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 studies in a field of special interest on a previously approved topic taken under the supervision of a  faculty member within the department 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 within the department, 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 carry a Research (R) code. 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 should be approved, before the first day of class, by the supervising faculty and the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Certificate Program Director in the relevant department or certificate program. Additional approvals may be required. Please contact the DUS or Certificate Program Director to identify and coordinate all necessary approvals.
  • Faculty appointment—An independent study must be supervised by a faculty member within the department or program sponsoring the independent study at Duke. An additional instructor who holds an appointment outside the sponsoring department may mentor the bulk of an independent study under the following conditions:
    • a supervising faculty member within the department agrees to be responsible for submitting the final grade and for ensuring that the independent study adheres to academic standards, policies, and procedures pertaining to undergraduate students in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences;
    • permission is obtained from the DUS or Certificate Program director from the sponsoring department or program and from all parties that the DUS or Certificate Program director specifies, by the beginning of term;
    • both the instructor and the supervising faculty member are listed as instructors on the transcript.
  • Course Content / Quality—The independent study must provide a rigorous academic experience equivalent to that of other undergraduate Duke courses. A student should expect to spend at least 180 hours, including meetings and readings, on the project over the course of the semester for a 1.0 course credit independent study. Independent study courses may not duplicate available course offerings in the semester or summer term in which the independent study is taken, nor may independent studies be used solely 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, the student will meet with the supervisor and/or 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). The amount of time spent on the independent study, including meetings, should average at least 12 hours per week for 15 weeks, or at least 180 hours in total.
  • 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 supervisor 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 independent study has an instructor in addition to a supervising faculty member, the instructor will consult on the final grade with the supervising faculty member, and the supervising faculty member will submit the final grade.
  • Credit toward a major, minor or certificate—the relevant DUS or Certificate Program director will determine whether an independent study course successfully completed will count toward the major, minor, or certificate.
  • Study abroadFor 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, provided that the work in both independent studies is clearly distinct. Students in Trinity College 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 early in the semester before you intend to enroll as there will be many details to work out, and approval should be secured before classes begin.
  • You and your faculty supervisor 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 the form below if there is no departmental form. This form (or the departmental equivalent) must be submitted to the DUS, who will then provide a signature form to the relevant parties for approval.
  • If the independent study has an instructor who does not have an appointment in the relevant department, you must inform the DUS or Certificate Program director before enrolling, and we strongly encourage the DUS or Certificate Program director to require the form below.
  • The supervising faculty member or DUS/Certificate Program director 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 must 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 by the end of the drop/add period in the semester in which you are enrolled in the independent study.        

Online Form to be completed if there is no required departmental form.