On independent study

If you wish me to direct an independent project, please see the AA and fill out the departmental application. Please also read the following and prepare a written application to me.

1/ Independent research is independent research. I will advise and guide you but I will not:
– tutor you through a regular course that I am giving at a different time.
– direct an independent project undertaken in lieu of regular coursework.
– design and teach a special course just for you.

2/ Research is research, and it means learning. I will direct independent projects as simple as:
– supervised readings, i.e. for graduate students or sometimes, advanced undergraduates who want to develop knowledge of a field by reading and commenting on a focused list of books they have developed (e.g. to do an in-depth study of the complete works of an author, or key works in a period).
– supervised fieldwork or internships.
However, I will not supervise “research” that involves reading a few random things from the Internet, or “independent work” that involves no more than looking at a few things suggested by me. Furthermore: research is exploration and discovery, not cherry-picking of evidence or quotations to support preconceived notions; it is also focused, and depends upon background knowledge in field and on topic. Independent reading is different, but it still requires focus, discipline and enough background in field to work independently.

3/ I will not conduct discussions of your work by e-mail or telephone. You must see me in person, at a time convenient to me. This means not during my research time, nor just before or after a long day of regular teaching. Please remember that supervising your independent work is a favor I am doing you, at no cost to you, but significant cost in terms of time and energy to me, to the department and to other students who also have claims on my time.

4/ I expect you to be self-directed and to put focused time into the project every week. I expect you to know how to use the library, take notes, write summaries and abstracts, and annotate a text. I expect you to develop a bibliography and a portfolio of research materials that grow by the week. I expect our conversations to center on patterns that form and ideas and insights generated by the work. I expect a final product that is a result of this work.

5/ To work independently you need formal background in field and on your topic, and you need a good working relationship with your supervisor. I will not do directed study for students who have not taken a formal course with me in the field of their research/directed study topic, at the appropriate level. Neither will I offer independent work to anyone simply because they do not like the regular courses being offered.


I certify that I have read the four paragraphs above carefully and understand them.

Signature: _____ Date: _____

Please discuss, on a separate sheet of paper, the following:
1. Field or title of project, and reasons for your interest in it
2. Academic background supporting your work in the proposed area
3. Language background that will support your research
4. Library skills and prior training or experience in fieldwork
5. The research product you anticipate creating (e.g. annotated bibliography, conference presentation, article manuscript, etc.)


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