Independent Study Contract writing tips

Many students here at the ANU School of Computing take a capstone project at the end of their undergraduate degree. There are a few different variations (e.g. half-year vs full-year, “research” vs “implementation”, etc.), but overall these projects are a chance for students to put together all the skills they’ve learned in their degree program in a supervised project where they’re the boss.

To take on one of these project, students need to find a supervisor, decide on a project and sign an independent study contract (ISC). While these ISCs could be seen as a tick-and-flick waste of time, when done well they’re an important part of the project.

If you’re a student writing an ISC (at the ANU School of Computing at least) there two “meaty” parts to your ISC: the project description, and the learning outcomes. Putting some hard work into those parts at the beginning of your project is totally worth it. Your supervisor can (and should!) help you out, but it’s your project, and you should make sure it reflects the project you want to do.

Tips for writing a good ISC

All projects are different, and therefore so are all ISCs. The best tip I can give is to write an ISC that you’ll want to keep looking at throughout the project. It’s tempting to see the sole purpose of the ISC getting a permission code to enrol in the project course. But it’s something that should guide your research, and something which you should be able to point to at the end and say “yep, I achieved my goals”.

Project Description

  • this is kindof a marketing exercise: you’re trying to “sell” your project to an interested observer, so make it seem interesting—give it a “hook”

  • length: one or two paragraphs (it should fit in the space on the form), and should be understandable by one of your classmates

  • don’t write it out by hand straight on to the form; this is the sort of thing you want to have a few drafts at (including getting feedback from your supervisor)

  • don’t just say vague stuff like “explore various techniques for…” or “investigate different approaches to…”; if you’re gonna do that you need to also have something about what you’re trying to find with your explorations/investigations, and how you’ll measure whether you’,re successful

  • if you’re going to create something (e.g. a piece of software, a user study) then mention it in the project description

Learning Outcomes

  • how many? you probably want 3 (±1)

  • the “standard” way to frame learning outcomes is to write them as continuations of the sentence: “at the end of this project, the student will be able to…”

  • think about what you’d like to be able to do once you’ve completed the project and work backwards from there

  • the Learning & Teaching centre at Adelaide Uni has some good tips on writing

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