Independent Study – Nicholas School Undergraduate Programs

Independent Study

Undergraduates interested in Environmental Sciences & Policy or Earth & Ocean Sciences are encouraged to perform independent research under the supervision or sponsorship of a faculty mentor. The independent study consists of one or more semesters of research culminating in a substantial paper or written report.  Students receive course credit for their research by registering for an Independent Study course with a faculty mentor.


WHAT CAN AN INDEPENDENT STUDY COURSE COUNT FOR?

  • Independent study courses count toward the 34 course credits needed for graduation.
  • An Independent Study course counts as a Small Group Learning Experience (SGLE).
  • Courses officially titled “Research Independent Study,” coded R, count toward the Research requirement. Students who are seeking an R code must make sure to register for an Independent Study with an “R” code.
  • One Independent Study course may be submitted toward the WID (Writing in the Discipline) requirement; for more information on that option and the form that must be submitted by student and advisor, see Independent Study (Research) “W” coding.
  • Independent Study courses may count as upper-level electives for the majors/minors in Environmental Science & Policy or Environmental Sciences, provided the course is not also being used to satisfy requirements for Graduation with Distinction.
  • Independent Study courses may count as upper-level electives for the majors/minors in Earth and Ocean Sciences; an Earth and Ocean Science major pursuing the two-semester Graduation with Distinction may count one course as an upper-level elective.
  • For Environment majors, the Independent Study counts toward the “Independent study, internship or field experience” requirement for the major.

WHO MAY REGISTER FOR AN INDEPENDENT STUDY?

Students may pursue independent research at any time during their college career, but most students opt to register for an Independent Study course during the junior and/or senior years.


HOW DO I GO ABOUT FINDING A FACULTY MENTOR OR RESEARCH TOPIC?

A successful independent study matches student, mentor and research topic.  There are two ways to approach this.

First, if you have a research idea or general topic you would like to study, look for a faculty member to supervise your work.  You may explore the Nicholas School faculty listing to see who specializes in your area.  You may also speak with your advisor, the DUS, the undergrad program office or even co-majors for suggestions.  Once you have someone in mind, email or visit him/her to propose your idea.

Alternatively, you may not have a clear idea of the topic you want to study, but you know of a faculty member whose work you are interested in (perhaps you met him/her in a previous course).  Make an appointment with the faculty member to explore possible ideas together.


WHAT DOES AN INDEPENDENT STUDY ENTAIL?

Once a project is agreed upon between the student and supervisor, you will register for the independent study section by filling out the independent study application requiring you to obtain signatures of both the supervising faculty and the DUS.  The faculty supervisor will provide the permission number needed to register. You and your faculty supervisor will discuss expectations and arrange a regular time to meet.

The independent study culminates with a substantial paper or written report, typically 25 pages or more. This paper must be submitted during the semester of enrollment in the course.  Your grade will be based on an evaluation of the work and the final paper.


MAY I USE MY INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE FOR MY INDEPENDENT STUDY?

You may complete an independent study based on work or data collected during an internship. To obtain course credit, you must register for an Independent Study course either during (summer) or following your internship.  As with all Independent Study courses, course grade will be based on the final written report. If your internship supervisor is not a Duke faculty member, you will need to work with the Director of the Undergraduate Programs to find a Duke faculty sponsor. The faculty sponsor will grant you a permission number and enter your grade at the end of the term.


NOTE ABOUT GRADUATION WITH DISTINCTION

Students eligible for and pursuing Graduation with Distinction also enroll in one or more Independent Study courses.  Restrictions on the use of Independent Study course credits for major requirements and for Graduation with Distinction are as follows:

For Environment majors: The one-semester Independent Study course required for Graduation with Distinction cannot also be used to fulfill major requirements (i.e., Graduation with Distinction requires registration for an Independent Study in addition to all major requirements).

For EOS majors: EOS students are required to enroll in two semesters of independent study for Graduation with Distinction, one of which can count toward major requirements.


WHAT COURSE NUMBER SHOULD I REGISTER FOR?

If you wish to complete an independent study, please register for one of the following courses (courses offered at the Duke Marine Lab or abroad are also available as are half-credit options):

391 Independent Study (non-research consisting of Individual readings or other non-research based study)

393 Research Independent Study (individual research study)

394 Research Independent Study (individual research study – 2nd course in sequence)


WHAT RESOURCES EXIST TO ASSIST ME WITH MY PROJECT?

More information from Trinity College can be found here.  Also, the Undergraduate Research Support Office provides funds to assist with research expenses for students enrolled in independent study courses (up to $400).