Graduate Independent Study Instructions

Click here to access the instructions for undergraduate students.

Please read and be sure that you understand these guidelines before submitting your proposal. In developing your project and filling out all forms, ensure that you (and your mentor) are complete and descriptive to avoid delays. If you have any questions, contact the capstone/independent study coordinator:

Dr. Brian Antonsen
Phone: 304-696-6496

You can download and print a checklist with due dates and abbreviated step by step instructions by clicking here.

A complete list of the required forms can be found by clicking here.

Start early enough to leave sufficient time to complete required paperwork before the due date for that paperwork.

Types of Projects

Independent Study can allow a student to obtain a variety of different educational experiences. The only strict guidelines are that the experience must be applicable to the student's degree and career goals, and that it must not be something that can be obtained through a scheduled BSC course. Common Independent Study projects involve research with a faculty member or other scientist, directed reading or library research projects that build upon regular coursework, and specialized training.

Depending on the type of project, some time may be needed to arrange the details of the project, find a spot in the mentor's schedule to work with you, and get the project approved. This is particularly true if you are wanting to start working in a research lab, as labs have finite space and sometimes fill up months in advance. Therefore, if you want to gain some Independent Study experience, it is advisable to start the process of identifying a mentor early. In identifying your mentor, try to find someone who works in a field that interests you or is part of your career goals, and who seems to be enthusiastic about mentoring you. Situations where either the mentor or mentee are less than enthused about the project are not likely to result in a worthwhile experience for either.


In many cases, mentors for graduate Independent Study projects will be the student's advisor. At other times, it will be beneficial to receive some specialized traning under some other mentor. If a student wishes to do independent study under a mentor who is not their advisor, you must discuss this with your advisor proior to submitting any paperwork, and your advisor's signature will be required to allow you to register for the course. Mentors may be from other departments or sometimes even outside the university. If you wish to do your project with a non-BSC mentor, discuss this with both your advisor and the capstone coordinator before beginning the application.

If your mentor is not BSC faculty, be sure that he or she sees and agrees to the conditions of a Independent Study project as outlined in the Mentor's Agreement Form. The mentor will be required to sign this form before the project begins, but it is advisable to make them aware of the form and requirements early in the process. The agreement form can be found by clicking here, or on the "Forms" page. If your mentor is not Marshall faculty, be sure to get full contact information including mailing address, email, and phone number to include on the proposal form. For Marshall faculty, only the email is necessary.

Once you have identified a mentor, it is critical that both you and your mentor fully understand the guidelines and due dates for any project you wish to perform. When developing a proposal, ensure that clear expectations are set down between you and written on the proposal form. The project description should make it clear to the Independent Study Administrator exactly what activities you will be involved in, and how completion of the project will be assessed. Fine details of the activities themselves are not necessary at this time.

Time Commitment

The time commitment for Independent Study can vary based on the number of registered hours (1-4). A general guideline to use is that the student shoud spend about 25-30 hours working on the project through the semester for each hour of credit, but this can vary somewhat depending on the project. A final report of some form is required. It can take the form of a written research summary (much like the scientific paper), or an oral or poster presentation. The detailed expectations for the final report should be arranged with your mentor, together with a timeline for completing it.

Start early enough to leave sufficient time to complete required paperwork before the due date for that paperwork.

Project Approval

We will look for three main things when reviewing your proposal: 1. sufficient detail to be convincing that it is a worthwhile, and legitimate, original academic experience. 2. Enough detail to make it clear that this experience cannot be gained in a regularly scheduled course. 3. A clear assessment plan, with some deliverable in the form of a report, presentation, or some other tangible proof that the experience will be worth the credit hours. On top of this, remember that if your mentor is not faculty in BSC, you must discuss your project with the capstone/independent study coordinator before submitting your proposal or it will be rejected.
Hints: Your Independent Study should be a valuable experience that allows you to apply the knowledge you have gained in classes. In order to simplify the approval process, you should ensure that you describe the merit of the project. For example, if the project will involve laboratory or field research, describe the scientific merit of the project and the methods you will learn and use, and how these experiences will benefit you academically. If the project will involve literature review or other intellectual research, describe the topic and scope of the work, and the value of this work to your academic career. the value of the methods you will learn, and how these experiences will benefit you academically or professionally. Use similar guidelines to formulate your proposal for other types of practical or applied experiences you may wish to undertake. Also be sure to clearly describe the expectations for delivering some manner of project report or presentation for assessment.

The process of project approval works as follows:

1. After working out the details of your project with your mentor, including the plans for the final report, you fill in the Online Project Proposal form and submit it to the Department of Biological Sciences for approval. Remember, if your mentor is not faculty in BSC, you must discuss your project with the capstone/independent study coordinator before submitting your proposal or it will be rejected.
2. After review, you may receive a notice that your proposal needs changes before it can be approved, in which case you will have to follow the instructions you receive to address the deficiencies, and resubmit.
3. Once you receive a notice of preliminary approval, you fill out a Graduate College Independent Study form (available here). You then take your approval notice and the Graduate College form to your project mentor, and your advisor if applicable, for signatures.
Note: we know that having to fill out two seperate forms is not ideal. The department has information we want to collect about projects, the Graduate College wants their form, and currently those two do not align.
3a. If your mentor is not BSC faculty, you must also have the Mentor's Agreement Form signed. The mentor's agreement form is not required if your mentor is a faculty member in BSC.
4. You return the signed forms to the capstone/independent study coordinator BEFORE the start of classes. At that time you will receive final approval, and receive permission to register for your Independent Study. It is strongly recommended that you keep a copy of these forms for yourself before submitting the originals.


Once you have begun your project, you must keep a notebook of your activities, which you will use to complete your final report.
If your mentor is BSC faculty, the final report or presentation will be given to them for assessment.
If your mentor is not BSC faculty, the report or presentation will be given to the mentor, and submitted to the capstone coodinator for assessment.
The report must be submitted BEFORE the start of final exams for the semester during which you performed your Independent Study.

Your Independent Study mentor must also, before the start of final exams, submit the Independent Study Mentor's Evaluation Form to the Department of Biological Sciences. This form is necessary for you to receive your grade, so be sure that your mentor has a copy with sufficient time to complete it before the deadline. The evaluation form can be found by clicking here, or on the "Forms" page.

Once both the report (if necessary) and evaluation form have arrived in the BSC office, a final grade will be determined. If any of the required items are late it may jeopardize your grade and graduation, so work to ensure that everything arrives on time.

Online Project Proposal

Once you have read and understood the above information, and developed your project plan with your mentor, click below to fill in the online form. It is recommended that you write your project description before starting the form, so you can quicky paste it in and avoid possibly losing your work due to some web glitch.

Click here to access the Online Project Proposal form.