridget Boyce said. “We researched Target and Target’s competitors, Wal-Mart and Costco. We spent many hours figuring out a strategy for Target. We are hoping this strategy will increase their net revenue and increase market share. It was a good experience. Hopefully our hard work will pay off.”