Our research group has a set of projects that we would like to have implemented, but lacks the necessary funds to complete all of them. Instead of prioritizing/shelving projects, is it appropriate to advertise them as "for-credit" independent study courses for graduate students. The alternative would be paying for the same graduate students as research/course assistants.

  • In many graduate programs, course credits aren't a scarce commodity for students - they get more credits than they need from their usual coursework and research activities. So in that case, making the course "for-credit" adds no value for the students - it's still the case that all they really gain is whatever educational value the work itself has. Apr 14, 2017 at 7:39
  • making the course "for-credit" adds no value for the students — One exception that I know of is the case where the student is looking to impress the independent studies instructor in the hopes of securing a research assistant position. @NateEldredge
    – Mad Jack
    Apr 14, 2017 at 15:10
  • @MadJack: But I think that faculty member would be just as impressed if the student did the same work just as a side project, without receiving any course credit. Apr 14, 2017 at 15:11
  • @NateEldredge Good point. (Now I'm wondering why one would even bother with independent studies courses at all.)
    – Mad Jack
    Apr 14, 2017 at 15:12

2 Answers 2


Universities and individual departments have criteria for allowable independent study courses. One of the reasons is exactly the scenario you outline. In my department, approval will depend on whether there is "academic value" for the student. Academic value, however, is subject to interpretation.

By all means, inquire with colleagues, department chair, etc. to find out the relevant criteria for you. Of course the student should feel that the project is worthwhile for them, or you won't get anyone signing up. Students will prefer paid positions, all else equal. As you know, it is routine at research universities for students to be paid as researchers, to do the research that becomes part of their thesis. You have to offer more value, or accept a lower ability student.


You could do this, if you can build some benefit for the student into the project, i.e. make it a win-win set-up. Otherwise, pay for the work.

  • 1
    While I agree in principle, one can argue that the student in such an arrangement always gains something, namely experience. So it's always a win-win situation. Apr 14, 2017 at 6:30
  • 1
    Exactly. How does one draw the line? Should the student's benefit always "outweigh" the faculty's in some way?
    – Jedi
    Apr 14, 2017 at 12:19
  • @Jedi - The student's benefit need not outweigh the faculty member's benefit. But if the student is getting academic credit, s/he has to be progressing actively in terms of knowledge and skills gained. Apr 14, 2017 at 19:05
  • @lighthousekeeper - It's not win-win if the student gains no significant knowledge or skills from the project. Apr 14, 2017 at 19:07

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