Career Development Making the Most of Breaks Tips for Students

3 Steps to Start an Independent Project this Summer

Developing an independent project is a great way for students to maximize their time away from school while pursuing their unique interests. Whether students are spending their time working in a lab, volunteering at a non-profit, or taking classes near home, independent research projects can be a way for students to integrate their knowledge, experience, and prior coursework while showing prospective employers talent and initiative. Here are three general steps to help those who want to start an independent project.

Generate Ideas

If students have no idea how to start their project, that is okay! One way to start brainstorming and developing new ideas is for the student to keep a log of their observations, reflections, and tasks. This will help students remember what they have accomplished at their summer positions and make connections to ideas they have encountered in the classroom. Here is a good way to organize journal entries:

  1. Observations: This essentially means describing an experience or independent interest in terms of what, when, and where. For example, making a list of lab procedures, speaking to co-workers about their positions, or cataloguing what happens during an average work day.
  2. Reflection and analysis: This is where students can reflect on their observations. They can begin to answer questions like: “What is happening at the organization and why? Is my team facing any obstacles, what can I do to help? Why is this happening and what effect is it having?”
  3. Integration: After recording the data and analyzing the context or situation, students should integrate their experiences and learning with their findings, meaning they should begin to draw connections between broader ideas, their experience and analysis, and things they have learned in class.

Pick a Topic

As the student begins to synthesize the information from their experiences—what is happening and why— they can begin to formulate a research question or area of interest. Once a topic is established, students should reach out to staff members at their organization to see if they have prior experience with the topic or if they know anyone who is an expert in the field.

Alternatively, students should ask around the office if there are any new projects they can spearhead. Reaching out to coworkers or a supervisor is a good way to generate ideas.

Develop the Project

Conducting research and creating a final project will take many forms depending on the type of project the student intends to pursue. However, at the beginning of the research, it is a good idea to reach out to the organization the student is working with to see if the organization might have internal data or prior experience that would guide the student’s research and project efforts. The next step would be to find existing literature in the topic and see if people have created this type of project before. This will give students an idea about the form, tone, and approach their project or research should take.

If students are still lost and do not know how to start their independent projects, they should reach out to WashU professors in their field or the Career Center for advice and guidance.

All of this can be done easily, especially with the help of our Career Center, which is still open all summer! Your student should never hesitate to call (314-935-5930), email, or Skype to get any career advice they need – whether it’s updating their resume, or looking for new opportunities.