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MIT student blogger twins Danny and Allan G. '20

How to (Im)properly Get an Independent Study by Danny and Allan G. '20

another step by step guide of our mistakes

For our very last semester at MIT, and our very last course 6 class, we are taking 6.910 Independent Study in EECS!  We really wanted to continue learning and practicing the concepts from 6.837 Computer Graphics, which we took last semester, but 6.839 Advanced Computer Graphics is only offered in the fall. So constructing an Independent Study seemed like our best bet to be able to spend our last semester at MIT pursuing and learning the topics we want to. We just recently got everything approved, but it was a PROCESS. And looking back, we probably made some mistakes, which made the process more complicated/drawn out than it had to be. So yeah, here is how to (im)properly get an independent study, a sequel to the list we made in this post.

  1. Come up with an idea for a project
  2. Find a few potential professors (preferably including professors you have taken classes with) that could advise you in completing your project
  3. Email one professor
  4. Email another professor because the first one responded saying he’s too busy this semester to be a supervisor
  5. Decide to go to the second professor’s office to ask in person because he does not seem to be responding to your email
  6. Notice that he is not in his office and ask a grad student who works in the same area if he knows when said professor is usually in his office
  7. Check back later that day at the time the grad student said, and see the professor is not there
  8. For the next two days, do the same thing because the professor has still not emailed back
  9. Email a third professor because you are starting to lose hope of getting in contact with the second professor
  10. Also, email your advisor just to make sure that this independent study can count towards your major if you get it approved because you haven’t really heard of anyone else doing this
  11. Try checking the second professor’s office again and get noticed by a different grad student, who at this point has seen you roaming the halls multiple times and tells you to come back the next day because the professor will surely be around
  12. Go back the next day and finally spot the professor in a meeting with someone 
  13. Meanwhile, get spotted by the same grad student, who very generously offers to briefly interject the professor’s meeting to try to get you a few minutes of his time after he finishes
  14. Wait around for ten minutes as the professor finishes his meeting
  15. FINALLY meet the professor, introduce yourself, explain your idea, and ask him if he has the time this semester to supervise an independent study
  16. After all that effort to track him down, be sad when the professor says no, because he is too busy
  17. Try to stop by the third professor’s office because he has still not responded to your email, but he is not in his office
  18. Go back the next day to the third professor’s office and see that his door is propped open
  19. As soon as you walk past, get surprised as he opens the door and greets you
  20. Ask him if he has a few minutes to spare, and when he says yes, ask to explain your idea and ask if he has time to supervise you
  21. Get hopeful when he says he doesn’t have time to do it alone, but if any of his grad students would be willing to help supervise, he will sign off on the papers
  22. Leave the meeting thankful and hopeful
  23. Wait thirty minutes
  24. To your amazement, a grad student very willingly sends you an email! Hooray!
  25. Set up a meeting with the grad student for the following week
  26. Go to the meeting and get very excited about this independent study because the grad student seems very willing to help and also has a lot of incredible experience in the exact area you were hoping to do the independent study in
  27. Ask him if he would be able to get the professor’s signature on the forms you need to get signed
  28. Be very relieved that you do not need to do anymore professor tracking, because the grad student has a meeting with the professor the next day anyways, and said he would just get the forms signed then
  29. Be happy when you get an email confirmation from the grad student that the professor signed the forms and arrange to stop by the grad student’s office the following day to pick them up
  30. At this point, you kind of forgot that you sent an email to your advisor last week about the independent study
  31. Get VERY STRESSED when you receive an email from your advisor saying that independent studies typically do not get approved for 21Es
  32. Respond immediately asking to set up a meeting because you are fairly sure that this may have just been a misunderstanding
  33. Set up a meeting with your advisor that will unfortunately only happen in three days from now
  34. Also set up a meeting with your humanities advisor for the same day to double-make-sure you will graduate and have all your requirements filled 
  35. Dread the wait time, but have faith that it will all work out, and think of a back up plan.
  36. Come up with the back up plan if the independent study does not in fact get approved (which involves taking another course 6 class that you are not particular interested in but works well with your schedule and is tangentially related to what you want to study)
  37. Go to the first meeting you scheduled with your humanities advisor and get the thumbs up from her about requirements and a confirmation that you will indeed graduate 
  38. Go to your second meeting with your course 6 advisor, nervous because this one is higher stakes, and celebrate when the advisor reads your proposal, really likes the idea, and with basically zero hesitation changes her mind and apologizes for making a rash decision that may have stressed you out
  39. Last but certainly not least, fill out a very big add drop form (which happens to be the third one you already submitted since the start of the semester)
  40. Take a deep breath knowing that after two weeks of a lot of emails and chasing professors and bureaucratic-hoop-hopping, your schedule is finally set in stone and you are very happy with the prospects for your last semester at MIT!

The last two weeks have been a Ride™. We think that the main thing that made it so drawn out is that we staggered the emails to the various professors we had in mind, as opposed to emailing all three at once. And on top of that, we didn’t even stagger our emails correctly. We should have emailed the professors whose classes we’ve taken, before emailing professors whose classes we haven’t. In the end, the professor that ended up being our supervisor is the professor we took 6.815 Digital and Computational Photography with, but he was the last professor we reached out to. The last thing we did incorrectly was asking our advisor about independent studies over email, as opposed to off the bat asking to schedule a meeting with her to discuss it in person. Sometimes, things can get misconstrued or misunderstood over email, and it just takes a conversation to get them sorted out. We hope this will help someone else not make our mistakes!

We honestly are kind of shocked this ended up working out, but this experience showed us something really important — persistence. There were so many times throughout this whole list of steps where we literally just wanted to take the easy way out by signing up for a different class that would just fill the requirement we needed. But, every time we thought about how much we want to continue learning computer graphics, and how cool it would be to do our independent studies, we kept pushing through. And, we are so happy we did!