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Independent Study Project (ISP) Proposal

What is an ISP?

The Independent Study Project (ISP) is a key component of most SIT Study Abroad programs. Students design a project, then work closely with an advisor and experts in the field to bring it to life. A successful ISP is focused, aims to increase knowledge in a field of study related to the program theme, and potentially sheds light on issues pertinent to the host community. ISPs often lead to related theses at home institutions or prestigious research fellowships, including Fulbrights.

Many students choose SIT because of our in-depth, field-based independent research choices. ISPs can take one of several forms: an academic ISP that addresses a formulated research question, a creative ISP that incorporates artwork or a performance, or a practicum-based ISP. In each case, the project involves original field work, a final presentation, and a formal research paper. You will be required to examine the ethics of your research and consider its impact on local communities.

Once on site, you may develop or change your proposal contingent on local realities and resources. Your academic director will approve your final project proposal and help you identify a local expert to act as your project advisor. As part of the approval process in-country, SIT’s Institutional Review Board will review your proposal.

Prior to departure, check in with your advisor at your home college or university to see if there are any additional requirements for students conducting independent research abroad.

Why does SIT Study Abroad require an ISP proposal as part of the application?

  1. To inform the academic director, local staff, and program partners of the particular interests of each student;
  2. To encourage you to begin thinking about thematic areas of interest to you during your term abroad;
  3. To provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate to the admissions committee that your decision to study abroad is both thoughtful and intentional, and that your proposed research interests match the theme of the program.

Primary considerations for ISP topics

  1. Feasibility: Consider time constraints and other limitations; you will need to gather conclusions about your chosen topic within one month. 
  2. Interest: Choose a topic that you feel invested and passionate about. Your research will be much easier if you are genuinely interested in learning more about that topic.
  3. Relevance: Choose a topic that falls within the academic theme of your program.
  4. Ethics: Consider positive and negative consequences of your results and your methodology as you define your topic.

Defining a topic
Think about the following:

  1. Issues from your coursework or ideas raised during class discussions;
  2. Articles or books that stimulated your interest in a particular topic;
  3. An experience from your travels and/or your involvement as a student that raised interesting questions that you would like to explore;
  4. Problems or challenges in the country where you have chosen to study; and
  5. Cultural practices that influence or inform issues, either positively or negatively.

Tips for narrowing a broad topic into a research question
Begin by doing preliminary research. Look up your topic in an encyclopedia and read general information about it. After you have narrowed your topic, you can develop a research question. Begin by brainstorming questions and write down the ideas that pop into your mind. Remember, some of the best research questions involve challenging and controversial issues. Ask yourself:

  1. Is my question appropriate in terms of its scope, i.e., not too broad and not too narrow?
  2. Will I be able to answer my question within limitations such as time, access, and/or language barriers?
  3. Can I find information about my question in the library, on the Internet, or through primary field research?
  4. Does my question clearly and concretely articulate what I intend to research?

After you have answered these questions and you are satisfied with your answers, it is time to write up your ISP research question and submit it to SIT Study Abroad, along with the rest of your application.

Read more about Undergraduate Research at SIT

Visit our Independent Research Projects (ISP) / Digital Collections.