Non-research Independent Study

The Director of Undergraduate Studies can set up an independent study course after a proposal has been received that the guidelines below. The deadline for your proposal is the end of the first week of classes however an earlier submission is better in case you you are required to revise your proposal. The DUS can be reached at

  • If approved, mathematics departmental staff will e-mail you a section number and a permission number that will enable you to sign up for the course on DukeHub.
  • If your proposal needs further work before it can be accepted, you will be informed by e-mail.

Non-research independent study does not earn the Research (R) course code designation and will not earn Graduation with Distinction.


1. The first step is to download the Request for Independent Study/Independent Study Permission Form. Please complete this form noting the following modification which is specific to the math department:

  • The Description of Proposed Study (Item 1, bottom of the permission form) should be typed out on a separate sheet of paper according to the guide below.

2. Work together with your mentor to write the proposal. The Description of Proposed Study should be approximately one page in length. In preparing your independent study proposal a good model to follow is a complete course syllabus. While your study proposal doesn’t need to be as full as an actual syllabus, it should be more substantial than a bulletin course description.

3. Be sure to communicate clearly. You want your proposal to be well organized and carefully written so that your reader will be able to understand what you are writing. While your intended reader will be a mathematician with at least a basic working knowledge of mathematical concepts, they may not be as familiar with specialized terms in a given subfield. These specialized terms, or terms from science, economics, and engineering that may not be familiar to a broad range of well-educated lay people, should be defined in your proposal.

4. Turn in your typewritten sheet (or sheets) together with the completed independent study permission form to the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Mathematics. This should be done as early as possible during the first week of classes. It is acceptable to submit your forms as an e-mail attachment to (however scanned documents must be "clean"  the background cannot be gray).

Guidelines for Your Description of Proposed Study

(1) What is the area of mathematics that you will be studying?

  • Please feel free to communicate any particular motivations you have for learning this material.

(2) What background do you have in this area of mathematics?

(3) What specific material do you intend to learn? Here you are asked to be quite specific, whereas Question 1 was rather general.

(4) What sources will you use to learn the material and what exercises will you do?

  • In standard courses this question is usually answered by a syllabus that indicates what material will be read in a given week and which exercises will be turned in. For an independent study course such a precise description is not expected. Nonetheless keep the course syllabus in mind as an ideal response to this question.
  • Communicate in general terms what material you will be reading when and what exercises you will be working when. In other words, you should give a pretty good picture of how the course will run.

(5) Please proofread what you have typed to be sure that the issues above have been addressed.