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290: Independent Reading

Fátima answers: What does it mean to take an independent reading class at Carleton?

Fátima answers: What does it mean to take an independent reading class at Carleton?

Most students at Carleton take 18 credits worth of courses each term, which usually translates into three six-credit courses at a time. We register for these courses before the start of each term and we always have a great variety of courses from across departments to choose from, from seminars and lectures to workshops and labs

Taking “formal” courses offered by the college is not the only way to get academic credits, however. My piano lessons, for example, which are only once a week, give me one credit a term. Some of my friends also get credit for working as lab assistants in faculty research. A less common way to get academic credit is by taking a 290 course, also known as an independent reading. I have taken two of these courses, and here’s my experience with each!

PSYC 290

The auhtor stares at her computer while reading.
Me doing my summer readings while visiting my friends’ college campus half-way across the country.

The central course of my Off-Campus Study program last year was cross-cultural psychopathology. Because not all of us had an academic background on this topic, in preparation for the class discussions we would have during the term, the summer preceding it we were required to take a directed reading “course”: PSYC 290. 

For a grand total of 2 academic credits, we were given selected readings from a psychopathology textbook and assigned to read the super-interesting book Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters. During our first week of the term, we had a short assessment to evaluate our comprehension of the texts, and that was it!

Like many independent reading, study, and research courses, this was a forced S/Cr/Nc course, meaning that we weren’t graded on it and instead were evaluated on a Satisfactory/Credit/No credit scale. 

SOAN 290

This past summer I had the opportunity to participate in a fantastic teaching internship opportunity in Connecticut. Because I am an international student, however, to be employed off-campus I needed to apply for something called Curricular Practical Training (CPT). One of the requirements for CPT is that you take an academic course in your area of study that in some way matches or relates to your employment experience. Because I am a Sociology/Anthropology major, I needed to take a course in the department, but unfortunately, none of those offered during the fall met my criteria. So, I decided to get a little creative and put together my own “course”, an Independent Reading!

Getting approval for my SOAN 290 proposal was surprisingly easy. All I needed to do was reach out to one of the professors in the department and ask him if he’d be willing to supervise my independent project. Because I was taking a full academic load on top of the independent reading, I wanted it to be something relatively easy; a 1-credit course during which I would read an ethnography of my choice and meet every couple of weeks with my professor to discuss what I’d learned from it.

After extensive research, I picked Educated in Whiteness: Good Intentions and Diversity in Schools by Angelina E. Castagno. I read a chapter a week, and met with my professor a total of three times during the term to share with him what I was learning and how, if at all, it resonated with my summer experience. Overall, it was not at all the source of stress I had feared, and I ended up quite enjoying the experience.

A professor and a student stare at a printmaking project on the desk.
Carleton professors are very ready (and happy!) to help students out with independent projects.

Independent readings (and independent studies and research, for that matter) are excellent opportunities to get a little more control over your academic journey and dive into a topic or project that you are passionate about at your own pace! I look forward to continuing to find opportunities to explore them in the coming years.

As a junior, Fátima (she/her) is excited to continue her pursuit of a SOAN major and (hopefully!) Educational Studies, Latin American Studies, and Cross-cultural Studies minors. Outside class, she enjoys her leadership roles with Fellowship in Christ and the Undergraduate Journal for Humanistic Studies. In her free time, Fátima likes spending time with her mentee, poorly playing the piano, watching cartoons, and desperately missing her dog, Cosmo. Meet the other bloggers!