SYMSYS 200: Symbolic Systems in Practice

[This version: March 9, 2012 - check for updates]

2011-2012 Winter Quarter, Stanford University
2-3 units (see below for unit requirements)
Grading: Ltr-CR/NC
Fridays 2:15-5:05 pm in 110-101
Instructor: Todd Davies
Instructor email address: davies at
Course website:
Website for sharing alumni interviews:


This course is recommended for
The focus is on applying a Symbolic Systems education at Stanford and outside. The course will cover the basics of research and practice. Students will develop and present a project, and investigate different career paths, including academic, industrial, professional, and public service, through interviews with Symbolic Systems alumni that are intended to be made available to all Symbolic Systems students. The overall goal is to help students pull together the strands of their study in Sym Sys and to see how it can be applied to various possible futures.


There are no explicit prerequisites for this course, but it is intended for either upper division undergraduates who have taken some of the undergraduate core in Symbolic Systems, or first year master's students prior to the project stage.

Course Requirements:

The required work varies somewhat depending on the unit load. For three units, the requirements are a 5-7 page paper describing a project or prospective project in Symbolic Systems, a presentation based on the paper, and an alumni interview project and presentation (video, audio, or web-enabled summary). For two units, the paper is not required, but the other elements are (i.e. a presentation of a project or prospective project, plus the alumni interview project). The three unit option, for a letter grade, must be completed in order to count the course toward the advanced small seminar requirement.

Course Outline (check back each week for updates):

January 13. Overview and motivations for the course. Introductions.
January 20. Values and Goals. Research in Symbolic Systems and at Stanford. Independent study, research assistantships, summer internships, honors theses, and master's theses. Grants and working with faculty.
January 27. Choosing, executing, and writing up a project in Symbolic Systems.  Resources for student research.
February 3. Topics and Methods I: Overview of topic development and comparison of disciplinary methodologies in symbolic systems. Project characteristics.
February 10. Topics and Methods II: Discussion of topics and methods related to students' projects.
February 17. Project Presentations
February 24. Career and Life Planning
March 2. Applying to graduate and professional schools and jobs, resumes, interviews, personal statements/statements of purpose, and self-presentation.
March 9. The Symbolic Systems experience, part I: instructor's perspective.
March 16. The Symbolic Systems experience, part II: student presentations and guest perspectives. Students present interviews of alumni and others involved in different career paths for Symbolic Systems graduates, e.g. academic careers and graduate school, industry careers, public service – NGOs, teaching, government, and professional schools and practice – medicine, law, teaching, journalism, and business.


Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford (SSP website). See especially:

Planning Research and Planning for Honors (Undergraduate Research Programs sites - many helpful links; read the stuff for faculty too, and note that faculty grants can cover honors projects that are faculty-initiated)

Center for Teaching and Learning (many resources for more effective learning, including the Oral Communication Program for training in speechmaking)

Social Science Data and Software (SSDS) Group (a group within the Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources (SULAIR) that provides services and support to Stanford faculty, staff and students in the acquisition of social science data and the selection and use of quantitative (statistical) and qualitative analysis software. SSDS staff provide these services in a variety of ways that include consulting, workshops and help documentation)

Department of Statistics Consulting (free drop-in service for researchers seeking advice from Statistics Department Ph.D. students)

Research Compliance Office and IRB (for everything related to getting approval for human subjects research at Stanford)

Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR) (portal for library services at Stanford, including the catalog Socrates, research databases, and services like Social Science Data and Software)


Symbolic Systems Program (below are parts of the site especially related to careers)

Career Development Center (CDC) (for everything related to career planning and searching!)

Stanford Alumni Mentoring (service for matching students and alumni by career and academic interests)

Stanford Career Network (networking and connecting with alumni and employers; service of the Alumni Association)

Planning for Graduate and Professional School (UAR website)


ACM's Online Guide to Computing Literature (database for computer science literature, requires Stanford access)

Boote, D.N. & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6):3-15. (Good article on the purposes of literature review)

CiteSeer.IST (citations and text database for computer and information science papers)

ComIndex (database for communication literature, requires Stanford access)

Bibliographic Management Software (Stanford Library guide to EndNote and RefWorks)

Databases and Articles (list of databases available through the Stanford Library)

Google Scholar (Somewhat haphazard, automated culling of scholarly papers and citations on the web.  Very useful, but only as a rough initial literature search - it's missing a lot of older work. Try regular Google as well.)

Levine, S.J. (2005). Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation. Learner Associates. (online book, also available in print form)

LLBA: Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (database for linguistics literature, requires Stanford access)

** Palmquist, M. (2006). The Bedford Researcher. Bedford/St. Martins Press. (free companion website to book, lots of excellent material and extensive weblinks of use to student researchers)

Philosophers Index (database for philosophy literature, requires Stanford access)

Philosophy in Cyberspace; Section 5: Student Resources (annotated list of links about philosophical argument and writing)

PsycInfo (database for psychology literature, requires Stanford access)

Resources on Research, Writing, and Careers in Computer Science (list of sites put together at Iowa State University)

Young, M. Undergraduate Philosophical Writing (online manual created by a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine)

"How to Write - and Edit - a Paper" by Barry Wellman


LinkedIn Group: "Stanford Symbolic Systems Program" (note: LinkedIn was founded by a Sym Sys alum - Reid Hoffman, '89)


Levine, S.J. (2005). Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Disseration. Learner Associates. (online book, also available in print form)

Palmquist, M. (2006). The Bedford Researcher. 2nd edition. Bedford/St. Martins Press.

see A Selection of Books to Help With Your Thesis or Disseration (Joe Levine's annotated listing)

Sternberg, R. (2005). The Psychologist's Companion: A Guide to Scientific Writing for Students and Researchers. 4th edition. Cambridge University Press.


Grading will be based on the two assignments, at 50 points each (100 total for the quarter), with additional points for Exercise 3 (Grading Your Transcript II) and participation.