One of the great advantages of a Duke education is the small student-to-faculty ratio affording the chance to get to know professors personally and work under their guidance on your own research. Learning does not end in the classroom; ideally, coursework is a springboard to developing special interests that lead to investigation beyond the classroom. There are two ways to pursue your own research: through an independent study or through an honors project.
Independent Study Research
Majors and minors may take an independent study as an elective to research a special interest beyond the classroom under the supervision of a faculty member. Normally, the independent study would emerge from a course taken with the advisor. A research independent study (MEDREN 293) has the goal of producing a substantive researched paper containing significant analysis and interpretation of a topic, and it carries a Research (R) code. Students wishing to take an independent study must consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies first and then submit a proposal that must be approved. The completed proposal is due to the Director of Undergraduate Studies one week prior to the drop/add deadline. Once approved, the student will be given a permission number to add the course. See the Trinity College guidelines on Independent Study.
Honors Thesis Research
About a quarter of Duke undergraduates engage in researched honors projects—a higher proportion of MEDREN majors choose to do so. Qualified majors are highly encouraged to pursue a thesis project leading to Graduation with Distinction. One MEDREN major captures the enormous value of her experience writing an honors thesis:
“I would have been happy with my major had I not written an honors thesis, but I would not be as confident as I now am for having accomplished it. The advisor guides you, but at the end of the day, it was entirely my own decision to do this, and I had to make it happen myself.”
Forging a close working relationship with one or more professors is invaluable in and of itself, and the mentor’s familiarity with the student’s work and potential can also be tremendously helpful when the student is applying to postgraduate programs of study. Distinction is an honor that is noted on the transcript, and also represents a high point in the student’s academic career.