The College

Independent Study

Brown’s Open Curriculum places a high value on independent learning experiences for undergraduates. Chief among these are individual and group independent study courses.

Brown supports four different kinds of independent study options:

A departmental independent study offers students a flexible opportunity for pursuing a reading, research, or thesis project with a faculty member.

All academic departments at Brown offer independent research or reading courses. Each department handles this type of course differently: some require students to submit a formal project proposal in advance, while others simply ask students to develop a plan with their faculty sponsor.

Whether required or not, the College Curriculum Council encourages students pursuing departmental independent study courses to craft, in consultation with their faculty sponsor, a short written statement describing the project they wish to pursue and the work to be completed, along with a plan for a regular number of meetings across the semester. The CCC hopes this added structure will lead to better planning and to more fruitful independent learning experiences for undergraduates.

To register for a departmental independent study (in addition to whatever the instructor or department requires), students log into [email protected], select the box labeled, "include in the independent study courses," and enter the instructor's name in the search field. Students would then select the appropriate course title (typically below the 2000-level) and add the course to their cart; students must obtain an override from the instructor in order to register. 

Please note that the last day to register for a departmental independent study course is the same as the last day to add any course, i.e., the end of the fourth week of classes.

Brown students studying abroad have the option of crafting a global independent study course with a Brown faculty member. Students work with faculty who have teaching or research experience in their proposed overseas study destination or the project’s area of focus. Students are expected to develop a project proposal that connects both to their curriculum abroad and to their concentration at Brown. Students who complete a GLISP earn an additional Brown credit along with their credits abroad.

A global independent study often serves as the catalyst for a student's continued research after returning to Brown—often in the form of an honors thesis. More information may be found on the Office of International Programs website.

Group Independent Studies (GISPs) are cooperative inquiries in which participating students bear major responsibility for both the planning and conduct of the work. GISPs carry regular course credit and provide an opportunity for academic pursuits which might not be available in regular courses.

Each GISP should be sponsored by an instructor holding a teaching appointment at Brown University who is prepared to assess the proposed study, to provide advice during the project, and to be responsible for the evaluation of each student's work. Normally this person will be a Brown faculty member. Under exceptional circumstances, a graduate student with appropriate expertise and teaching experience may be eligible to be a sponsor. In such cases, the proposal must be accompanied by a curriculum vitae for the graduate student and a statement of qualification and recommendation from the Chair of the graduate student's department. The Chair will assume ultimate responsibility for the academic quality of GISPs sponsored by graduate students.

Students and instructors interested in setting up a group independent study should consult the resources available in the Curricular Resource Center. At the end of each GISP, a joint student-faculty evaluation report of the accomplishments of the project must be submitted by the faculty sponsor to the College Curriculum Council. The College does not offer remuneration for sponsors of GISPs.

The development of the GISP proposal is an intrinsic part of the process. Each student participant is expected to contribute to the course syllabus; students who were not part of the development of the course may only enroll in the GISP after consultation with the group leaders of the GISP and with approval of the chair of the independent studies subcommittee of the CCC. Group Studies on the same or on very similar topics may not be repeated by a student for credit, except with approval of the College Curriculum Council.

With the exception of students enrolled in their first semester at Brown, all full-time degree candidates in good standing at Brown are eligible to initiate and participate in a Group Study Project.

Proposal forms for GISPs may be downloaded from the CRC website. Proposals are reviewed by a subcommittee of the College Curriculum Council to assure the academic quality of the proposed programs and to avoid undue duplication. Proposals for the fall semester are due in early April of the preceding spring semester; proposals for the spring semester are due in early November. Check the University calendar on the Registrar's website for specific dates.

Samples of past proposals can be reviewed at the CRC. GISPs approved in recent years include The Chemistry of Photography; Russia Watching: Understanding Contemporary Russian Politics and Media; Native American Sacred Places; Comparative Study of Korean and Korean-American Literature; The Art of Argumentation; US/Canadian Literature since 1965; Critical Pedagogy: Theory and Praxis; Appalachia: Economic and Social Change Since 1930; and Tagore-Ray and Bengal.

Independent Study Projects allow individual students to initiate, design, and execute a credit-bearing course with the help of a faculty advisor. The topic of an ISP is generally not offered in the established Brown curriculum. Students are responsible for designing, implementing, and carrying out the coursework themselves.

To submit a request for an ISP, a student needs a faculty sponsor and a proposal consisting of a syllabus, a bibliography, and an explanation of the project.  Proposal forms are available at the Curricular Resource Center and on the CRC web site.  The Curricular Resource Center also archives ISPs from previous semesters.  Students can browse the archive, talk with CRC staff about their ideas, and obtain planning sheets for an ISP from the Center.

Students who wish to register for a non-departmental independent study course or courses submit formal proposals to the College Curriculum Council, which is charged with reviewing such petitions. Independent study proposals must be filed with the Office of the Dean of the College in 313 University Hall. Proposals for semester I are due in early April; those for Semester II are due in early November.  Check the University Calendar on the Registrar’s website for exact dates.

Independent study proposal forms may be downloaded from the Curricular Resource Center (CRC) website or picked up from the CRC in 308 J. Walter Wilson Hall. The proposal must state the following: (a) the nature and extent of the work to be pursued; (b) the manner in which the work will be conducted; and (c) a calendar for the completion of reports, papers, projects, and so on. Each proposal must have the approval of a faculty sponsor who will be responsible for the scrutiny of the proposal, the evaluation of the work done, and the assignment of a grade.

Approved proposals from recent years include The Philosophy of Mathematics: An Intensive Introduction; Video Technology and Education: The Politics of Post-Colonial African Literature; and Medical Malpractice and the Civil Justice System. Sample copies of these and many other independent study proposals are available for inspection at the CRC. If you need further information or advice, consult Curricular Resource Center staff or Jim Valles, Associate Dean of the Curriculum, in 313 University Hall.