Division of Biology and Medicine
Department of Neuroscience

Independent Study

Undergraduate students may conduct independent scholarship under the supervision of a faculty member.

In addition to the formal courses offered in the Department of Neuroscience, there is the opportunity for undergraduates to conduct independent work under the supervision of our faculty. There are two levels of independent work available: Independent Study Course and Independent Neuroscience Research. Each of these usually involves registering for NEUR1970. Honors in Neuroscience, described below in detail, requires maintenance of a distinguished academic record in course work of the concentration and completion of a thesis meriting the Honors designation.

I. Independent Study Course

In consultation with a faculty sponsor, students may organize independent study courses which cover material not available in regular courses. These independent courses might be reading projects or a combination of book work and some laboratory work. The sponsor will determine the type and amount of work and the manner in which performance is evaluated. Keep in mind that there are a variety of courses both in our department and in other departments that cover a wide array of neuroscience topics. Please talk to your concentration advisor before considering an independent study course to make sure there isn't already a suitable course offered. 

II. Independent Neuroscience Research

Undergraduates have the opportunity to apply to work with a Neuroscience faculty member to learn techniques used in current neuroscience research and to conduct a research project developed in consultation with the faculty advisor.  These projects take a variety of forms including laboratory experiments, field work and mathematical and computer modeling.  The student plays a major role in designing and performing the research project.  Because research projects typically take two or more semesters to complete, the decision to conduct an independent research project is a significant commitment on the part of both the student and the advisor.  Be prepared to devote from 10-20 hrs/wk to your independent research project.  Since there are a limited number of positions within each lab, there sometimes are more students interested in conducting research than there are positions.  It is advisable to begin looking for a position in a lab at least one semester before you would like to begin.  Research advisors may require that you work in their lab for a summer or semester prior to beginning the Independent Neuroscience Research project.  This serves as a trial period in which both you and the faculty sponsor can decide whether to progress to a joint research project.  Most projects require at least two semesters of research plus a summer.  Performance in Independent Neuroscience Research is assessed by reports (of a type specified by the advisor) at the end of each semester.  The report after the final semester of research is a major paper describing the background, methods, results, and significance of the research project. 

III. Arranging Independent Study in the Department of Neuroscience (NEUR1970)

1. Start your search for a faculty sponsor by consulting members of the Department of Neuroscience and the Neuroscience Graduate Program Faculty. These are individuals that have prior approval to sponsor NEUR1970. Choose potential advisors doing work in the area(s) you are interested in. Generally it is best to call a faculty member and make an appointment to discuss the possibility of working with them. If you would like to do an independent study with a sponsor that has not previously sponsored NEUR 1970,  your sponsor will have to first fill the NEUR 1970 Sponsor Application and turn it in concurrently with your Independent Study Form. 

2. Once you have tentatively arranged an independent course or research project with a faculty sponsor, the project must be formally approved by the Neuroscience Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. On the Independent Study Form, found in the Neuroscience Undergraduate brochure or on the main undergraduate page, describe the project you wish to undertake and obtain the signature of your faculty sponsor. Submit your proposal to the Neuroscience Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (neuroundergrad@brown.edu) by the deadline found here under Important Dates.

3. Enrollment in NEUR1970 is closely regulated by the Department. Once your project has been approved, please request an override from your sponsor via Courses@Brown.  In addition, for each continuing semester of research under these course numbers, you will need to have your faculty sponsor sign a new Independent Study Form You do not need to describe the project again.  Submit this form to neuroundergrad@brown.edu. Once you are informed that your application has been approved, please request an override from your sponsor via Courses@Brown. [While all this may sound overly elaborate, it is our way of ensuring that your faculty sponsor is both authorized and willing to direct an undergraduate research project for the Neuroscience concentration.]

*One summer of research can be used in lieu of one semester of NEUR1970.  Please see your concentration advisor for approval.

IV. Using Independent Study to Satisfy Concentration Requirements

In addition to background science courses and three core neuroscience lecture courses, the Neuroscience Concentration requires one laboratory course, one critical reading course and four elective courses thematically related to Neuroscience. Independent Study may be used to replace required courses as follows.

Regardless of how many semesters of independent study are taken, only one of the required courses in a student's concentration program may be replaced by independent study.

The required laboratory course, the required critical reading course OR an elective may be replaced by two semesters of Independent Neuroscience Research (NEUR1970). Independent study other than NEUR1970 may be used to replace the required lab course or the required critical reading course, but this needs to be specifically approved by your concentration advisor. The requirements for two semesters may be waived, if the student has spent a summer doing research in the same lab as the independent study. In this case only one semester will be required.


As with other ScB concentrations, neuroscience concentrators are required (beginning with the class of 2023) to do the equivalent of one semester of independent study, research or design. This is a chance for the student to explore and apply the concepts that they have learned in their concentration courses. The following are ways in which this research requirement can be met.

  1. Enrolling in independent study courses (NEUR 1970, CLPS 1970/80 or BIO 1950/60) for work in a lab. Keep in mind to count this towards your concentration two semesters or one semester and a summer are required. 
  2. Enrolling in independent study (NEUR 1970) to work with a faculty member to explore an integrative topic related to neuroscience. See our section on independent study for more information. 
  3. Enrolling in a course-based research experience, also known as a CURE course. Current related CURE courses are NEUR 1630, NEUR1640, CLPS 1195, CLPS 1591, but there might be new ones coming down the pipeline.
  4. Participating in a structured summer research program (eg. an UTRA or an REU) that is equivalent in scope and scale as would be pursued during a semester of independent research.
  5. Participating in a research-focused Fall or Spring UTRA
  6. Pursue a design or independent research project related to neuroscience that could be associated with a different course.
  7. Anyone writing an honors thesis automatically fulfils the research requirement, in order to document your research requirement, please describe your plan in your Concentration Agreement and in ASK, be sure to discuss it with your concentration advisor to make sure it is appropriate.

Any questions concerning appropriateness of research for concentration credit or Honors should be addressed to the Neuroscience Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.