ISP tips and advice, from upperclassmen to first-years
Students participating in the January 2020 Coral Reef Ecology ISP disembarking off a boat in Panama. Photo courtesy of Dan Duprez.

ISP tips and advice, from upperclassmen to first-years

Independent study projects (ISPs) are one of the many academic practices unique to New College of Florida. As the name suggests, it is a primarily student-led process. Students propose their own project, write the parameters for which they’ll be evaluated, find a faculty sponsor for their project and work on their ISP for the entire month of January. While ISPs act as a fantastic opportunity to pursue passions or interests while also receiving course credit for it, the scale and freedom to choose practically anything can make them intimidating, especially to first-year students. For anyone who may find the whole process challenging, there are several resources that can help, such as fellow students, the ISP handbook and of course, academic advisors.

While these resources are readily available, some students are unaware of them and feel as though they haven’t been given enough information upfront about the project. First-year Meera Razdan shares this feeling and finds that the whole process is enigmatic. Razdan said that she feels that examples of previous ISPs and general guidelines on setting realistic parameters for ISPs would be immensely beneficial. 

“I would like more information on ISPs, mainly examples of ISPs,” Razdan said. “What would be [an ISP] that’s not overly ambitious or something manageable that would work well for us [first years].” 

Razdan also finds that setting their own parameters for grading is intimidating and believes that resources on how to develop effective parameters would be extremely helpful to her and other first-year students. 

Upperclassmen have found that upon looking back, they faced the same challenges in creating their first ISP,—both that they would’ve liked more information on how to make an effective and manageable ISP and setting realistic goals for their ISP. Third-year Saurav Kiri found that, similar to Razdan, one of the most challenging aspects of their first ISP was creating suitable parameters.

“The hardest part [of ISP] for me was definitely figuring out a project that was suitable for a professor to sponsor, while also being in the range of my capabilities,” Kiri stated.

For third-year Payton Sherer one of the most challenging aspects of ISP creation was finding a topic, and for students struggling with the same issue, Sherer advises students to pick a topic that interests them.

“Do something you want to do, pick a topic you’re interested in and you genuinely care about,” Sherer said. “If you do something you’re passionate about, it will make the project a whole lot easier.”

For first-years facing this challenge, one of the best things they can do is speak to their peers, professors and advisors.  Students who are stuck should first talk to their advisor, as they can help with finding appropriate sponsors for their proposed project, writing and refining the parameters of their ISP and even finding compelling topics. Professors are both a valuable resource in helping students create an ISP and sponsoring an ISP. Collaborating with a professor in creating an ISP is a great way to ensure the parameters for the ISP are suitable while also ensuring that the ISP has a sponsor. 

Lastly, while ISPs may be intimidating, they are a fantastic opportunity to establish connections with professors, further pursue an area of concentration (AOC) or even explore interests outside of the classroom. This aspect of ISPs is one that third-year KP Powell finds very valuable.

“When you’re here at New College, you’re really only going to be focusing on your AOC,” Powell said. “ISPs are really a chance to branch out and do other things that interest you.”

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