Independent Study

The Psychology program at Duke offers TWO types of Independent Study courses. The application process is the same for both courses:

Research-Based Independent Study (RIS) culminates with a written paper and may lead to Graduation with Distinction.

Project-Based Independent Study (referred to simply as IS) does not qualify for Graduation with Distinction. 

Students should make sure to understand the expectations for each course by reviewing the guidelines linked above.

Students interested in completing a significant research project during their undergraduate career may want to consider the Graduation with Distinction Program (GwD). This is especially important for students planning to pursue graduate education in psychology but is highly recommended for any student with a strong interest in research. 

Timeline for registering for Independent Study

1) It may take a semester to identify a faculty member and research topic before being ready to enroll in an independent study course. A good place to start is discussing your research interest with your assigned faculty advisor. Start conversations in the fall to enroll in the spring. Start conversations in the spring to enroll in the fall.

2) Once you have a topic and a faculty member who agrees to supervise your work, submit a proposal to the Office of undergraduate Studies. Deadline is the Friday before last day of drop/add each semester. For example, if drop/add ends Wednesday, January 25, the deadline to submit your proposal is Friday, January 20th.

3) Once your proposal is approved, you will receive a permission number from our office to enroll in your specific course section. 

  • RIS: Fall 393 (not senior), 493 (senior). Spring 394 (not senior), 494 (senior)
  • IS: Fall 391 (not senior), 491 (senior). Spring 392 (not senior), 492 (senior)

4) At the end of the semester, you will submit the product of your research as approved on your proposal. Submit it to your faculty supervisor for a grade and to the Office of Undergraduate studies. Follow the deadline set by your faculty supervisor. If pursuing GwD, follow the GwD guideline.

Typical Time Commitment and Scholarly Product of Independent Study Projects: 

An average of 10 hours of work/week is expected, though you may have the opportunity to work more. There is a range of time-investment and final product. Just remember that your reward for your project will typically correlate with the effort you invest. 

A Warning Regarding Undergraduate Research:

Strict Federal laws apply to all research performed with humans and animals and, undergraduate researchers, like any researchers at Duke, may need prior approval from the university committee that oversees research with human subjects or animals. In general, research you may be conducting as part of a class requirement (e.g., surveying students in your dorm about their sleeping habits to obtain data for a research paper), does not require prior approval. However, research that you hope will contribute to generalizable knowledge (e.g., research you intend to publish or present it at a conference), does require review and approval before you can begin. As a general rule, you should consult with your professor or with the Directors of Undergraduate Studies before beginning a research project involving human or animal subjects so that they can advise you whether official approval is required. For more information about research policies at Duke, visit the Office for Research Support

Financial Research Support: 

  • Undergraduate Research Support Program: offers semester awards (up to $400/semester) for students engaged in research with Duke faculty. Students and their faculty research advisors may apply for assistantships (toward salary for a non-credit research experience) or grants (to defer expenses connected with research as part of independent study enrollment). When presenting a paper at a regional or national professional meeting, students may also apply for a URS grant to cover travel, lodging, and registration expenses.
  • Summer Vertical Integration Program: VIP is an annual summer research program for Psychology majors sponsored by Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, the intent of which is to give participants a head start on work that may culminate in a senior thesis.  VIP students conduct research with both a graduate student and faculty mentor, attend a semi-weekly seminar series, attend a biweekly statistics workshop, and finally present their work to their peers, mentors, and (via poster session) the wider University community.  Program participants receive a stipend to assist with living expenses over the course of the program. The stipend for 2019 was $3500. The call for applications normally goes out in February via the listserv for majors and minors.
  • URS Matching Grants and Small Supporting Grants: Through generous support from the Charles Lafitte Foundation, students pursuing majors in psychology and neuroscience are eligible to apply for URS matching grants or small departmental research grants of up to $400, if they were not selected for a URS grant. Calls for application go out via listserv at the beginning of each semester pending the continuation of support.