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Special Topics / Independent Study
SWAGS 390 / 490
Students who seek to undertake an independent project under the guidance of a particular professor need to keep in mind that such a course is above and beyond the professor’s course load. For this reason, SWAGS, like many departments, does not approve – except under very special circumstances -- students’ requests to work with junior faculty (Assistant Professors), visitors and adjuncts, and Fellows. Many Special Topic courses arise from questions and texts already examined in an earlier course. When this is not the case, it only makes sense that students requesting a professor’s guidance in their project should make sure that the professor actually works in the field or has shown an interest in pursuing it. In short, Special Topic classes are a privilege and not a right, and professors do not undertake them lightly. Good reasons for requesting an Independent Study do not include a student’s need for one more credit for graduation; a student’s desire to take a class at a convenient day and hour; or a student’s feeling that nothing of interest presents itself as a viable fourth class that semester.
If you are considering a Special Topics course, here is what might be expected of you at the time you make your request: 1) that you already have a topic or set of interests in mind and some readings that will allow you to pursue your ideas; 2) that you are aware that you will meet with the professor at regular intervals; 3) that you will be asked to write over the course of the semester. What you read, how often you meet, and what and how much you write are something that you will determine with your project’s advisor. In addition, you may be asked to agree to a “contract” stating clearly what will be asked of you.
There are a few other things that you might want to consider if you are interested in Independent Study: These courses can offer full or half credit, something that you would discuss with your project advisor. Remember that the amount of work required of you will be equal to that of a regularly offered course. The difference is that you will read the material and write about it independently during the semester. Deadlines for Special Topics assignments are the same as they are for all courses at the college. If a student cannot complete a course on time, the student will have to apply for an extension from her or his class Dean who will grant it in consultation with the professor. Students can and do flunk Special Topics courses. It can be lonely working independently.
It can also be exciting and highly satisfying to pursue an idea or question with single-minded intent. Sometimes students find working one-on-one with a professor highly rewarding as well, but not always. Your project’s advisor is just that: she or he may be delighted to sponsor and guide your work but be less engaged in it than you. Remember – you are undertaking this course because you are passionately interested in something that will require at least a semester to begin to understand.