Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

Individual Studies and You

Wilson Alexander
October 30, 2015

When a parent or prospective student asks me the inevitable question of “why Kenyon?” I always say the same thing: First, because we have a cohesive, friendly student body that forms a tight-knit community. Second, because professors actually care about students. Like, a lot. It sometimes almost feels like you’re talking to a parent when you visit during office hours and ask for help with homework, and your professor exclaims “Of course!” and pulls up a chair. Every professor I’ve ever had at Kenyon has been eager to help with any issues, is easily accessible, legitimately wants students to succeed, and is willing to do everything possible to help students along.

The wonderful availability of our professors makes possible individual studies, which are opportunities for students to independently investigate a topic of special interest. Now, I am a STEM major (because at Kenyon we view psychology as a natural science), and most STEM majors at Kenyon complete some form of individual study; at the very least, all are required to participate in research of some kind in their respective fields. However, you don’t need to be a STEM major to complete an individual study. You can complete an individual study in almost any major field. English majors can complete an individual study if there is a specific theory or genre that they want to pursue further, dance majors can pursue an individual study in a style of dance not normally taught at Kenyon, and so on and so forth.

Individual studies allow students to take their specific topic of interest, even if it is so specific that it’s not commonly taught at Kenyon, and go deeper with close supervision and encouragement of a faculty member of the student’s choice. For many STEM majors, this means doing original research with a professor. This is a rare experience that is absolutely invaluable, especially for graduate school applications, and several Kenyon students have published findings in academic journals from their individual research from the Summer Scholars program or their individual studies.

The best thing about these opportunities for research is how easy it is to begin. At schools with class sizes of upward of 50 students and with professors stretched thin over several huge classes, it would be very difficult to get a professor to dedicate their time and effort to helping you with your own individual research. However, at Kenyon, all you have to do is express an interest and come up with a plan, and you will likely find a professor not only willing, but also excited to help you with your research. Not only that, but many STEM professors at Kenyon are actively involved in their own research, There are many opportunities to work closely with a professor on assisting with their research, which is another way many students get published. (Plus, it looks great on your résumé.) 

Not only that, but students also get the opportunity to participate in research on a larger scale with their peers. Many different departments require students to participate in either labs or “ResMethod” classes, many of which perform different, original research with students each year. I’m currently in “Intro ResMethods in Psychology,” and so far we’ve completed two original studies and written APA-style reports on both. The most recent study yielded some interesting results, and I talked to my professor during her office hours just to geek out about my theories regarding why we observed what we did, and wound up being offered a chance to pursue the research further by doing some more on my own as part of an individual study.

All in all, Kenyon provides you with the resources you need to pursue research on your own. Whether you want to pursue individual study is completely up to you, but the fact that it’s so readily available and that faculty members here are so eager to help students pursue their own individual topics on a much more in-depth level is definitely one of the things that makes Kenyon stand out.