Creative Writing
EnglishCollege of Humanities and Social Sciences

MFA Independent Study

The MFA Independent Study & Independent Study Proposal Process Explained:

WHAT IS AN INDEPENDENT STUDY?   

Independent studies are meant to give students the opportunity to tailor course work to their specific interests, talents, goals, etc., in ways that normal courses do not. They also allow students to work more intensely on a subject or in a particular field than a regular course does. This includes summer work. Thus, an independent study can allow a student who was introduced to a writer as part of a survey course in, say, spring semester to dig more deeply into that writer’s work through a summer independent study. For students with demanding jobs and work schedules, including TA’s, summer independent studies can help keep the student on track in progressing through the program.

WHAT ARE THE DEPARTMENT'S EXPECTATIONS OF AN INDEPENDENT STUDY?

Independent studies should not duplicate course subjects or materials offered in courses at Mason.

Independent studies are not intended as a replacement for the two literature courses required by the program. The MFA faculty believe that studying literature plays a vital role in the development of a writer, and that this study is best facilitated most often in literature classes.

Independent studies can be writing based or they may blend reading and writing. In these cases, the courses are not meant to substitute for writing workshops or for courses that blend reading and writing.

WHAT ROLE DO FACULTY MEMBERS PLAY IN AN INDEPENDENT STUDY?

Each independent study needs one faculty member willing to serve as faculty of record. Early in the process of thinking about an independent study, a student should consult faculty members with expertise or interests in the area proposed to be covered and should let discussions with the faculty member help shape his or her ideas for the study. The student and faculty member should discuss ideas about what reading and written work is to be carried out, the criteria by which the work is to be evaluated, and the schedule for meetings. Dates for submission of work also should be determined. Fewer contact hours may be more appropriate for some independent study topics or work than they are for others.

Faculty members are not separately compensated for mentoring students in independent studies. While most faculty are quite willing to do independent studies with students, if the workload for them becomes the equivalent of another class, it can pose problems. Faculty who are most interested in the field of study or writing that the student is considering, or those with whom the student has worked in the classroom are more likely to agree to mentor an independent study.

IS THIS INDEPENDENT STUDY WORTH ONE, TWO, OR THREE CREDIT HOURS?

Independent studies may be created for one to three credits of English 798. For the maximum of three credits, the volume of reading and written work to be undertaken should mirror the levels required in a normal three-hour course. While this is a variable standard, a typical graduate-level literature course will encompass ten or more books and require at least one major paper and exam or two major papers or a detailed in-class presentation and major paper or exam. Comparable standards for writing courses are even more varied, but in a writing-based independent study, a student normally would be expected to complete at least one major project of roughly the size of a small book or the equivalent, depending on the field (a chapbook of poems, for example, or a collection of four to six essays, or four to six short stories or a small novel or novella).

Work should be scaled from the three-credit standard to create two- or one-credit independent studies.

 

Step by Step: Proposal to Completion

STEP 1: PROPOSE AN INDEPENDENT STUDY

After considering the guidelines above, it is time to propose the independent study.

Use the independent study proposal cover sheet to create your proposal. Draft your proposal according to the listed criteria on the cover sheet and attach the cover sheet to the proposal. Once the proposal is complete you should submit it to the graduate programs manager along with a completed individualized section form. After it has been submitted, send an email to the faculty of record for his/her approval. If possible, the faculty of record should sign the proposal cover sheet. Where circumstances do not allow for the faculty member to physically sign the proposal, emailed approvals from the faculty member are sufficient. These emails should be sent to the graduate programs manager at jpatel2@gmu.edu.

Once the faculty member has approved, the program director and department chair must also approve the proposal. The MFA program director plays an advisory role to students, faculty, and the chair of the department and so may ask questions or seek additional information when necessary.

STEP 2: REGISTRATION FOR ENGL 798

After approvals are in place the graduate programs manager will send the signed individualized section form to the Office of the Registrar. That office will process the form and officially register you for an individualized section of ENGL 798 (or appropriate alternative). The class will then appear on your student schedule.

STEP 3: COMPLETE THE INDEPENDENT STUDY

After registration is complete it is your job to complete the work for the independent study as discussed and agreed to in the proposal. Students are expected to complete work according to the predetermined schedule set up with the faculty of record.

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