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Student Research

Independent Research

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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?

Students enrolled in independent research during the academic year will receive a grade.  You should speak with your research advisor to discuss their criteria for assigning grades.  Any expectations for written reports, presentations, and/or additional requirements should be established in tandem with the research advisor.  At the least, all independent research students will present their research orally at an Earth Issues seminar series at the end of the semester.

Timeline for Environmental Studies/Sciences Research Process

Task Expected Completion
Student identify research topic, discuss with faculty, and identify an advisor* Mid-semester, Spring junior year
Background research, feasibility research  Summer between junior and senior year
Advisor and student meet to register for 550/560 "research" course Course request period, first semester senior year
Progress report to department (via a 10-minute Earth Issues presentation) End of first semester senior year
Required for honors eligibility:  student should ask two faculty members** if they would be willing to serve on their committee; student should identify a professional conference

By November 1

Required for honors eligibility: student should identify a professional conference and submit abstract by the appropriate deadline By November 1
Required for honors eligibility: student should prepare and submit an "Honors Declaration Form"***
Faculty advisor determines if research should be eligible for honors consideration and if so, appoints a faculty committee
By November 1
Committee considers student progress, proposal, and presentation to determine if research should be eligible for honors consideration.  The committee will inform the student if they are invited to be considered for honors.    
Engage in second semester research Second semester senior year

Student presentation of final results to department

Earth Issues, end of spring semester
Student confers with each committee member about their research Beginning of second semester senior year
Student presentation at professional conference Spring, senior year (typically)
Student submits thesis to committee Second to last week of classes (that is, two weeks before the last day of classes)
"Research defense" discussion with committee First week of exam period
The committee will review the thesis, this discussion with the candidate, and the body of work before deciding whether the student should receive honors designation in the Environmental Studies Department.  Honors awards must be communicated to College quickly to ensure award is listed in graduation program.    
If awarded honors designation, student submits final paper, considering committee/advisor comments in a format appropriate for library cataloging. Before graduation

*Students may receive approval from the department to have research supervised by an advisor outside of the Environmental Studies Department. Students should talk about the proposed research with two ES faculty members before asking for approval. If approved, students should ask one of the ES faculty to serve as a department liaison to the research advisor. Research advisors outside of the department should regularly communicate with an Environmental Studies Department liaison about the progress of student research.

**All honors committees should have at least two Environmental Studies faculty.

***Committee considers student progress, proposal, and presentation to determine if research should be eligible for honors consideration. The committee will inform the student if they are invited to be considered for honors.

View a list of Student Independent Research Topics