The “Independent Study” Decoded

The University of Rochester is known for its focus on research and its encouragement for undergraduate students to partake in research in nearly every department of the University.

Prior to coming here, I remember coming across various websites on the University servers that emphasized the innumerable research opportunities that we as students could get involved in. This definitely piqued my interest and was one of the biggest deciding factors in choosing Rochester. During the International Baccalaureate program, I had just begun to carry out mini research projects in my classes, and I was excited to experience the world of research on a larger scale. Many prospective students have the option to conduct research via programs in high school, or pursue research internships during summer. I had not gotten a chance to do this in Singapore, and I was very excited to do so in Rochester.

Students intending to get involved in academic and clinical research usually reach out to the professors in their department of interest. But what really stands out to me here at Rochester is the "Independent Study": 2, 3 or 4 credits, one semester long and with the guidance of faculty in your department of interest, you can pursue a topic of interest that isn't covered in full extent in a course provided at the University! Students can either work on current and future research projects that faculty are involved in, or approach faculty to help build a research project dream into reality! Does it have to be a department that you are majoring or minoring in? No, that is the beauty of it; as long as it is not covered in sufficient depth in a course provided by the University, students can pursue the independent study in any subject of their choice.

Although most students do an independent study in their major or minor due to sufficient knowledge in that subject area to sustain the project, the University of Rochester's approach, with its open curriculum, is holistic. This semester, I am doing an independent study where I am a research assistant on clinical studies in young children with autism spectrum disorders in the Medical Center. Not being a neuroscience, brain and cognitive science or a psychology major, I was worried I might not get an opportunity to pursue my interest in working with children with developmental disabilities. However, possessing interest and a keen desire to learn is all you need, and it goes a long way. Today, going into work is the highlight of my week. Every time, I continue to be surprised by the intelligence, warmth, and potential of young ones. It was indeed challenging at first for a newcomer like me to understand the different needs of children with autism spectrum disorders, but with the help of a wonderful department and weekly journal clubs where we discuss all the research there is to date on autism, I have been able to get a grasp and learn something out of the box and not related to my major, simply from pursuing my interests. 

Cultivate those interests, there will always be an opportunity on the horizon. Don't let it fizzle out!

About the author

Natasha Chainani

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