April 17, 2017 at 10:56 am

Independent Research Course Offers Individualized Experience for Sociology and Anthropology Majors

by Matt McCullough ‘17

Interested in doing your own research for credit? One of the courses offered to many majors including Sociology and Anthropology is an “independent research” course.

What is Independent Research?

According to OHIO’s course offerings, it is “individual research in specific problem areas in which student has demonstrated ability and interest.”

In other words, you can conduct your own research on any topic within your discipline.

The course can be taken for at least one credit hour and no more than six credit hours. A single offering typically only enrolls one to three students.

Class meetings are “arranged” and worked out between you and your instructor. There are usually several offerings of the course, each with a different instructor.

Course Structure

This course is very unique because the structure is mostly worked out between the student and instructor. It is not a typical lecture course.

Students may find it strange that the course is customized entirely by themselves. The student decides what to research, on what scale to make the project, when and how often to meet the instructor, and what will be graded.

Since the course is for doing research, however, students can expect the course to follow a standard research project format.

In most cases, approval of the project and methodology from Research Compliance will be necessary. Then data collection and analysis will follow, handing in a research report as the course’s final product.

The purpose the instructor serves in the course is to guide the research, approving of the student’s plans and making sure it can be done in a reliable, ethical, and timely manner.

Why Take an Independent Research Course?

This course is an excellent way for students to explore their research interests.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Lee, an associate professor of sociology who does independent research courses, “independent research lets students deepen their knowledge in a particular area, going beyond reading about the topic to actually research it in a hands-on way.

“Students also get to think about research design, which is in some ways about puzzles and problem solving – I want to know about something, how can I best find that out? That’s a really good set of skills to develop, and research is a great way to do so.”

This course is built completely around your schedule. All the work is done on your own time. This flexibility makes it very convenient when trying to work out a class schedule.

If there are topics a student wishes to explore more, or if other courses do not offer much research opportunity, this course gives students the opportunity to conduct research on these topics. It can also be a nice change from sitting in a lecture hall.

Taking this course also shows high levels of motivation and effort.

It is worth mentioning when applying to certain programs. Furthermore, the relationship you form with your instructor may result in excellent recommendation letters.

It is a really nice opportunity to take a class one-on-one with a favorite instructor, though it is important that the instructor has relatable expertise in your research topic.

Since it can be taken for as little as one or two credit hours, it can also work nicely for you if you need just a little extra enrollment credit.

Lastly, conducting your own research project, especially under your own initiative, opens up many opportunities.

The course itself is résumé-worthy experience with doing academic research. It is an impressive accomplishment!

The research can be presented at the Student Expo, yet another résumé-worthy accomplishment which gives experience presenting research findings and making an impact on your community.

In addition, research reports can make an excellent writing sample for various applications.

Importance of Commitment

It is important to remember that this is still a college class!

Though this course offers so much to gain, it can easily become the last priority among the other classes and obligations every student juggles.

Regular communication with the instructor is expected, research must be done, and you must be able to produce a report. So while it can be more stress-free than most courses, that can also lead to it being treated as less important, and therefore neglected.

Time can be crunched in this course. Approval of the project from Research Compliance can be time consuming, and none of the data collection can begin until approval is received.

The data collection process can also be very time consuming, so enough time for data analysis and research report writing can be difficult to accommodate for.

Lee says the biggest challenge in the course is “staying organized! Research is messy and complicated and often takes longer than you think it will.

“Staying organized helps researchers manage all of that, and also to face any unexpected problems that might come up.”


Lee says the most rewarding part for her is “getting to see students have the experience of generating new knowledge.

“As a researcher, it’s really exciting when you start to make connections or have ‘a-hah’ moments, and it’s really fun to work with students as they have those moments.”

Students who are interested can see their major’s offerings in Course Offerings. To search, type in desired subject, then the catalog number “4940.” There is also an independent readings course numbered “3930.”

Enrollment is by “permission” only, meaning students must get the instructor’s approval to officially enroll.

Independent research courses are a challenging but rewarding way to learn and gain experience.

Offered in almost every major, all students can benefit from taking this course. Consider it for next semester.

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