Independent Study + Research

ISR/G GUIDELINES For Research and Independent Study Activities

An ISR is an Independent Study or Research activity undertaken for pass/no credit academic credit.  An ISR-G is an Independent Study or Research activity undertaken for a letter grade.  (“ISR/G” is shorthand for both ISR and ISR-G.)  The policies that govern these two academic activities are described in the course catalog.  These guidelines are intended to help students and faculty plan and implement their ISR/G activities.  Each ISR/G activity should have a detailed description and assessment plan.  It is expected that your assessment incorporate Olin's Learning Outcomes. The catalog policy can be found HERE.

Despite the use of the word “Independent” in the title, ISR activities can involve small groups of students working together on one project, or working on related projects.  Indeed, ISR activities with small groups can be more efficient and effective than solo projects.

Students interested in undertaking an ISR/G should begin planning it during the semester prior to the beginning of the activity. Students should meet with potential faculty advisors to determine the faculty member’s interest and availability, and then should solicit faculty advice when planning the structure and goals of the activity. The expectation is that a plan is formed well in advance and proposal forms can be submitted any time between pre-registration and the end of the add period.  No forms will be accepted after the end of the add period. The proposal form is located here.

Although there is no limit on the number of ISR/G credits a student can earn, students should be aware that faculty time for ISR/G activities is a limited resource and many faculty will be too busy to serve as a mentor in a given semester. The topics and work of an ISR/G activity should not substantially overlap with regularly offered classes. Faculty are strongly discouraged from advising projects that overlap with classes, as they are not an effective use of faculty time.

Once the ISR/G begins, students should meet regularly with their faculty advisors. Advisors and students are encouraged to maintain a shared representation of planned work, work in progress, and documentation of completed work, often in the form of an online planning board and/or online journal. At the end of the semester, the final assessment (including either a pass/no credit or letter grade) should be based on the learning plan and evaluation plan as outlined in the proposal.

What is the distinction between ISR and ISR-G? 

  • An ISR might be more appropriate for activities that are more exploratory, open-ended, or introductory.  ISR also makes sense when an activity is difficult to classify or evaluate, making it inappropriate or undesirable to assign a letter grade.  Note that ISR activities carry the same weight as ISR-G in terms of hours of productive effort per credit. 
  • Compared to an ISR, the plan for an ISR-G should be more detailed, and the evaluation plan should specify deliverables sufficient to allow the faculty advisor to assess student work with enough detail to assign a letter grade.  Therefore, an ISR-G might be more appropriate for activities that are more advanced, so that the student and faculty advisor have the background and experience to make a more detailed plan.  An ISR-G might be more appropriate when the nature of the work makes it possible and desirable to assign a letter grade. 

Although an ISR-G may be used to satisfy a course requirement (such as inclusion in an engineering plan of study), getting that approval is a separate step from proposing an ISR-G and involves petitioning the individual or group in charge of approving plans of study.  In general, the standard for approval is high; a student should not presume, prior to approval, that an ISR-G will satisfy any course requirement.  Whether or not an ISR-G can be used as part of an engineering, AHS, or Entrepreneurship concentration is determined by the faculty who evaluate concentration plans.