Independent Study Guidelines

Independent study projects provide an opportunity for an interested student to explore a subject area of particular importance to them not otherwise available in the department’s curriculum.

Students listening to Oyman Basaran class lecture

The possible topics for independent studies are nearly unlimited. In recent years, students have undertaken independent studies of topics such as the following: the implementation of Maine's bail reform act, the impact of television advertising on children, development of and change in self-concept among college students, the effectiveness of mainstreaming in the Brunswick public schools, bicultural education among the Penobscot Indians, and assessment of health care delivery systems in Kenya.

Getting Started

Independent studies require initiative, high motivation, and self-discipline on the part of the student. For these reasons, the department generally prefers that independent study students have had substantial coursework in the subject, including Sociology 2010.

Meeting with Faculty

It is the responsibility of each student undertaking an independent study to find a faculty member who is prepared to guide the project. Because the extent of an advisor's participation in each independent study will be substantial, no advisor may sponsor more than three independent studies per semester, including honors projects.

Students will then take the initiative with the assistance of the faculty advisor to seek out and select materials for study, provide coherence to the project, limit the scope of the project, and decide on the appropriate work-product to result from the project. Independent study projects are typically one semester, but may extend to two semesters.

Throughout the independent study the faculty advisor's major role is to serve as a sounding board for the student's ideas and analysis. The advisor also has the responsibility to evaluate the student's performance by means of a grade at the end of a semester.


Grades will largely be based on the evaluation of the interim or final work product (e.g., a paper or papers, film, and/or public lectures).

It may also include, however, some evaluation of the manner in which the project which was carried out by the student using criteria such as the following:

  1. Meeting regularly with an advisor to discuss readings, fieldwork, analyses, etc.
  2. Developing and keeping to the mutually agreed upon schedule of reading, fieldwork, and writing.
  3. Taking the initiative in seeking out resources and making appropriate use of them.

Independent study projects are not synonymous with departmental honors; they may be undertaken by sophomores, juniors, or seniors and under special circumstances by non-majors.

Students interested in doing honors projects should consult the guidelines and timeline for those projects.