What's a "Special Project" or "Independent Study" at Dartmouth?
Week two of my sophomore spring is coming to an end which means I've completed 20% of this term… oh my. The end of week two at Dartmouth also marks the end of the "add/drop" period for classes. During the first week or so, students typically do a bit of course "shopping" to see what classes they would like to commit to for the term. The typical course load here at Dartmouth is three classes, but very rarely do students take two or four courses depending on the individual students' academic plans. I participated in the typical course shopping period, and I'm glad I took the time to carefully consider what courses I want to take. I want this term to be a bit of an easier workload than the past few terms, and I think it's going to be just that. Instead of a traditional, lecture-based, sit in the classroom type of class, my third course this term is something called a "special project" or independent study in the Earth Sciences department.
To use the official Dartmouth language, a special project is "advanced study in a particular field of [insert discipline] under the supervision of a faculty advisor." If you haven't gathered yet from some of my past blog posts, I'm very passionate about meteorology. From simple afternoon thunderstorms to massive nor'easter blizzards, I love everything about the weather. After taking EARS 14: Meteorology my first term on campus, my love for weather solidified. However, I want to learn some more in-depth material relating to meteorology. The beauty of a liberal arts education is that you get a well-rounded understanding of a bunch of disciplines. The beauty of Dartmouth's liberal arts education is that you can get these well-rounded academics, but you can also learn about a subject in much more detail if your heart so desires. So, I'm pursuing a special project in the Earth Sciences department where I'm learning more about atmospheric thermodynamics!
I'm very fortunate to have a professor that was willing to take this on with me. Essentially, I will be doing a good amount of self-learning from an atmospheric thermodynamics textbook, do various problem sets associated with the chapters, do online labs according to the course taught at other institutions, and study the material independently. It's a great way for me to mature academically and to hold myself accountable even more so than in regular classes. Aside from meeting with my professor once a week or so to discuss the content, the special project lives up to its "independent study" name. At the end of the special project, I will need to come up with a "suitable written or oral report" on my conclusions from the class. I'm still finalizing this part, but I imagine I will design some small coding project analyzing atmospheric thermodynamics in the real world! I won't get too far into the weeds on this, but I think it's important for you to know that you can explore your most niche academic interests at Dartmouth while getting a liberal arts education.