Independent Research

What is Independent Research?

According to the College Bulletin, an independent research course "should be designed as original research and practice in presenting the results of an investigation. This pursuit must culminate in the student's own contribution to a discipline, whether in the form of fully-supported conclusions or in the form of a creative effort". In other words, the goal of independent research is to answer a question, not simply to gather information. Unlike independent study, independent research projects must have the potential to yield new knowledge

In the Environmental Studies Department, independent research projects involve field, laboratory, and/or library research. Research questions may come from the independent research student, the faculty research advisor, or both. The work may range from very independent activity by the student under the guidance of a faculty member to collaborative work with one or more faculty members and, perhaps, other students.

How do I pursue Independent Research?

Ideally, the process of conducting independent research begins early in a student's career by talking with faculty about research and by generating ideas for possible research topics. Environmental science and studies majors may work on research with faculty from any department. As soon as the first year, and depending on faculty members' schedules and funding, students may have the opportunity to volunteer to participate in research projects or even work on these projects as a paid assistant. At the latest, students should discuss their interest in research with faculty by the midpoint of the semester before the independent research is to begin. For example, students wishing to pursue independent research during the senior year should begin discussions with faculty no later than the spring break of their junior year. Students who are abroad can conduct these discussions with faculty by e-mail. In developing possible topics for independent research, students should keep in mind that they are more likely to find a faculty research advisor for a project if the topic is related to a faculty member's research interests. But it may also be possible for students to develop and pursue projects that are not related to faculty research projects. Once a faculty member has agreed to advise a research project, work should begin, usually with preliminary reading about the topic. The summer is an excellent time for this initial work. Depending on the advising faculty member's schedule and funding, a research student may be able to work with the advising faculty member for a summer of research. To enroll in the independent research course students must complete the form available from the registrar and obtain the research advisor's signature (it is not possible to register on line for independent research). In consultation with the faculty research advisor, the student will choose a brief title for the course that will be included on the student's official transcript.

What are the requirements for Independent Research?

With assistance from the faculty research advisor, the student will develop a written plan for the independent research. The written plan is normally completed prior to the beginning of the semester in which the student intends to enroll in independent research. By the end of the last semester in which a student is enrolled in independent research, a student must:

  • Submit a written report on their completed independent research project with references to key literature.
  • Orally present their project in a public forum, such as the Earth Issues seminar series.
  • Present a poster at the Dickinson College Annual Science Dinner. If the content is appropriate for this venue,
    faculty research advisors may set additional requirements.

For research projects that extend beyond a single semester, a short progress report is presented during Earth Issues at the end of the first semester of research. If the Earth Issues schedule permits, the written report and full oral presentation described above are normally presented at the end of the last semester of the project. Students doing a multi-semester research project are also encouraged to do a presentation at a professional conference. Upon successful application, Dickinson provides funding to support student's travel to present their work at professional conferences. For students continuing their research beyond one semester, faculty research advisors have the option of assigning an S grade for all but their last semester of enrollment in independent research. In this case, a letter grade will be assigned and the previous S grade(s) will be converted to that letter grade on completion of the last semester of independent research. A second semester of independent research may be substituted for ENVST 406 (Advanced topics in environmental studies), the senior seminar required for the environmental science and environmental studies majors. Further information and requirements concerning independent research are presented in the College Bulletin.

Timeline for Research Process

Task Expected Completion
 Student identify research topic, discuss with faculty, and identify an advisor Mid-semester, Spring junior year
Background research Summer between junior and senior year
Feasibility research
Engage in research First semester senior year
Advisor determines whether research should continue second semester Course request period, first semester senior year
Progress report to department (Earth Issues presentation) End of first semester senior year
Engage in second semester research Second semester senior year

Faculty advisor determines if research should be eligible for honors consideration and if so, appoints a faculty committee
Midway through second semester senior year
Student confers with each committee member about their research As convenient, soon after committee is appointed
Student presentation of results at Earth Issues End of semester
Student presentation at professional conference (if they want to be eligible for honors, only) 
Spring, senior year
Student submits paper to committee; committee decides whether or not to invite student to “discussion” Second to last week of classes (that is, two weeks before the last day of classes)

 Discussion and determination if student should receive honors

Exam period
Student submits final paper, considering committee/advisor comments in a format appropriate for library cataloging
Before graduation