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What is a directed reading and how do I arrange one?

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The chance to work with Stanford faculty in an area of mutual interest is one of the greatest privileges of your Stanford career. Sometimes you can find that ideal Introsem from the perfect professor, but other times the class you've been dreaming of doesn't appear in Explore Courses. A directed reading may be the answer for you...

Students may register for directed reading units (also called independent study, individual study, or directed study, depending on the department) under the supervision of a faculty member. Like any other class, an independent study has an instructor and a course number. Unlike other classes, however, an independent study is “independent” because you and the faculty member decide on the topic, course materials, and course expectations together.

Exploring Beyond ExploreCourses

Generally students pursue directed readings on a special topic of interest for which there is no formal course in the Stanford curriculum. Students make arrangements individually with the faculty member and the department in which credit will be granted.

You might, for example, reach out to a faculty member who is a specialist in a certain topic because you want to learn about the topic, but a class is not currently being offered. You might connect with a professor in English to develop an independent study on the works of Mary Shelley, or a professor in Biology for an intensive class on stem cell research. Maybe both if you're thinking about putting together a creature.

If the instructor is willing, together you will determine how many units the course will be and which grading basis is appropriate. The two of you will also decide what kind of assignments you will have, and how often you will meet. And, at the end of the quarter, you will receive a grade for your work.

Setting up your Independent Study

Most departments have a course number for Student Research or Independent Study. In English it might be English 198 or English 398. In History it might be HISTORY 299S. In many departments 199 is the course number. However, you should be sure to talk to your instructor about the correct course number to enroll in.

Generally speaking, departments have one independent study course with a different section for each instructor. When you enroll on Axess, be sure to sign up for the correct section, and for the amount of units and the grading basis that you and the instructor have agreed upon.

What if your PI / Professor / Instructor does not know the correct course number for your independent study? That likely means that they do not yet have a course set up. The instructor should consult with their department’s Student Services Officer in order to create an independent study course (if the department doesn't already have one) or to be registered as the instructor for a section of an existing independent study course.

It is strongly recommended that the student and faculty member compose a directed reading syllabus at the start of the quarter. This includes readings, assignments to be completed, units earned and arrangements for frequency and type of communication between the student and faculty member.

Note that directed readings do not satisfy Ways or GERs, and various other departmental restrictions may apply.

See Also

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