Independent Study

Independent study enables a student to pursue for course credit a research or other academic topic of interest under the supervision of a faculty member. Independent study is of two types:

  • Independent Study (non-research)
  • Research Independent Study

Courses entitled Independent Study are individual non-research directed study in a field of special interest on a previously approved topic taken under the supervision of a faculty member and resulting in an academic and/or artistic product. Such independent study courses do not bear a Research (R) code and do not satisfy any general education requirements aside from the Small Group Learning Experience (SGLE) requirement.

Courses entitled Research Independent Study are individual research in a field of special interest under the supervision of a faculty member, the central goal of which is a substantive paper or written report containing significant analysis and interpretation of a previously approved topic. Such research independent study courses bear a Research (R) code and satisfy general education Research requirements. One and only one research independent study may be submitted and approved for a Writing (W) code in addition to the R code designation; no other curriculum code designations are permitted for research independent study courses. Students who wish to request a W code for one research independent study course must complete the request for writing code form and submit it to 011 Allen Building by the end of the drop/add period in the semester they are enrolled in the course.


The following policies apply to both types of independent study :

  • Approval—The independent study must be approved by the instructor(s) involved as well as by the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the relevant department or program. If the independent study is offered by a certificate program, approval is required by the Certificate Program Director.
  • Faculty appointment—The instructor of record (supervising faculty member) must hold a regular rank faculty appointment at Duke within the department or program sponsoring the independent study. In some cases, there may be an additional instructor who mentors the bulk of the independent study and holds an appointment outside the sponsoring department or program. If this is the case, the supervising faculty member is responsible for submitting the final grade, and ensuring that the instructor adheres to academic standards, policies, and procedures pertaining to undergraduate students in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Course Content / Quality—The independent study must provide a rigorous academic experience equivalent to that of any other undergraduate Duke course. Independent study courses may not duplicate available course offerings in the semester or summer term in which the independent study is being taken, nor may independent study be used simply to provide low-level support for other projects or to observe or shadow the work of others.
  • Meeting schedule—In addition to the individual effort of the student, which normally entails ~10 hours per week, the student will meet with the instructor of the independent study at least once every two weeks during the fall or spring semester (at least once a week during the summer).
  • Final product—The student will produce a final academic and/or artistic product to be completed during the semester for which the student is registered for the course.
  • Grading—The instructor will evaluate the work, including the final product, associated with the independent study, and submit a grade by the end of the semester. If the instructor is someone other than the supervising faculty member, the instructor will consult on the final grade with the supervising faculty member from the sponsoring department or program, who will submit the final grade.
  • Credit toward a major, minor or certificate--the DUS or program director will determine whether an independent study course successfully completed will count toward the major, minor or certificate.
  • Study abroad--For policies and procedures related to independent study in study abroad programs, see the Duke Abroad Handbook.

Note:  Though uncommon, it is not prohibited for a student to take more than one independent study course in a semester.  It is also a longstanding policy in Trinity College that students may not receive academic credit for work (e.g., in a laboratory, an internship, etc.) for which they receive monetary compensation.


  • If you wish to register for an independent study or research independent study you must first find and make arrangements with a faculty member having expertise in the desired area.  It is best to begin this process in the semester before you intend to enroll as there will be many details to work out.  
  • You and your faculty instructor should agree on the course title, plan of study, objectives and expectations, as well as on the nature of the final product and evaluation criteria.
  • Then you need to complete and submit any required signatures or forms as required by that department or program.  If the department or program does not provide a form, you may wish to use the form below as the basis of your agreement with your instructor.
  • Your instructor (or the supervising faculty member from a sponsoring department or program) will provide you with a course number, section number, and permission number which you will then use to enroll.  You should complete your enrollment by the end of the drop/add period.
  • If you wish to request a W code for one research independent study course, complete the request for the writing code form and submit it to 011 Allen Building also by the end of the drop/add period in the semester you are enrolled in the independent study.        

Optional Online Form - To be completed if there is no required departmental form


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