Independent Study Guidelines

An independent study is a special project that an advanced student proposes to complete within a single semester, for either elective or workshop credit. Most independent studies in the Science Writing Program involve a student working one-on-one with a regular faculty member. The project must involve writing or writing-related work equivalent to a full-semester, graduate-level course, and the project must not duplicate any course or other part of the Certificate or MA in Science Writing curricula. MA in Science Writing students usually are not eligible to propose independent studies until they have completed at least five courses, including one workshop. Graduate Certificate in Science Writing students may propose an Independent Study after completing the Techniques of Science-Medical Writing core course and a workshop. The tuition for an independent study is the regular, single-course rate for the term in question.

Proposals for an independent study must be submitted in writing to the Science Writing Program Coordinator or Faculty Advisor no later than 60 days before the start of the target semester. Students should consult their faculty advisor on any proposal, and written advisor recommendations on a proposal are encouraged. Proposals are evaluated competitively after that date. A faculty committee of the Science Writing Program, not the Program Coordinator or Faculty Advisor, makes the final decision on all proposals. By design, the committee approves only a small number of requests because of the program’s emphasis on digital classroom interaction.

Proposals must provide details of the project, the name of the instructor or other person with whom the student proposes to work, and the reasons the proposal should be approved. Students should also list all courses they have taken in the program, the instructors for those courses, and the grades they have received. Students should contact prospective instructors in advance to discuss the project and make sure they are willing to participate if the independent study is approved. However, the evaluation of a proposal also includes a review of the proposed instructor. In some cases, the review committee may suggest another instructor. Students should contact the Science Writing Program Coordinator in advance to discuss any proposed instructor from outside the Writing Program faculty. Potential instructors who need information about payment for an independent study should contact the Coordinator; students do not negotiate or arrange payment.

Evaluation Criteria

While the faculty committee will remain flexible enough to consider unusual circumstances, the following criteria will guide the evaluation of independent study proposals:

  1. The current standing and success of the student: Priority for Independent Studies will be given to MA in Science Writing students who are within a few courses of the thesis course. The next most priority goes to students nearly finished with the Graduate Certificate. Other factors to be considered include a student’s grades, faculty recommendations, academic performance, including attendance, and overall writing quality and promise.
  2. The nature and value of the project attempted: The project’s workload must match that of a regular course, and the proposed project must not fit into an existing course. Students should not propose to duplicate a workshop, nor should they propose a reading-based Independent Study that involves a workload less than that of a typical reading course. Students seek Independent Studies for academic reasons, not personal or financial convenience. However, exceptional situations may be considered. For example, a student undergoing cancer treatment was granted an Independent Study that counted as a regular workshop.
  3. The quality and detail of the proposal: Proposals are usually two to four pages long. They must explain the project, what the student hopes to gain, and why the student deserves approval. Proposals should include a tentative schedule of proposed meetings, the number and titles of books to be read, the number of manuscript pages to be created and revised, and other research, reading, or writing aims. Proposals also should include the student’s long- and short-range goals and why those goals are important to the student at the time of the proposal. For example, a proposal on revision should explain why the student needs an intensive focus on revision at this particular time. Proposals submitted after the deadline will be rejected. It is strongly recommended that the student submit an early draft of the proposal to the student’s advisor, far enough in advance for the advisor to respond and for the student to revise. Such advance review does not guarantee approval, however. Email copies of final proposals are acceptable, but it is the student’s responsibility to ensure the proposal has been received by the Program Coordinator by the deadline. Proposals rejected for one semester are not automatically carried over to the next semester; students must re-submit written proposals if they want to try again. Students may include up to two faculty recommendations with a proposal, but recommendations are not required.

If You Are Interested in Proposing an Independent Study

  • If you are a MA in Science Writing student, make sure you have completed at least four courses, including one workshop. If you are a Graduate Certificate student, you should have completed the core course and a workshop.
  • Consider what you want to accomplish, how assignments might be structured, what value the project has for you, and how your project is not covered in an existing course.
  • Discuss your proposal with the prospective instructor. If the instructor is not a faculty member, consult the Program Coordinator.
  • Submit a draft of the proposal to your faculty advisor at least a month before the deadline for the final proposal.
  • After revision, email, fax, or hand deliver the final proposal to the Program Coordinator no later than 60 days before the start of the target semester. Check to make sure the proposal has been received.

Special Note on Course Registration
Evaluation of proposals will not begin until after the 60-day cutoff date, so students submitting a proposal should strongly consider registering for a regular course before that time. If a proposal is approved, the registration will be transferred to the Independent Study. If a proposal is rejected, the student will then not miss out on a course because of filled sections. Proposal decisions may take up to one month.

If Your Proposal is Approved
You will be notified and given registration instructions; your instructor will be sent a contract. You and the instructor should consult on a plan for the term, and you should regularly interact throughout the semester, either in person, by phone/fax/email, or by any combination.

At the end of the term, the student submits to the Program Coordinator a portfolio copy of all writing and other work completed in the Independent Study. If the project involved extensive reading, the student submits a multi-page report on that work. The portfolio and report will not be returned. Meanwhile, the instructor submits a final grade for the student. The instructor also submits a brief report evaluating the student’s performance and the work accomplished during the term. The Program Coordinator, who must certify that the independent study merits course credit, may seek additional work or reports, if necessary, to certify that the project meets program standards.

For more information, contact your faculty advisor or the Science Writing Program Coordinator.