Project Guidelines

The specific goals and expectations for each independent study project are determined by the student and faculty supervisor, and may vary to reflect the particulars of the research area. The following are some suggested guidelines:

1. The project should be appropriate work in the biological sciences.

Projects which are primarily clinical in nature are typically not appropriate for credit in Biology. A degree awarded by Trinity College is based on coursework and credit earned in the various disciplines of the arts & sciences. Scholarly research is an important part of that experience, an engagement where scholarly questions are explored using the methodology of the disciplines. However, training in professional skills, such as clinical practice, is generally not part of the liberal arts degree. Although Duke is privileged to include several professional schools including Law, Business, and Medicine, undergrads in Trinity College are not allowed to use professional school courses as part of their degree. Similarly, credit for research in professional practice, such as many clinical research projects, is simply not part of the liberal arts degree.

That said, some clinical research projects may overlap with the disciplines in the arts & sciences. A clinical project and data collection may be designed based on, and inform, basic questions regarding the nature of health and disease (= biological sciences), human motivations and behaviors (= psychology and behavioral sciences), the analysis of data sets (= statistics), or the institutional nature of health care systems (= sociology, economics), etc. The key thing is that the project, and therefore the independent study proposal, needs to have a clear statement of a research question, methods, and significance that anchors it in one of the disciplines. 

Projects which have a primary focus in chemistry, psychology, environmental or health policy, or related areas may also not be appropriate for credit in Biology. Students working with faculty outside of the Biology department or one of the Medical Center Departments should consult with the Biology sponsor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Biology to determine the appropriateness of a project.

2. The project should be an independent research project.

Although most projects are conducted under the close supervision of a mentor, the student should take substantial responsibility for the formulation of a hypothesis, experimental design, data collection, analysis and interpretation. In the case of a collaborative effort, the student should have a distinct and identifiable role in the project. A student's responsibility should extend beyond simply providing low-level technical support for other projects or observing the work of others,

3. The student should spend at least ~120 hours per semester on the project.

The expectation is that the student will invest time equivalent to a laboratory course, i.e. ~8-10 hours per week for 14 weeks. This may include planning, data collection (including field work), analysis and writing. Note that the time spent writing should be a relatively small portion of the total time investment, except in the case of ‘W’-coded registrations where it will be a more significant part of the experience and final grade. Conversely, a research supervisor should not expect a student to invest an excessive amount of time, to the detriment of their other course work.

4. The student should produce a report of their work.

The University specifies that all independent studies must result in an ‘academic product’. Most commonly, this is a final written report describing the work. A student may also make an oral presentation of their work, in addition to the written report. Commonly, a student should also submit brief proposal at the beginning of the semester and/or a mid-term progress report. The details of reports, both written and oral, are to be specified by the research supervisor or sponsor. However, in all cases that should document the background and rationale for the project, the methods and results, and some discussion of significance and future directions.

5. The research supervisor must submit a grade during the exam period for each semester.

A student's grade in Independent Study is primarily assigned by the research supervisor. As in any course, the grade should reflect a reasonable assessment of the student's effort and the merit of the work. The basis for that assessment is at the discretion of the supervisor, but it should be clearly communicated with the student at the beginning of the semester.

If the student has registered for Independent Study through a Biology sponsor who is not the project supervisor, the research supervisor must convey a grade to the Biology sponsor well before the end of the exam period. In addition, the student must submit a copy of the final report to the sponsor. It is the responsibility of the Biology sponsor to submit a final grade, based on the report and supervisor's recommendation.