Dean’s Dates can undoubtedly be daunting, especially if you are enrolled in one of the departments where the primary form of assessment is essay writing, rather than exams. For me, the most difficult step of completing Dean’s Date assignments is the very beginning—choosing a topic. I often struggle with the decision of whether to focus on something I know nothing about, or something I know a little bit about, and want to explore further. This is never an easy choice. Often, however, I find that the latter makes for a more thoroughly-developed question, as it offers a pre-existing lens through which to view an issue, and then formulate specific inquiries about it.
For example, last year in one of my Global Health classes, I read a book about off-shoring clinical trials to developing countries. It really captivated my interest, and had me asking many questions about efficacy, ethics, and feasibility. When it came time to write the final essay for the class—an open-ended research paper on a topic related to course material—I was presented with the perfect opportunity to explore these interests further. And that is just what I did. I decided to write about offshore trials in Poland, and how they actually often help, rather than hurt, those that participate.
Thus, the basis for my paper wasn’t something I knew absolutely nothing about. It was something I’d read about, and simply wanted to explore further. This allowed me to formulate a question that was specific and made for a well-developed essay with a clear direction and argument.
So, as Dean’s Date approaches, don’t panic about where to start. Just think back to questions you had throughout the semester. Were there books or articles you read that kept you thinking, even after class discussion? Was there something that made you ask “why” or “how” that was talked about in class? Use what you know, and expand on it. This way, the hardest part of essay writing—choosing a topic—becomes easy and Dean’s Date becomes that much more manageable.
P.S. Thinking about topics is something you can easily do over break that is hugely productive, without spending hours in the library actually writing. Just a thought!!
Happy holidays, everyone!
— Annie Woehling, Social Sciences Correspondent