Independent Study – Nicholas School Undergraduate Programs

Independent Study

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

Note that Independent Study (391/392) and Independent Research Study (393/394) course options differ. First, both Independent Study and Research Independent Study share the following. Both consist of a one-on-one immersion in the topic of your choice with a NSOE faculty advisor knowledgeable in that topic. Both require the completion of a final product (e.g. paper, report, proposal). Second, they differ in the scope of the work. The Independent Study may be a tutorial that includes guided immersion into the primary literature, or doing exercises relevant to the topic, regular discussion about the topic based on reading or other applications. Thus, a second independent study is usually with a different mentor. In contrast, the Independent Research Study requires the exploration of a specific question based on exploration of the relevant scientific literature, the testing of a specific hypothesis or inferential analysis based on original data. Data collection can be from mining several databases from primary literature or elsewhere, field work, or laboratory work to address an original problem. However, the question addressed brings a new and unique contribution to the field. It is common for students to have a second Research Independent Study with the same mentor to pursue her/his project.

For course credit, students are expected to spend a minimum of 120 hours per semester on the independent study (about 8-10 hours per week for 14 weeks), the equivalent of a laboratory course. Student and mentor are expected to meet at least once every two weeks to discuss research and review progress. Student and mentor will agree on a schedule of regular meetings and a timeline of benchmarks/deliverables at the beginning of the semester. The student is to keep a record of the meetings during the semester, and submit as one deliverable at the end of the semester.

Participation in an independent study provides students opportunity to work towards general learning goals of their major. The specific goals and expectations for each project are determined by the student and the faculty mentor. The independent research study represents a scholarly research experience that clearly addresses a specific question using methods appropriate for the field and contributes to the knowledge in the field.   Credit cannot be awarded for paid work.

Both Independent Study and Independent Research Study proposals will include a clear statement of the topic or research question addressed with a brief background for context, methods to be used, agreement between student and mentor of meetings schedule. For Research Independent Study, the application also includes the implication of the research findings. The proposal must be approved by the faculty mentor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The registration form for an independent study can be found here.