What is Independent Study?

Oftentimes you hear this term being thrown around by upperclassmen, but what really is independent study?

According to the College of Arts & Sciences, its purpose is “to provide opportunities for independent study of subject matter not included or not treated in sufficient depth in a regularly offered course. In other words, independent study gives a student a chance to delve deeper into an academic pursuit that is not available in any of the current courses offered by the University. Can you believe the vast realm of possibilities for over-achievers to pursue areas of interest with the guidance of an experienced faculty member? Independent study is basically then a starting line to become an over-achiever in a field you feel passionate about.

How do I sign up for an independent study?

Well, first of all, you must have a targeted area of interest or topic that you would like to further study or understand. Second, you must contact a faculty member that is willing to supervise and guide you through your study and give you a grade based on your performance. Third, you must fill out an application, and wait for your proposal to be approved by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Do I receive credit?

Yes indeed! An independent study course counts for academic credit depending on the time commitment of the student and the complexity of the topic, but they usually include between two and four credits. This will also determine your time commitment during the semester, which may range from ten to twenty hours a week.

How’s the workload?

This will depend on your area of study and on the demands of your supervisor, but usually an independent study course involves periodic reports (oral and/or written) of your progress, deadlines for project drafts, and a final report.

Why should I consider independent study?

An independent study course could prove fundamental in your academic career at Rochester. Because it is not formatted like any other regular class you take, it demands a great deal of determination and willpower to stick to a schedule and meet all deadlines for the final project. However, it is one of the most academically edifying pursuits you can undertake, as you will begin to understand the passion that drives great researchers to discover new things and explore new dimensions of their interests. It will not only help you develop a closer relationship with faculty members, but it will help you develop sturdy study habits and you will gain valuable experience through self-motivated research and academic writing.

Hey, Pedro, have you done an independent study?

I thought you’d never ask! Yes, this past semester, I did an independent study course in optics titled “Scattering Study of Micro-Machined Hydrogels”; it was a two-credit hour study under the supervision of Dr. Wayne Knox from the Institute of Optics. I studied the behavior of laser light passing though hydrogels that have been machined (modified or shaped in a special way) by a high-power laser. The purpose of this study is to understand how light bends as it passes through the machined hydrogel, which may prove key in applications such as contact-lens customization and other fields in vision correction.

Want to read more about independent study? Read Natasha’s blog post, The “Independent Study” Decoded.

About the author

Pedro Vallejo Ramirez

I'm a member of the Class of 2016 majoring in optical engineering and computer science, and I was accepted into the GEAR program. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but moved to Panama when I was three years old. I'm an undergraduate researcher in an optics laboratory, an RA, and a Student Alumni Ambassador, president for the Optical Society of America, and a brother at Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

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