independent study

Outside the classroom experiences

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

Dr. Brian Antonsen
Phone: 304-696-6496


Independent study can be used to get a record of an outside the classroom experience on your transcript, but the hours do not apply towards a BSC major or Area of Emphasis. Contact us if you have any questions about this.

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

Start early enough to leave sufficient time to complete required paperwork before the registration deadline.

Types of Projects

Independent Study can allow you to obtain a variety of different educational experiences. The only strict guidelines are that the experience must be applicable to your degree and career goals, and that it must not be something obtainable 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, specialized training, and teaching support/pedagogy.

Depending on the type of project, it can take time to arrange the details of the project, find a spot in the mentor’s schedule to work with you, and submit the project for approval. 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.


Most Independent Study mentors will be faculty in in the Department of Biological Sciences, but under some circumstances we may approve mentors from another department or even from outside the university. If you wish to do your Capstone with a non-BSC mentor, discuss this with the Independent Study coordinator before beginning the application. Furthermore, if your mentor is not BSC faculty, be sure that your mentor sees and agrees to the conditions  as outlined in the Research Mentor’s Agreement Form. Your mentor will sign this form before the project begins, but you should make them aware of the form and requirements early. The agreement form can be found on the forms and resources 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. As you and your mentor develop the proposal, ensure that you set clear expectations. The project description you will submit should make it clear to the capstone administrator exactly what activities you will undertake. Fine details of the activities themselves are not necessary at this time. You must include a plan for project assessment, with some deliverable like a research paper, poster, or oral presentation as part of the requirements. You and your mentor will arrange detailed expectations for the final report or talk, together with a timeline for completing it. Fine details of the activities themselves (e.g. a list of methods) are not necessary at this time.

Time Commitment

The time commitment for Independent Study vary based on the number of registered hours (1-4). A general guideline is that you should spend a minimum of about 40-50 hours working on the project through the semester for each hour of credit, but this can vary somewhat depending on the project.

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

Writing Your Proposal

We will look for four main things when reviewing your proposal:
1. Sufficient detail to be convincing that it is a worthwhile, and legitimate, academic experience that will benefit you in your career development.
2. Enough detail to understand what you will do, and that you cannot gain this experience in a regularly scheduled course.
3. Demonstration that you understand the project. Note: we do not look for a detailed justification of research or your mentor’s qualifications, rather we want to see that you understand what you will be doing, that you understand the motivations and importance of the work.
4. A clear assessment plan, with some deliverable in the form of a report, presentation, or some other tangible proof that the experience is worth the credit hours.

Hints: Your Independent Study should be a valuable experience that allows you to apply  knowledge gained in classes. In order to simplify the approval process, you should ensure that you describe the  merit of the project from your perspective, the value of the methods or material you will learn, and how these experiences will benefit you academically or professionally. Notice the focus on YOU here, we have to see what you will be doing and gaining from this project. For example, if the project will involve laboratory or field research, describe the scientific merit of the project, 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.

Project Approval

The project approval process works as follows:

1. After developing the details of your project with your mentor, you fill in the online project proposal form and submit it to the Department of Biological Sciences for approval.
2. After review, you will either receive notice that your proposal requires changes, in which case you follow the instructions to address any deficiencies, or you receive a preliminary approval notice.
3. Once you have your preliminary approval notice, take your notice to your mentor for signatures.
3a. If your mentor is not BSC faculty, he or she must also sign the Independent Study Mentor’s Agreement Form. Deliver the Mentor’s Evaluation Form, to be filled out and returned at project completion. The mentor’s agreement and evaluation forms are not required for BSC faculty mentors.
4. You return the signed approval and agreement forms to the Independent Study coordinator BEFORE the start of classes. Submit all forms via email. At that time you will receive final approval, and receive permission to register.



Your grade will be based on the deliverable items that you include in your project proposal. All projects must be submitted to the department before a grade will be awarded. If your project includes a poster or talk, contact the capstone coordinator to discuss details for submitting the midterm and final projects.

If your mentor is BSC faculty, your mentor will assess your project then send your grade to the Independent Study coordinator.
If your mentor is not BSC faculty, your project will be submitted to the Independent Study coordinator for assessment. Your research mentor must also, before the start of final exams, submit the Mentor’s Evaluation Form. This form is necessary for you to receive your grade, so be sure that your mentor receives a copy with sufficient time before the deadline. The evaluation form can be found on the forms and resources page.

All final reports and evaluations are due before the start of final exams. Following submission of all materials, we will award your final grade. If any of the required items are late it may jeopardize your grade, 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, click below to access the online form.


Click here to access the Online Project Proposal form.