When I agree to an independent study, I commit to take on a good deal of extra work. I expect, therefore, that such studies will also be extra work for the students. Thus students who are doing independent studies with me are expected to work more diligently than they do in their regular courses. In short, I do not view independent studies as simply being credit-earning or requirement fulfilling activities. As I am retired and no longer live in the Miami area, I will not be able to meet with students who are doing independent studies, so they will need to be capable of engaging in independent study. Of course there are ways of communicating at a distance, and if I undertake an independent study, I will be more than willing to utilize these with the student(s).
As I see it, independent studies are available to provide students with the opportunity to pursue a topic, problem, work, or philosopher in a manner which is not available in the regular Departmental course offerings: a student may be pursuing an interest or problem not covered by the regular offerings, or the student may be pursuing in greater depth a topic, problem, philosopher, or text which is covered in one of the Department’s courses. In effect, these independent studies are an opportunity for “student research in philosophy.” Such research involves directed study of a philosophic topic, problem, or text, and, as such, involved a good deal of reading and critical thinking. To promote the latter, I require a substantial paper from my independent study students (see below).
Of course, there are other faculty members in the Department, and I am competent (and interested) in only certain areas, problems, philosophers, and texts. To secure my agreement to join a student in an independent studies course, the student must have a fairly well-formed idea of the problem, theory, or philosopher they want to study; of the readings they would like to do, and that topic or problem must be one within my competency or interests. Successful requests for independent studies with me have usually been fairly specific at the onset, though there is almost always revision to the student’s plan before I approve the proposal. I am happy to respond to well-formulated project ideas; but since I require a lot from the student engaging in such projects, it is best for the student to have a fairly clear idea of what is to be pursued before communicating the proposed project with me. Since an independent study is a response to a student’s interests, those who ask me for an idea for an independent study project are unsuccessful in securing such studies. The fastest way to ensure that I will not be inclined to act favorably on an independent study request, is to send me a very short email expressing interest in doing an independent study with no details about what it is likely to be about--a student who can't provide some detail along the lines indicated above, frankly, isn't yet ready to embark on an independent study.
In the past I generally only agreed to engage in such projects with students who had been in one of my regular classes, but now with excellent an proposal and an email recommendation from one of my colleagues, I will consider seriously proposals from students who have not taken a class with me. I greatly limit the number of such projects I will engage in during any given semester, so requests received prior to the beginning of registration are more likely to be approved than are ones received later. Once a semester has begun I will not accept independent study proposals for that semester.
In the past I have done independent studies projects on topics such as these: skepticism, contextualism, and justification; romanticism and Descartes; Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature; moral psychology; J.S. Mill’s logical theory; Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations; Rorty’s social thought; Hume’s Treatise; the rise of atheistic thought in Europe, and fideism and religious belief in Pascal and Kierkegaard. The projects usually involve individual students, but I have done several group independent studies over the years—one with four students.
Well before the semester begins the student and I should have agreed on a set of readings, and it is the student’s responsibility to secure these readings from the University Bookstore, another bookseller, the library, etc.
When I agree to an independent study, the student should see the Ivonne Carrasco, the Department's Senior Secretary, who will enter the course in the University’s list of offerings and provide a Permission Number so that the student may register for the course. Unless it is explicitly agreed to otherwise, I presume that the course will be a three-credit hour one (I am flexible upon the number of hours, but deviation from this norm should be discussed while securing approval for the independent study). Students who are doing an Senior Honors Project need to sign up for three hours for each of two semesters, and, of course, my expectations are greater for such projects (the two semesters are conducted along the lines specified above, but by the middle of the second semester the student is expected to be working on a substantial paper).
In terms of requirements, while there is no specific page length requirement for the paper the student must write, it should be a substantial one. Unless another due-date is explicitly agreed upon, the paper is due by Noon on the Friday of the semester’s final week of classes (in the Fall and Spring semesters, this is the week before final exams). Of course, it may be turned in early, and I will be happy to read rough drafts and discuss the paper with the student, but once this deadline is past the paper is late, and I will not grant an extensions or award an incomplete. If the paper is not turned in by Noon of the Final exam week, a grade of F will be assigned for the independent study.
As always, when you write a paper for me, I want you to write a critical and analytical paper. Such a critical examination and analysis should: (1) clarify the position being examined; (2) elaborate the argument(s) for or against the position in question; (3) carefully assess the adequacy and strength of the argument(s) by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer the student’s own overall assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position? Review my discussion of what such papers are like in my “Writing Philosophy Papers”.
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Last revised: 06/24/2015.