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Do Your Own Original Work

Academic Knox

INDEPENDENT STUDY: Knox classes are carefully organized, with challenging syllabi and requirements and, of course, are taught by expert and caring faculty. But one of the best indicators of your own learning is your ability to function independently -- to pursue a project of your own with minimal faculty supervision. Independent research and creative projects are one of the key educational experiences that 70% of Knox students have.

Many courses require independently researched papers or projects -- but we're talking about something bigger here. These experiences arise in a number of ways, and generally in the junior and senior years:

  • Perhaps a topic covered in one of your classes so intrigued you that you approach a professor with a proposal to pursue it on your own for credit (.5 or 1.0) during the following term.
  • Many science professors have laboratory research programs that involve several different students, each pursuing independently their own particular aspect of the professor's general research.
  • In the arts, the "open studio" term in the Art Department provides a term-long experience for art majors to work full-time on their projects; other students choreograph dances, or write, direct and perform original plays.
  • History students might be working on a project based on one of the historical document collections in the Library's Special Collections.
  • Literature students may be developing a literary analysis project focused on a particular writer or genre.
  • Social science students might be interviewing Galesburg residents in a study of the local economy.

While it's true that, from time to time a professor might approach a student with an idea for an independent study, what's more likely to happen is that the project will come from you! Going into a professor's office and saying, "I have an idea for an independent study," has much more of a chance of success than asking, "Do you have any ideas for an independent study?"

Once you have faculty support, you register for Independent Study on the Web, just as if were any other course. You'll get to select a topic for the course (within the limitations of what can be printed on your transcript). You'll negotiate with your faculty sponsor the requirements for your independent study: These might include weekly consultations, written progress reports, a final paper, etc.

Knox has a number of special programs to support independent academic projects:

  • The oldest and most prestigious is the Honors Program for seniors. You can propose a major research project for which you will receive credit for up to three terms; you'll write a thesis that is evaluated by your Honors committee (consisting of three Knox faculty, with one serving as chair, or principal advisor) plus an "outside examiner" -- an expert in the subject matter of your thesis from another college or university. Some Honors projects in the creative arts do not involve a thesis but result in an original play, a musical composition, or exhibit. All in all, doing Honors is a real challenge, one that is repeatedly (and correctly) compared to a graduate school experience!
  • The Richter Memorial Foundation has provided a grant to Knox for the past several years to support student research. If you are doing an independent study, you can apply for a Richter Fellowship to provide funds necessary to carry out your research, including travel, equipment, and supplies.
  • The Ford Fellowship Program selects 10-12 juniors for full-time research support during the summer prior to their senior year. The program is designed to encourage students who are contemplating academic teaching careers, and so includes mentoring opportunities to give you a sense of what professors "do"!
  • The Ronald McNair Program is federally-funded through a grant to Knox and is intended to encourage students from backgrounds under-represented in academia to pursue academic careers.

While an independent study is between you and your faculty sponsor, for all these other programs, Knox's research "czar" is Sandra Shumaker, director of the Vovis Center for Research and Advanced Study. Information about Honors, Fords, and Richter grants is available in his office in Old Main. If you are eligible for a McNair Fellowship, the program director will contact you. For information on the McNair program, visit the McNair office in the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center. (Independent Research will soon be coordinated through the new Gerald and Carol Vovis Center for Research and Advanced Study.)

TECHNICAL STUFF: More on Independent Study

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