Stand-alone Honors Independent Study Course Description

The Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) administers stand-alone Honors Independent Study courses (designated ISH)  by first reviewing a proposal submitted by the student and then, on approval, by registering the student into the appropriate course, dealing as necessary with holds, credit-overload permissions and late-adds. 

Approval is not automatic. Each proposal is reviewed by the faculty sponsor, the department Honors Program Director and Academic Standards Committee (ASC), a sub-committee of the CHC Faculty Senate Council, all of whom may (and often do) ask for clarifications, modifications, and revisions. Some proposals are rejected, if the extent of revision needed warrants a fresh start. 

The overarching idea is that such an Honors Independent Study course is an opportunity for a student to become engaged in activities that pursue an aspect of a faculty member’s scholarly activity on the UMass Amherst campus and to be mentored in these activities by a tenure-system, scholarly-active faculty member.  

Thus, the activity must have the characteristic that it has the potential to be a contribution to the relevant academic discourse. The ASC interprets “contribution to the relevant academic discourse” very broadly but does expect that scholarly writing is involved somewhere in the process, even if it is only in the initial proposal. If the final product is not a written report in the form of a disciplinary journal article, the ASC expects that the student will write a reflection piece at the end of the process. If the final product is a written report in the form of a disciplinary journal article, the ASC expects that the student will submit a draft on which the faculty mentor will provide feedback in time for revisions prior to submission of the final version for grading. The ASC also expects that the activity will involve some engagement with relevant primary scholarly sources. 

Just as with standard courses, a student’s performance in an ISH is graded, and as is required practice on the UMass Amherst campus, the grading criteria are to be set out in writing in the syllabus at the start of the semester. As the proposal document submitted to CHC serves as the syllabus for the ISH, the ASC expects to see some description of the grading, and hence there are sections of the proposal that specifically ask for information related to the grading.

An ISH must be, at a minimum, a 3-credit activity, requiring three to four hours of engagement, on average, per credit per week by the student over the course of the semester, together with regular one-on-one meetings with the faculty mentor throughout the semester. The expected frequency is, on average, half an hour per week. When relevant, students are expected to participate in the faculty member’s regular research group meetings. The ASC appreciates the difficulties of scheduling such meetings.

Creating an ISH Proposal 

Although the student is responsible for the submission of the proposal (through the CHC PATHS website), the ASC expects that the student and faculty mentor will collaborate on the creation of the text that is to be uploaded in response to the prompts in each of the four sections. Descriptions of the ISH proposal outline may be found on the Honors Independent Study Requirements page  and are also available as pull-down menus in CHC PATHS. Everyone involved should read the text on the landing page of CHC PATHS.