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How to prepare a non-research independent study proposal

This website provides a guide to preparing a proposal for a non-research independent study course in mathematics. (If instead you are preparing a proposal for a research independent study course in mathematics, consult this webpage instead.) The necessary material should be submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics no later than the end of the first week of classes in which the course is to take place. As applications may be returned with a request for further information, you are encouraged to submit the proposal as early as possible during the first week of classes.

General instructions

  1. The first step is to get a copy of the independent study permisssion form. This is available towards the bottom of the webpage
    under the heading, "Online Form".

    Please complete this form noting the following modification which is specific to the math department:

    • The Description of Proposed Study mentioned in item 1 on the bottom of page two of the permission form should be completed on a separate sheet (or sheets) of paper according to the guide below. It should be typed.
    • The "Supervising Faculty Member" must be a regular rank faculty member with their primary appointment in mathematics. (Regular rank means a lecturer, a research professor (of any level), a professor of the practice (any level), or a tenure-track professor (any level).)

  2. Work together with your mentor to write the proposal. The length of the Description of Proposed Study part of the proposal will generally be close to one page long.

  3. Bulletin course descriptions are not good models for independent study proposals. A complete course syllabus is an ideal model, something to keep in mind as a goal to strive towards. However most course proposals will fall short of the precision of a course syllabus.

  4. Be sure to communicate clearly. The proposal should be well organized and carefully written. Ask yourself if the reader will be able to understand what you are writing. The reader will be a mathematician who is generally familiar with the most basic concepts which appear in standard undergraduate courses, but who may not familiar with specialized notions in a given subfield of mathematics. Thus specialized mathematical terms should be defined. Terms from science, economics, and engineering should also be defined if they are not familiar to a broad range of well educated lay people.

Specific issues to address in your Description of Proposed Study:

  1. What is the area of mathematics which you will be studying?

    Please feel free to communicate any particular motivations you have for learning this material.

  2. What background do you have in this area of mathematics?

  3. What specific material do you intend to learn?

    Here you are asked to be quite specific, whereas question 1 above was rather general.

  4. What sources will you use to learn the material and what exercises will you do?

    In standard courses this question is usually answered by a syllabus which indicates what material will be read in a given week and what exercises will be turned in. For an independent study course such a precise description is not expected. Nonetheless keep the course syllabus in mind as an ideal response to this question. Communicate in general terms what material you will be reading when and what exercises you will be working when. In other words, you should give a pretty good picture of how the course will run.

  5. Please proofread what you have typed to be sure that the issues above have been addressed.

  6. Turn in your type written sheet (or sheets) together with the completed independent study permission form to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the math department. This should be done as early as possible during the first week of classes. Submission may be done electronically by e-mailing an attachment to Scanned signatures are acceptable. Hard-copies may be brought to the office of the Director of Undergraduate Studies or may be left in his or her mailbox located in room 117 Physics Building.

  7. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will set up the independent study course after a satisfactory proposal been received. He or she will e-mail you a section number and a permission number to enable you to sign up for the course on ACES. In the event that the proposal needs further work before it can be accepted, you will be informed by e-mail.

    Contact information for the Director of Undergraduate Studies: 
ph:  919.660.2800
fax: 919.660.2821

Mathematics Department
Duke University, Box 90320
Durham, NC 27708-0320