Concerns rise about ISPs as January approaches

With less than a month left in the first semester of the school year, students are beginning to prepare for their Independent Study Projects, or ISPs. Almost 240 students gathered into the Sudakoff Center on October 27 for the ISP Workshop, looking for guidance and ideas as to what to do for what might possibly be their first experience with the month-long project. Robert Zamsky, Dean of Studies, led the workshop and could not stress enough for students to choose an ISP that they are interested in.

When asking students with experience with ISPs, Zamsky’s words can be found mirrored in everyone’s own advice for dealing with ISP.

If you’re stuck on what project to do, ask upper years, look into the group ISPs, talk to professors, do lots of research, and make sure you do something you actually want to do!” Second-year Zoe Ramone had to give for ISP idea advice.

“I enjoyed my individual ISPs more than my group ISP,” New College Alumni James Cloos also had to give for advice. “Work with a professor you like on a project that personally interests you.”

With the entire month of January dedicated only to ISP, students would be wise to follow this vastly echoed advice: studying three and a half weeks mostly independently – except for students involved in group ISPs – can be challenging to stay motivated for. Without constant guidance and external motivation throughout the month, a personal motivation for the ISP idea is essential to keep on track. The Independent Study Project demands motivated and responsible approaches to working on the project, motivating the growth of a student’s individual ability to accomplish academic work.

The ISP is a unique-to-NCF academic requirement, that is meant to prepare students for their thesis required in order to graduate. While not all ISP and thesis experiences are alike, there are students who do not think that the beneficial effects of working on one’s ISPs are entirely translatable to dealing with the thesis.

I cant speak for all people, but my ISPs didnt really contribute much to really preparing myself for my thesis,” Cloos added. “I’m not saying ISP doesn’t prepare you, just that they are two entirely different animals.

“The scope of the two are just so different […] many professors are also lenient with the time frame people have for ISP; some people are still turning in ISPs in March or April. You don’t really have that kind of leniency with your thesis.”

Regardless of the results, the ISP is an acadmic requirement, and the first big date – December 1, when ISP Description Forms are due in the Registrar’s Office – is less than a month away. If one would not want to be stuck with working a month on something they do not enjoy or are interested in, they might want to start working on an idea. Allowance for time allows one to revise, and revision – through constructive dialogue with one’s ISP sponsor – is one of the best ways to end up with an interesting project that is well-directed for success.

For those students who would like to work in a group work environment, there are several available group ISPs which have a limited amounts of spaces. Ranging from Chess ISP to different archiving projects, there are a vast array of group ISPs available to join and be a part of. With the increased guidance as a part of being a part of a group with instruction, group ISPs are great opportunities to accomplish the month-long task that can be found – along with their descriptions – on the 2015 ISP Handbook online.

“I think group ISP’s are good,” second-year Zach Ary said. “It gives people who really have no idea what they want to do something to do, and it can be a good bonding experience.”

The project may be intensive, but the possibilities for ISPs are endless and allows for students to gain experience independently studying what they want to study. One of the school’s main academic goals is to allow students the freedom to academically pursue much of what they would like to, and the ISP is a large part of that. Whereas group ISPs are excellent opportunities to accomplish the project, the personalization of an individually-created ISP idea is a freedom most will explore. Almost any idea is viable, as long as it has a basis in the academic world.

Last year, I collaborated with my friend Allie to make a guidebook to the constellations,” Ramone said. “For each constellation, she wrote about its myth and I drew a picture of it. Then, we each had to write a ten page paper relating to the topic. I did mine about the life cycles of stars.”

“Last year I designed an experiment looking at how people perceived emotion and identified with emotion in dance,” second-year Eugenia Quintanilla said. “I choreographed pieces that were assigned specific emotion and filmed them in two different performance conditions. Participants had to watch a short video and then answer a questionnaire. The whole project was about studying kinesthetic empathy and learning more about the perception of movement in general.”

Appreciation for New College’s unique academic requirement is widespread among the experienced students, largely because of the academic freedom students are given to deal with the project.

I think ISP is a great part of NCF, it gives everyone a chance to really take some time to learn about whatever they want, or get more experience with something, without having to worry about a full class load,” Ary said. “And you get school credit for it.”

“ISP is probably my favorite part of the year,” Ramone said. “It gives a nice break from classes and really makes you feel academically independent!”

With December 1 right around the corner – and January looming in the distance – students should begin to get invested in their Independent Study Project ideas, as to be prepared for the month-long unique academic endeavor.

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